How To Build A Small MDF Workbench Top

  • By: Monica Shulz

A workbench is an essential fixture in any workshop, and if it has storage space? Even Better! This way, you have a stable, sturdy surface to work on with your tools within arm’s reach.

This article will show you how you can create a small workbench out of MDF with classic woodworking techniques. So, in the end, you’ll have a vintage, sturdy, and mostly nail-free workbench that’ll make you the envy of woodworkers everywhere.

So, let’s get to the workshop and start building.

What Will You Need?

To build the workbench, you will need to gather a few items from your local hardware store. Some of these items include;

  • 18mm Regular MDF sheet
  • 9mm Black MDF sheet
  • ¼” plywood sheet.
  • Wood glue
  • Runners for the drawers.

Cut The Legs for The Table from The MDF Sheet

The best way to cut these legs from the 18mm MDF sheet is a table saw. Set the adjustable fence to a width of 3 inches.

Cut out eight blanks from the MDF sheets. These blanks should be 30 inches long and 3 inches wide.

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After this, cut out four 31” long blanks from the sheet. Next, cut out four 24” long blanks from the sheet.

Lastly, cut out eight 3” by 3” blanks from the MDF sheet.

Assemble The Blanks into The Workbench’s Legs

To start this, ensure you have a right-angled jig to which you can easily clamp these legs. First, take a 30” long blank and apply glue generously to one side.

Place the blank on the jig with the glue side facing outwards. Next, take a 31” long blank, apply glue to a side, then place the side without glue on the first blank.

Make sure both their bottoms are correctly aligned and level.

Next, take a 24” long piece, put some glue on it and add it to the stack. Make sure the top of the 24-inch MDF blank is level with the top of the first blank in the stack.

This creates a tenon since the 31” piece extends past it. Next, place one of the 3” by 3” pieces below the 24-inch piece. This will create a mortise hole.

Make sure the 3“by 3” piece lines up with the bottom of the stack to create a 3” side mortise. You can add a 3” blank to the hole to ensure it’s the right size.

Don’t put it all the way in, so you can easily take it out once the glue dries.

Finish the leg off by gluing a 30-inch piece to the stack. Make sure its top is level with the one preceding it.

Clamp the leg so the glue can set properly. Repeat this three times for the other legs.

Clean Up the Workbench’s Leg

After gluing the legs, you need to clean up the residue left on them to achieve a nice, smooth surface. Leave the table saw at the same 3” width.

Run the table’s legs through the saw one more time to remove the leftover glue by the sides. You can also use a plane saw to even out the sides and the bottom.

Cut Out the Groove for a Lap Joint

 Take one of the bench’s legs and clamp it on the table. On the side of the leg with a tenon, mark out a point about three inches from the edge.

From that point, use a pencil and a ruler to trace out a recess 3 inches long, 18mm wide, and 36 mm deep. After tracing it out, cut the recess into the wood using a router.

You can also use a hammer and a chisel to cut out the recess. Do this for the remaining three legs.

Cut Out the Blanks for The Leg Braces

With your table saw fence set at 3”, cut four 19.75” long pieces from the MDF sheet. Next, you must cut the blanks that will straddle the lap joint.

So, you must add the crossbeam’s depth on both sides. That will be 19.75 inches plus 36mm on both sides. That will be roughly 22.5”.

Cut out two 22.5” blanks from the MDF sheet.

Cut The Crossbeam

The crossbeam is a lateral member where the table will rest at the top of the legs. It will bridge the gap between the two tenons on the top of the legs.

Cut two 22.5” long, 3” wide pieces from the MDF sheet.

Assemble The Leg Braces

Take two of the 19.75” blanks and glue them together. Make sure they are perfectly aligned. Next, glue the blanks to the 22.5” MDF blank.

When gluing the blanks to the section, ensure they are right in the middle of the blank. They should have 36mm of space on either side.

Clamp them together until the glue dries. Use a sander or a plane saw to remove any excess adhesive on the surface.

Assemble The Lap Joint

Now that the leg braces are complete, it’s time to assemble the lap joint. Take two of the bench’s legs and lay them flat with the recessed notch pointing upwards.

Apply wood glue to the recess and the lap. Insert both lapped ends of the leg braces into the notches and tap them with a mallet to ensure they fit in properly.

Once they are in place, clamp the joint until the glue dries. Sand off any bit of glue or excess wood coming out.

Repeat the same thing for the second set of legs.

