A stout workbench or welding table is an essential part of every shop. When planning the construction of a fab table, determining what you’ll be doing on it, how much space you have in your shop, and how much money you can spend all come into play—bigger is not always better. After a lot of thought, we decided something with a max size of 4x6 feet would suit our shop.

We’ve seen a hundred benches made with 1/4-inch-thick steel tops, and they’re always dented or wavy from welding warp. When it comes to the top plate, bigger is always better. Our minimum thickness was 3/8 inch when we started hunting the scrap yards, where we found a 3x5 piece of 1/2-inch plate. We’ve come to find that the 3-foot dimension is a very comfortable working width—plenty of space to spread out, but everything is still within arm’s reach. We wouldn’t go smaller than 5 feet long, and 6 feet would have been better. But the price was right, and we’d hunted for months before finding our 1/2-inch-thick bargain.

The final dimension is height—and is perhaps the most critical. Some of the best advice we ever got was from Ron Covell when he told us to always be comfortable while working because “it allows you to be fussy with your work”. If you’re not fighting back pain from hunching over, you won’t be rushing your work.

We measured kitchen counter heights, tables, and also remembered blacksmiths of old set their anvil’s work surface so that holding a hammer in their hand and putting the head on the anvil, their elbow would be bent at a 90-degree angle, giving them the best position for work and not tire their arm, neck, and back muscles. We’ll be standing and sitting at the table, so our shop stools’ height was also taken into consideration. When all was said and done, our work surface is 36 inches high, which is pretty comfortable for our 6-foot, 1-inch stature—it’s also the height of our kitchen counters. We wouldn’t go any lower, but an inch or two higher wouldn’t hurt, which we can dial in on the leveling feet if we choose (more on those later). Another consideration is a bench vise, and its work-surface height: a vise with its jaws chest-high is impractical. We have a monster vintage Reed Mfg. vise, but it was too high, and took up too much real estate on our table, so we made other plans.

For the legs and frame, big is absolutely better. Not only does it need to solidly support the tabletop, it needs to support anything you set on it. “Mass” is the order of the day. We used 3x2x1/4 C-channel, with 2x3x 0.250-wall upright legs, on 2-1/2x3-1/3x0.3125-wall box tubing feet. We found the 2-1/2x3-1/2 tubing at the scrap yard with our tabletop, and bought the C-channel and 2x3-inch box from a supplier.

We never start a shop equipment build without a scale drawing done on graph paper, showing the top, side, and front elevations. This way we can figure how much steel to buy, how to cut to minimize waste, and how to get it home. Steel is generally sold in 20-foot sticks, and most suppliers give one free cut per stick: with a scale drawing you might find your combination of pieces will add up to one 12-foot and another 8-foot length—a big deal if simply cutting it into two 10-footers leaves you with unusable short pieces.

Our finished table weighs over 550 pounds, not counting the vise and its mounting framework. It’s rock solid and stable, which is what a good worktable is supposed to be, should handle anything we ever throw or drop on it, and will unquestionably outlive us.