Saturday, December 22, 2012

Project 2 - DIY Portable 3-in-1 Workbench / Table Saw / Router Table Combo

Getting Started

As a novice, I wondered how can I get started in the wonderful world of wood working. Until a few years back, my skills with wood were limited to a couple of workshop classes in college and hammering nails into wood.

A couple of years back, I built my first pergola in the back yard that turned out surprisingly successful. Ah! I love the smell of fresh cedar. Creating something is a wonderful experience - after all, its an art that we share with the Gods! However, working with the right tools can make it a pleasant experience - certainly, a jig saw and 7.2 V cordless drill won't be sufficient for all jobs.

Recently, I got a splurge of motivation (and some time!) to get back to learning wood working and invested in a portable circular saw and a hand held router. Suddenly, the thought of having a 6000 rpm machine in your hand makes you more powerful but I soon found out that this "portable" power came at the cost of accuracy. A variety of jigs and tricks can be used in most cases to make straight cuts, but a real table saw and router table can make this much simpler.

Build or Buy

Simple enough, but my dilemma was to build or buy. Here is the reasoning:
  1. I like the convenience of my portable tools (router and circular saw) - therefore, I need a design that I can easily attach the tool to the work table (and detach), as required. I certainly didn't want to duplicate my devices for the same end objectives.
  2. Commercial table saws and router tables can get quite expensive and often are sold separately. This will add both cost and space for storage.
  3. Finally, if I had to buy at least I would like to have first hand experience of what I need to look for. Therefore, this has to come much later after I've made several cuts in a table saw and router table.

I decided to build a portable 3-in-1 workbench / table saw / router table combo and convert the hand tools to more functional forms. Here's the final product (not an epitome of elegance, but quite functional):


OK, the decision was made to build. The next key question was "design". It really made me think how to put together a functional table and appreciate better how a table saw and router worked.

What do I need to consider for design?
How big should the table be?
How can I attach/detach my power tools?
What can I reasonably achieve with my limited tools?
What pitfalls should I avoid?
What kind of fence should I use?

There are plenty of free (and paid) plans, videos, discussion forums and how-to articles available on the web. However, I think one has to pick and choose the right features that you need.

These were my design parameters:
  1. Simple design that I can pull off quickly
  2. Compact, mobile table that fits in my garage
  3. House both circular saw and router with ample working surface
  4. Attach/detach tools easily
  5. Keep costs low but not compromise ease of use, quality or user experience
I've tried to capture some tips and pitfalls along the way in case someone wants to improvise.


Coming up with a plan is essential to achieve anything - the work table is no exception. Here's a Sketchup 3D plan of my design that I tinkered with until I had most of the elements worked out.


All my materials came from local hardware stores (Lowes or Home Depot).

(1) A - 3/4"D x 24"W x 48"L laminated MDF for table surface
(1) B - 3/4"D x 24"W x 48"L MDF for bottom shelf
(4) C - 4"D x 4"W x 30"L lumber for table legs
(4) D - 2"D x 4"W x 44"L lumber for frame
(4) E - 2"D x 4"W x 24"L lumber for frame
(2) F - 3/4"D x 24"W x 20"L laminated MDF for fence 

Fasteners & Accessories
(8) G - 3/8" x 6"L bolts, nuts and washers
(2) H - 1/2" x 2-1/2"L bolts, nuts and washers
(1) I - Toggle clamp
(16) J - 2-1/2"L screws
(8) K - 1-1/2" screws
(16) L - 1" screws
(4) M - 2" Casters
(2) N - 36" Adhesive fishing ruler tape
(1) O - Power strip

Total Cost: $70

Step 1 - Mark up and cut the lumber (C, D, E) to dimensions.

Step 2 - Its easier to build it upside down. Lay down D and E on the ground to form a rectangle. Check if they make square inner corners and screw them together to form the frame.

Step 3 - Place C (4" x 4" legs) vertically at each corner and check if they're square before clamping them together. Drill 3/8" hole through D and C and fasten with bolts (G). Screw E and C together with 2-1/2"L screws (I). Repeat for all four legs.