Add The Cross Beam

After connecting two legs with a brace, stand them up with the tenon ends facing upwards. Bridge the gap between the two tenons by placing the crossbeam between them.

Make sure all the edges are correctly lined up. Glue the crossbeam to the legs. You can also use screws or a nail to secure it.

Use a plane saw to ensure the tenon is flush with the crossbeam. Do the same for the second set of legs.

Cut The Blanks for The Stretcher

The stretcher will join both sets of legs with the Mortise and Tenon joints. So, you have to create the Tenon beam.

First, cut four 30” long blanks from the 18mm MDF sheet. Next, cut two 36” long pieces from the MDF sheet.

On the 36-inch piece, cut two 2.5” long grooves in the tenons at both ends. These holes will be for the wedges mortise and tenon that will hold the entire joint in place.

Sand the tenon ends of the 36-inch blanks to round them a bit.

Assemble the Stretcher

Take one of the 36-inch pieces and apply glue on both sides. Take two 30-inch blanks and glue them on either side.

Ensure the blanks are right in the middle of the 36-inch piece and are even on both sides before gluing them. Clamp everything together until the glue dries. Use the plane saw and the sander to clean any residue.

Repeat this for the second crossbeam.

Assemble The Workbench’s Base

Now that you have the tenon crossbeams, it’s time to assemble the base of the workbench fully. Take one set of legs and lay them on a flat surface with the mortise hole overhanging.

Put some glue on the stretcher’s tenon and insert it into the mortise hole. Do the same for the second stretcher.

Tap both with a mallet till they are entirely in the hole. Once the tenon is fully in the hole, insert the wedges into it and hammer them till they are in place.

Saw off any protruding piece. Next, connect the tenons on the opposite end of the stretchers to the other set of legs. Gently hammer it until the tenon is entirely in the hole.

Once they’re in the hole, add the wedges to the tenon. Clean up the joint and make sure everything is flush on all surfaces.

Cut Out the Blanks for The Benchtop

The base of the workbench is complete. It’s time to make the benchtop. To make the benchtop, you will use four wood layers—three layers of 18mm MDF and one layer of 9mm black MDF to top it off.

So, using your table saw, cut out a sheet of black MDF 24” long and 44” wide. Cut out three more sheets of standard 18mm MDF with the same dimensions.

Next, you have to cut the keyway for the benchtop’s mount into one of the sheets.

Take one of the 18mm sheets. Measure out 7” on the 44” edge and mark it. From that mark, cut out a 3” wide section.

Keep the 5” section somewhere. Next, measure and mark out 30” on the remaining wood. From that 30” mark, cut out another 3” section.

Ensure you keep the 7”, 30”, and 1” sections.

Assemble the Workbench’s Top

To assemble the workbench top, place one of the 18mm MDF sheets on a flat surface. Starting from the edge, glue the 5” section to it. Leave a space of 3”, then glue the 30” piece to the board.

You can use the 3×3” blanks you cut earlier as spacers. Leave another space of 3”, then glue the 1” section to the board.

After gluing the sections to the board, turn it over and glue the second 18mm board on top of it. Top everything off by gluing the black 9mm MDF board on top of the second board.

Make sure all the edges are lined up perfectly. Clamp everything until the glue dries off.

Use a sander or a plane saw to clean off any glue residue on the edges of the top.

Mount The Table on The Frame

Take the frame and place it in an upright position. Lift the workbench and line up the 3” wide slots on the bottom with the 3” crossbeam on the frame.

Gently lower the benchtop on the slots, ensuring the holes line up with the crossbeam properly. You can use a mallet to tap it on all sides to make sure it is gently positioned.

Frame The Benchtop with Plywood

After installing the benchtop, you can finish it with plywood framing to increase the benchtop’s beauty. Cut out a 2.5” wide section from the 18mm MDF sheet for the plywood framing.

Set the table saw to a 45-degree angle and cut two 24” sections from the 2.5” wide section. Next, cut two 44” sections from the wood.

Place it around the border of the benchtop and see if it fits appropriately. Next, glue the plywood framing to the edges of the benchtop and clamp it until the glue dries.

You can add some screws to the plywood framing to secure it properly.

Clean up The Plywood Framing with A Router

The Plywood framing and the benchtop should be on the same level to provide a smooth, even surface all around. So, go around the edges of the plywood framing with a router to reduce the framing’s height.

Make sure all sides of the framing are level with the benchtop.

