Turn a lackluster worktable into a capable woodworker’s bench with these seven simple ideas using common add-ons and accessories.
Photo of work bench with added accessories

Every good story needs a hero, and in the shop, a workbench answers the call. The bench facilitates everything from handwork to sanding to assembly to finishing. It's truly the central character in your woodworking story. And it's a great place to set your coffee while you contemplate the next step or next project.

Most of us fantasize about owning the classic wooden "cabinetmaker's bench," but buying one requires a big investment and building one takes a ton of time. Don't delay your workshop story by waiting for your fantasy hero to come along. Instead, quickly craft a capable woodworking bench on a budget by starting with a plain bench from the home center and outfitting it with accessories to transform it from ordinary worksurface to workshop hero. 

1. Our best advice: add a vise (or two).

The basic bench we bought [Sources] came with a sturdy base and a beefy top, but that really just made it a heavy-duty table. Adding workholding power makes it a WORKbench. We started with a vise on one end, shown below. (If you're right-handed, attach it on the right end like we did. Lefties may want to swap it to the other end.) 

Photo ot vide added to bench
A key component in creating a capable workbench, a vise provides the ability to hold workpieces securely. A good vise offers more than one way to hold on.

The inexpensive Pony vise we bought isn't the fanciest, but the castings are beefy, it requires only a spacer block and a pair of carriage bolts to mount solidly to the top, and it has 9" reach between the jaws to hold large items. Add hardwood jaw faces and you've greatly leveled up your bench's capabilities.

Photoot vide added to work bench
While it might not fit the conventional definition of a vise, the Clamp Vise proves a sturdy bench companion. It installs with a pair of screws, and the clamp adjusts itself to varying thicknesses.

We chose this particular vise for one more reason: It features a pop-up bench dog that other inexpensive vises didn't. On the front of the bench near the opposite end, we added an auxiliary vise. It's a multiuse clamping accessory from Kreg Tool called a Clamp Vise. It consists of an aluminum plate that screws to the edge of the benchtop with T-tracks for the included clamp and work supports. This simple accessory increases the workholding capability of an ordinary bench even more. 

2. Drill dog holes

While a vise alone is handy, its usefulness is limited by the capacity between the jaws. Adding bench-dog holes expands your vise capacity to hold pieces nearly the size of your benchtop. 

Photo of forstner bit drilling holes in bench top
Laying out the dog holes on masking tape makes the marks easy to see, helps the drill guide grip better, and prevents tear-out. A Forstner bit ensures straight, smooth holes.

Place dog holes in line with your vises and drill them perpendicular to the benchtop. Make the distance between the holes slightly less than the opening capacity of your vise jaws. To drill the holes precisely, we used a portable drill guide [Sources]. We chose a model with alignment marks on two axes, plus an edge guide, for easy positioningand drilling. 

The most common bench dogs fit a 3/4" hole. Drill the holes all the way through the benchtop to prevent sawdust and debris from accumulating and to provide a finger hole to pop the dogs up from underneath.

3. Run for cover

Photo of rosin paper roll on end of workbench
A roll of rosin paper mounted under the bench is always in reach to protect the surface from messes. We couldn't find a roll in the exact width we needed, so we simply crosscut it to fit at the bandsaw.

Glue-ups and staining can make a mess of your benchtop in a hurry. Prevent it with a roll of rosin paper, a pair of 3/4 × 5" screw eyes, and a 3/4" dowel. Those three ingredients combine to make a simple, effective paper dispenser. Simply drill pilot holes in the underside of the bench, thread in the screw eyes, slide the dowel through the paper roll, and insert it into the screw eyes. If the fit is too snug, sand the ends of the dowels to reduce the diameter. 

4. Teach your dog holes new tricks

Dog holes, of course, accept bench dogs that allow you to extend the holding capacity of your vise. Just slip a dog into one hole, pop up the dog on the vise jaw, and then tighten the vise to clamp between the dogs.

photoof clamped circular workpiece
Curved and oddly shaped pieces can stymie the best clamping setups. But a couple of bench dogs combined with a clamp that applies in-line pressure make these pieces easy to hold.

Dog holes also do a whole lot more when combined with a few specialty accessories. In-line clamps, above, make it easy to hold odd-shaped workpieces.

Photo of hold down clamp
Dog holes allow you to place a hold-down-style clamp anywhere in the field of your benchtop, so you can hold workpieces down, and even allow them to extend beyond the edge of the bench.

The same clamp that fits in the Clamp Vise on the front of the bench also works as a hold-down clamp when combined with a dog-hole base, above

Photo of bench cookie elevating a work piece
When you need extra clearance below your workpiece or you just want to rise above a cluttered benchtop, these Bench Cookies are just the ticket. They stand on legs that drop into dog holes.

For some tasks, such as routing an edge profile with a bearing-guided bit, raising the workpiece up off the bench surface proves beneficial. These Bench Cookies, above, screw onto risers that fit right into your dog holes to elevate and grip your workpiece while you work. With pointed caps that slip on, the Bench Cookies are handy for finishing, too.

5. Step up the storage

We've never met a woodworker who complained about having too much storage space. So, it's smart to not waste the space under a bench. We added a lower rail in front that this bench was lacking, then topped it with a shelf made from 3/4" plywood notched to fit around the legs.  

Photo of storage shelf
A front rail made from a 2×4 matches the dimensions of the bench rails. Drill holes in the steel, then secure the rail and the shelf with sheet-metal screws.

Of course, you can add cubbies or an enclosed cabinet if desired. If your bench needs more mass to keep it from "walking" while planing or sawing, stabilize it by turning the shelf into a hollow box and filling it with paving bricks for added weight. 

6. Make it mobile

A workbench may be the centerpiece of a shop, but it doesn't always have to stay there. Permanent casters, even locking ones, though, can make the bench unstable. And they remove the ability to adjust the legs for uneven floors. 

Photo of foot raising caster on workbench
Retractable casters offer the best of both worlds for a bench: there when you need them, and out of the way when you don't. Casters with hard rubber wheels roll smoothly and handle heavy loads.

These retractable casters [Sources] flip down when you want to roll the bench around, then flip out of the way to allow the bench to sit on its feet while in use. 

7. Power Up

Until cordless tools completely take over, woodworkers will always welcome outlets nearby. Mounting a power strip to a bench leg means you'll always have an open receptacle when and where you need it.

Photo of power strip on workbench leg
A heavy-duty power strip with a long cord eliminates extension cords and ensures you'll have a place to power up chargers and tools right where you want to use them.

Make it your own

Whether you're creating your primary workspace or you're adding a second bench, make your bench the hero you deserve with well-chosen accessories that suit the ways you work. We've shown a few here, but we know many more exist. Drop us a line at woodmail@woodmagazine.com to show and tell us how you've customized your workbench.


Masterforce 60×24" Workbench, Menards, menards.com. Pony Woodworker's Vise, Pony Jorgensen, 800-776-2228, ponyjorgensen.com,. Clamp Vise no. KBC3-VISE; Bench Clamp Base no. KBCBA; In-Line Clamp no. KBCIC, Kreg, 800-447-8638, kregtool.com. Veritas Round Bench Pups Pair no. 05G0404, Lee Valley, 800-871-8158, leevalley.com. Bench Cookie Plus Master Kit no. 56071; Workbench Casters (4-pack) no. 43501, Rockler, 800-279-4441, rockler.com. Yellow Jacket 6-outlet power strip no. 204667729; 36"×167' red rosin paper no. RR16736, Home Depot, 800-466-3337, homedepot.com.