Step 4 - Attach the 2" casters (M) while the frame is still on the ground. Flip the frame for the rest of the work. With the wheels on, its easy to move it around.

Step 5 - Mark 6" from the ground on each leg and clamp the remaining D and E pieces to the legs (C) - one at a time. Drill 3/8" hole through D and C and fasten with bolts (G). Screw E and C together with 2-1/2"L screws (J). Repeat for all four legs.

Step 6 - Cut notches on the MDF board (B) at the corners with the jig saw and place it on the bottom frame. Screw in the MDF board (B) to D and E with 1" screws (L).

Before attaching the top surface, we need to make the necessary openings to attach the router and circular saw. Here's where different routers and circular saws will require custom solutions.

Step 7 - Attaching the router
I decided to keep it simple without having to cut insert plates or tinker with leveling screws for keeping the top surface flush for the work pieces.

On the Skil router, it was a simple solution. Just remove the base plate from the fixed base and mark up the openings on the underside of the laminated MDF board (A). Drill holes through and counter-sink on the top surface. Insert bolts from the top to fix the router snugly.

Mark the opening for the bit and use a plunge router to cut a square in the laminated MDF (A).

As a result, my fixed base is attached (rather) permanently to the table with the bolts. This allows marking up measurements on the table for repeated cuts. I can easily insert the router and lock in place as necessary, with the flexibility of still detaching it to use with my plunge router base. I simply tied the router switch in ON position so everything can be controlled with a power strip switch.

Tip: The main downside to this setup is that the adjustment of bit depth needs to be done under the table - a small price to pay since the insert plate concept was avoided.

Step 8 - Common Fence

A common fence for both the router and table saw can be used with careful planning. 

(i.) Cut F into two pieces - 12"L and 8"L. 
(ii.) On the 12"L piece, mark up 3" on either side and use a plunge router to drill 1/2" notches about 8" long.
(iii.) Position the 12"L piece on the laminated MDF (A) lining up one end of the notch and drill 1/2" hole through A.
(iv.) Cut a square notch on the long edge on both 12"L and 8"L pieces. This creates clearance for the bit to move the cut pieces and optionally attach a shop-vac.
(v.) Attach 8"L piece square to the 12"L piece, lining up the two notches. I used both glue and countersinked  screws.
(vi.) Use 1/2" bolts (H) to attach the fence to the laminated MDF board (A).

Tip: In any fence design, moving one end away from the blade or bit doesn't guarantee the other end has moved the same distance. Therefore, its best to mark up both ends to check if the fence is parallel to the blade or bit.

While this fence is quite sturdy and smooth, I decided to create another lightweight fence for smaller jobs.

(i.) Mark up and cut 2" x 2" stocks to 3 pieces - 48"L, 6"L and 6"L.
(ii.) Glue and screw the pieces square to form a simple fence as shown below.
(iii.) Drill 1/4" holes through 6"L pieces and use 1/4" knobs to fix the fence at desired stops.

Step 9 - Attaching the circular saw

On the Skil circular saw, it wasn't as straightforward as the router. I attached a scrap piece along one of the edges as a stop to guide the saw. I used a combination of bolts and a toggle clamp to secure the table saw in place. Attaching and detaching the circular saw is a breeze now and the stops provide the same fit every time.

Mark the opening for the blade and use a plunge router to cut a rectangle in the laminated MDF (A).

The retractable blade guard is quite handy above the table and allows safe operation. Again, I simply tied the circular saw switch to the ON position to control everything from the power strip switch.

Tip: The main downside to this setup is that the depth of cut and bevel needs to be adjusted under the table - a small price to pay since the insert plate concept was avoided.


 Step 10 - Mark the saw blades to carefully align and  stick the adhesive ruler tape (N) on either side of the laminated MDF (A). I used a fishing tape that's large, clear and water-proof. Finally attach the laminated MDF to the bench frame using 1" screws (L). Attach the power strip (O) to one of the front legs and plug in the router or circular saw, as required.

