Building a Workbench for a Small Flat

Bjørn Karmann
5 min readApr 29, 2019

A few years ago I moved to Amsterdam where small flats are as common as boats and bikes. But as a designer and maker, a workbench is very important. It’s the holy place where the mind, hands, and tools fuse together to an unstoppable force! … or you just need some good even lighting.

Nevertheless, I decided to design and build my own table for the new flat. The concept: simple design, easy to make, even lighting, store tools and hide all the mess when not in use. Below is a short description of the build and free plans to download.

The workbench in context to the flat

Parts list:

  • A standard sheet of 12mm birch plywood
  • 4x1m round birch pole (50mm Ø)
  • 800x300x6mm plywood for pegboard
  • Piano hinge
  • 2 x Gas Cabinet Hinges (50Nm)
  • Limit switch, light switch + wires
  • Worktop lighting from Ikea (800mm)
  • Multi-plug extension sockets
  • Tool Spring Clips

Download the construction plans
Download the fusion360 file

The plans are pretty self-explanatory, but one part that needs some guidance is the structural part that holds together the table top and the legs. I came up with a sandwich design, where multiple plywood cutouts are glued together to create a sturdy frame while making a seamless mount for the legs. (See images below)

First, I cut out the five sheets with a band saw and glued the first four together in one solid block. Here I added two screws, just so I could keep working on it. Next, I glued together the cross-beam and mounted it in the left and right block. I could now go ahead and glue on the end cap and plane the surface flush. It’s a good idea to give it some sandpaper, before mounting the legs. The legs are cut square on one end with a Japanese saw and cleaned up with a chisel to give a sharp edge where the legs meet the frame.

Note: in the construction plans, the legs continue through the block, but I found that it was easier to shorten them so that the sandwich pieces would stay as one.
Now after the legs are glued into place, I added a metal corner bracket just to make it more sturdy. It was probably not necessary, but I found that I could use a long screw in one of the holes to go all the way through the back leg.

For the main top part, it’s nothing more than making a box with some strange angles. After test fitting the size of the table top, I added the sides with glue and small nails. Next, I created a template for the handle and ran a router with a bearing bit on the edge.

The lid was a bit tricky since the angles cut in the two parts, needed to be very precise, so when the lid is closed it matches the very front edge. On the inside of the lid, two triangles are added for making the lid stronger and create a nice framing for the light. The triangles are glued and screwed into position. I found it helpful to use the triangles as glue-up guides when matching the seem. Note: I found that giving the sides of the lid a bit of sandpaper helps to prevent it from binding and making squeaky noises.

Almost there!

Now add your favorite type of bronze hinges and screw them in place while the lid is in the most upright resting position. I was planning to use piano hinges here but had some smaller ones laying around, though I would recommend having a bit more contact than what I used. To hold the lid up I used two gas cabinet hinges with a strength of 50Nm.

Attach the light and wire it down the middle with a “thin” wire since we are going to add the pegboard on top later. In one of the corners, I added a limit switch to turn off the light and the power extension cord underneath the table top — preventing electronics or solder equipment to stay on while closed.

Now for my favorite part… creating a tool composition on your pegboard. This might seem silly but spending a bit of time contemplating on where to hang the tools really gives the table its final character and personal touch! Think of colors, thematic regions and the conversation between the shapes.

The pegboard is made of a thin sheet of 800x300mm plywood and after a bunch of drilled holes with a spacing of 20mm and drill diameter of 3mm the layout can begin. I would recommend to test your layout on a this on a flat surface — sleep on it, change it again, and take a photo for the vertical install. Depending on your wire, it might help to carve a small groove on the back of pegboard to get it flush. The tools snap into place with tool spring clips. They come in many sizes so you want to have a selection to test the fit on your tools.

That’s pretty much it!

Later I added a small strip of wood on the back wall to create space for miscellaneous tools and hide the cables.

If you plan to make your own tiny man cave like this one, let me know on twitter. I would love to see your take on it and ways to improve the design!

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Bjørn Karmann

Designer at Tellart, Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Designer, moovellab, Kolding Designschool, Scandinavian Design Højskole