Easy workshop project: Mini work tabkes you can mount in a vise

Here’s a neat trick I learned from an old-timer and makes a very easy DIY project too: portable work surface or “mini tabletops” you can mount in your vise. These are useful for pros and beginners alike. Cut a piece of plywood or scrap board to make a small work surface, roughly the size of a piece of letter paper, but could be larger or smaller as you require. Hardwood lasts a lot longer and is sturdier but anything works. Make a brace, ideally I-beam or “H” shaped, from some scrap and attach it to the bottom of your work surface. This will act as a reinforcement and allows you to hold it in your vise. Size the I or H so your vise jaws fit between the two ends and can firmly grab the center. You can make these very cheap. I’ve got one I’ve been using for a year now that’s just a piece of plywood measuring about 5" x 8" glued to a piece of 2x4. From the end it looks like a “T” with the plywood on top and the vertical part is the 2x. I have a couple larger sizes too, all made from scrap or recycled.

So what are these for? I make these out of of wood so I can do delicate work on my steel workbenches. It also holds the work up higher which can make it easier to work on many projects. These are also invaluable if your workbench is covered with things but the vise is free: need a small work space that’s free from clutter? Grab this from under your bench, secure it in the vise, get to work. I also like them for smaller clamping jobs; it’s easy to put many clamps around all sides. Since they are cheap and easy to make they can be sacrificial and you can drill or cut directly into them. Even if you have wooden workbenches (I do!) these are nice to have around because there is zero concern about accidentally hitting them with your drill, router, saw, etc. You can make them as fancy as you like or customize them to the specific work that you do. That 5x8 one with the 2x4 under it I mentioned above I mostly use as a support when drilling, when it gets chewed up a bit more I’ll toss it in the firewood pile and make another. I just finished making a bigger one from an old worn-out bamboo cutting board. I sanded the worn-out surface with 36 grit, cut it in half, glued the two worn sides together with gorilla glue to double-up the thickness. Once the glue set I cut the edges clean on the table saw, it ended up about 9x13". I made the I-shaped mounting brace from some oak and poplar scraps joined with my Dowelmax. I added a shallow stop block to one of the narrow ends to hold work when using a plane, and I made sure there are no metal fasteners anywhere close to the top so even if I slip badly I won’t risk my nice Japanese chisels. I have another I made years ago from another cutting board that’s cut out with a V-notch like a Jeweler’s bench pin. I plan on making a long, narrow one with a big V-shaped groove along it so I can use it to hold round stock.

The practical size depends on the sturdiness of your vise and what kind of work you’re doing but otherwise use your imagination. They’re also a great excuse to experiment with new joinery methods


I had done something very similar. In my shed where I did not have a big workbench to install many tools, I setup a bench grinder, a 1 inch belt sander & disk, a small 1 ton arbor press, a small benchtop 6" jointer (older Craftsman); all on 3/4" pieces of plywood, with a “cleat” screwed underneath it.

The idea of using a vise for these, never came to mind, and some like the jointer or bench grinder would be a bit too big and high to operate.

I used these all in a “black & decker workmate folding workbench” or similar brand. They clamp in nice and tight, they are at a good height…at least for the tools I would use, and for me was a great space saver. Most of these workmate devices have a step in the front which solidified things when I put my foot on it. All these tools were bolted to their plywood platform and would line them up on a shelf; just grab one, then put it away and grab another. The workmate folded and tucked away nicely in various spots.

This is a similar idea to yours, but I had tailored to my needs

I agree, the vise-mounted system would probably be too tall for most power tools but it now that you mention it, I think the idea could work for some hobby or mini size benchtop tools, like Proxxon, Micro-Mark, Sherline, attachments for Dremel and other rotary tools, etc.

Your comment reminded me of a DIY project I saw in a magazine years ago. The idea was to make a portable work cart that could be tucked into the corner of a small workshop and then rolled out on casters when you needed to work. The table top was designed to easily lift off and could be quickly swapped, and you could have multiple tops with different stationary tools attached. I’ve seen another variation where you could flip the table top over and have a different tool mounted on either side. Using these kinds of systems with a workmate makes a lot of sense: there’s less to build and the workmate itself easily stows when you’re not using it.

Another useful variation of these I forgot to mention: make the work top out of melamine or formica covered material. You could repurpose old furniture or countertop scraps or buy a cheap shelf from a big box store and cut it up. This material is usually very flat and most glues don’t stick well to it making it ideal for clamping glue-ups or making molds with 2-part materials like silicone, epoxy, or polyester resin.