Voila! The portable 3-in-1 workbench / table saw / router table is ready to use!

Tip: The ruler tape should be fixed at the end, so any errors in squaring up edges and blades can be simply corrected by a little offset of the tape at both ends.

Additional Ideas:
1. There's still enough room to attach a vise to the workbench.
2. Attach a jig saw and convert it into a band saw station (4-in-1 for small spaces).
3. Create a small port on the fence and attach a shop-vac to control dust.


  1. Hey, just an idea. Instead of attaching the top mdf table to the frame, you could put a few hinges on the long side. This way, you can just "open" the table and adjust the cutting depths and bevels of the tools without having to go under the table. Dont remember where I saw it, but it's quite functional.

    1. Great idea! Yeah, I had considered that - just wasn't sure if the hinge would hold the heavy MDF in the long run and decided against it. Definitely would be more helpful!

    2. A 'piano cover' type hinge would fit that job perfectly.

  2. Excellent post! this case study gives me a lot of things to think about. I think this would be nice and helpful to others. Thanks for the post.

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  5. Excellent!
    How did you align fence parallel to saw blade?

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  7. It's a very interesting idea. I only used the router and hand saw for my wood work. This 3-in-1 Workbench / Table Saw / Router Table Combo will help the professional so much. Thanks for share.

  8. To take this idea one step further, I have seen others create "drop in modules" for each tool. by designing an open space in the middle of the table you can simply drop in the tool module as needed into an open space in the middle of the table. Store the modules on shelves under the table. A "flat table module" allows you to drop in a flat surface to fill in the empty square to use as flat workbench when modules are not in use. 5 modules for 5 tools.

  9. Just made the workbench portion with some modifications, and I found a few mistakes in the materials list & steps. But in the end, it seems very sturdy, even with the casters! Here's what I found: (1) I brought the top panel into Step 2. I laid it on the ground to lay out & square the top frame, clamped it, and secured with 2-1/2" screws, then moved on to Step 3. (2) I wanted it a little taller, so I bought a 12' 4x4 to make 32.5" legs, making the total height is just under 36" (3) The frame looks a lot prettier with the long side 2"x4" being the full 48" and the side ones filling the gap at 21". (4) I recessed all the bolts and screws. (5) There materials list doesn't not specify enough washers. For the 16 bolts you actually need 32 washers (twice as many). (56 The math in the plan is off because 2x4 are actually 1.5"x3.5". (7) I made the distance from bottom shelf to the bottom of the top frame 24" because I plan to enclose it using a few thinner 2'x4' sheets, and simple cabinet doors on the front that will lock with a clasp and padlock. (8) I agree with Anonymous above that it makes more sense to use "drop in modules" to change out tools & parts, so that's my next step. Overall, I'm very pleased with this table. It was my first build and gives me exactly what I need to get some projects done. Thanks!

  10. I think as a beginner, I bought a number of things I wished I had confidence to DIY - workbench included. I have no regrets buying it though as it would've been a waste of money even if I tried to do it myself. But after using a shop-bought table, I now know why customising this is a lot better!

  11. This is surely a very good blog, thanks a lot for sharing such nice information here.

  12. As a beginner I was stuck with getting a workbench - and the equipment I already have. Also the limited space available in my garage. I was looking for workbench designs and ideas. I am totally inspired by this and the comments. Thanks for posting!

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  16. Great idea, and is just what I was originally Googling for! I may use the idea of modular drop-in tools to make it easier to set up, but it is pretty perfect as originally designed. Thanks.

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  21. Hi, I really appreciate your work that how you explain each step in detail with proper illustration. I am beginner in this power tools field i have my circular saw but it was failed due to power failure i go for market for circular saw repair but can not get something out of it. After getting some training in using power tools i buy a best table saw for woodworking for the improvement of my home by my own by using your given techniques and guess what i am succeeded...!!

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