Easy, Low Cost Electronics Workbench

What do you do if you need a quality workbench for your electronics work? I thought I would look at a pre-built model that seemed very cost effective. Well, after I added all the features I wanted, and accounted for shipping, it was around $800 – far higher than I was hoping to spend on a personal bench.

My first thought for an electronics bench

We had the great idea to use a laminate kitchen countertop as the bench surface, and closet shelves above for instruments and storage. Here’s a list of (hopefully) all the parts I used. I bought everything right from Lowe’s in one trip.

Materials (1×2’s for skirt are not shown)
  • 6′ Length Laminate Counter
    • I picked the one with the most “normal” front edge with a simple color pattern so as to not lose tiny components. You could easily adapt this to a longer bench top, or even a corner if you wanted
  • Counter end splash kits for edges
  • 4x Table legs
  • 1×2’s for table skirt construction
  • Table leg mounting bracket kit
  • 1″ L-brackets for table skirt (+screws)
  • 2x 6′ long closet shelves
  • 4x closet shelf tracks
  • 6x closet shelf

All I did was build a table skirt under the countertop. Follow the recommended dimensions on the table leg mounting bracket kit for proper design. I used the L-brackets to attach the skirt to the underside of the bench top. Building a skirt underneath had the added bonus of reducing flex in the countertop.

Next, I attached the table legs as described on the bracket kit.

At this point, the bench top is very sturdy vertically, but it’s just a bit wobbly side-to-side, since there are no stringers at the base of the table legs. After moving the bench to its final location, I just used two L-brackets into studs from the bottom side of the benchtop, and that kept the whole bench from moving laterally. (One is on the back edge and another on the side edge). I also painted the legs white for a more finished look.

After placing the bench into its corner, all I had to do was mount the closet shelves. I did screw the shelves onto the brackets for added stability. But if you weren’t sure where you wanted each shelf, they are completely adjustable. I also put some caulk along the edge, just because I wanted it to look really seamless. After that, I added some features like the power strip on the back (with two 2″ holes and grommets for cables to reach the outlets). I also added a small shelf for the oscilloscope. The work bench is extremely stable and doesn’t wobble or shake at all (which is important for delicate soldering). So far, this configuration has been very helpful as a workbench for under $200 and just a few hours of build time.

A Way Forward for fRISCy

The original idea behind fRISCy was to begin with the FE310 RISC-V microcontroller, mate it with an FPGA for highly configurable processing, and package it in the familiar Raspberry Pi form factor. While the basic premise has not changed, we’ve decided to switch from an Artix-7 FPGA over to a Lattice iCE-40. There were a couple of comments about including the RISC-V microcontroller, but using a closed FPGA, so this change will allow for full development using open source toolchains! Look for updates to the fRISCy page in the next few weeks. Here are a couple more key points about the change:

  • Attempting to reduce the PCB layer count to 4-layers in an effort to reduce costs
  • Will keep Ethernet and SYZYGY connectors as they are primary connectivity
  • Will reduce connections to the FE310. As many IO functions as possible will be handled by the FPGA, with a high-speed SPI interface between the FE310 and FPGA. This will allow the FPGA to simply act as a SPI peripheral to the FE310
    • I2C to the GPIO header will probably be shared between FPGA and FE310
    • One RGB LED will remain on the FE310
    • All other open pins on the FE310 will be routed to the FPGA for use as GPIOs or IRQs

Original Block Diagram