Finish The Benchtop with Wood Varnish

Wood varnish will help protect the surface of the wood from scratches, moisture, etc. It will also give it a smooth, satiny look.

Pour a bit of wood varnish into a small container. Using a rag, wipe down the wood surface with the oil. Wait for it to dry.

Add A Vice to The Workbench

You can add a mini-vise to your workbench for clamping workpieces to the benchtop. For the best results, the inner jaw of the vise must be flush with the workbench.

To mount it, place the vise on the side of the workbench with the 7” overhanging edge. Next, trace out its outline with a pencil.

Measure the thickness of the vise’s jaw. Using a router, cut out a recess in the outline equal to the thickness of the vise’s jaw.

Place the vise in the recess you just cut to ensure it fits and the lower jaw is flush. If it is, drill the hole for the bolts and secure the vise properly to the workbench.

Cut Out the Blank for The Drawer Compartment

The Drawer Compartment is the space where the storage drawers on the workbench are going to slot in. It’s going to span the lower straighteners up until under the workbench.

Cut two 19.75” x 30” pieces using the table saw from the 18mm MDF sheet. Next, set the table saw to 45 degrees and chamfer the edges.

After this, cut out two more pieces with dimensions 24” x 19.75” from the sheet. Chamfer the blanks the same way you did previously.

Lastly, cut out the backing for the drawer compartment from the black MDF sheet. It has dimensions of 30” X 24”. Chamfer it.

Assemble The Drawer Compartment

First, dry-fit the cubbyhole together and ensure it fits inside the workbench. Once you’ve confirmed it all fits, glue all the pieces together permanently.

Clamp all the parts together until the glue dries. Go over the cubby hole with a sander to remove any excess glue and sharp edges.

Insert it back into the workbench and secure it in place with glue or some screws.

Cut Out the Blanks for The Drawer

You can create two drawers for storing your tools in the workbench. Start by cutting two blanks from the 18mm sheet with dimensions of 4” by 28.5” for the front of the drawers.

Measure 0.5” from each edge and mark it. From these points, create a mortise 18mm wide. Next, measure 0.5” inches from the bottom edge and cut a groove ¼ inches wide.

Next, cut the blanks for the sides of the drawer. The dimensions are 4” by 19”. Cut four of them at one end to create a half-lap joint recess about 9mm wide and 18mm deep.

Lastly, cut the blanks for the final back piece in the drawer. Dry fit all the parts you’ve cu together and measure the distance between the two sides to get the dimensions for the back.

Make sure it stays just above the groove on the sides.

Assemble The Drawer

Take one of the front pieces and lay it down. Insert two side pieces into the mortises on the front piece. Make sure the parts are square, then glue them together.

Bridge the gap between the two upright pieces with the final back piece and use glue to hold it in place. Finally, cut a piece of ¼” plywood to size and slide it into the grooves you created to form the bottom of the drawer.

Sand the drawer to get rid of glue and any other residue.

Fabricate The Handle

Cut two 8” by 1.5” blanks from the 18mm MDF sheet for the drawer handles. Use the table saw or a sander to chamfer the edges all around.

On both blanks, carve out a little recess at the bottom about ¼ inches deep and ½ inches wide. These are going to be the finger grips you’ll use when opening the drawers.

Add The Handle to the Drawers

Drill two holes about 6” apart in the center of the drawers. Clean out any wood chips left in the holes.

Place the handles on these holes and attach them to the drawer with the aid of the screw. While doing this, ensure the handle is centered and level at all times.

Add Runners To The Drawers and Drawer Compartment

Screw the runners to the sides of both drawers. Place both drawers in the drawer compartment to check their fit.

Once you’re satisfied with the fit and position of both drawers, mark the point where their runners are on the drawer compartments. Screw a pair of runners on these positions.

Slide the drawers into the drawer compartment.

Add The Drawer Compartment to The Workbench

Once you’ve finished installing the drawers, it’s time to add the drawer compartment to the workbench. Place the drawer compartment right under the benchtop, on top of the stretchers.

You can use glue or a nail to secure it in place. Sand its surface to get rid of any excess glue.

Final Product

It’s been a long process, but your workbench is finally done. Now, you can you have a sturdy workbench perfect for a small, home woodshop.

For more amazing projects like this, check out the Captain of my shed channel on YouTube. He has several videos on simple DIY projects you can use to spruce up your home.

Photo by Captain of my Shed / CC BY 3.0