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Friday, May 16, 2014

Workbench for Benchwork Part I

No matter what a modeler does, they need at least a small amount of desk space to design and construct layouts as well as to repair or modify equipment.  Most, if not all modelers would appreciate a table space that can be used exclusively for projects.  Woodworkers have a term for such a space, a workbench.  In my current situation, the best space available for a workbench is outside during nice weather.  Building a workbench, even for uneven terrain, is not difficult.  It requires only basic tools and carpentry skills.

Before I dive into what I did, let's go over a couple of important things to consider.


By far, safety is the most important thing to consider in any project that requires cutting, drilling, sawing, or any "ing".  Always, always, always wear safety glasses.  Whenever I forgot, or decided I didn't need them, I always end up with something in my eye  Most times, it's not going to hurt my eye, but it's annoying, distracting, and sometimes painful to have sawdust, a flake of wood, or anything near the eyeball.  The real danger is if something gets in your eye while operating a power tool, and the distraction causes you to lose control of the tool and cause injury to yourself or someone standing nearby.  The other real danger is if a sliver, shard of metal, or any projectile gouges the eye.  Trust me, spend a few on safety glasses, wear them, and avoid the few hundred or few thousand of potential medical bills.

Since I use hand tools wherever practical, I don't need ear plugs most of the time.  However, if you run loud power or bench tools, please protect your hearing.  The ear isn't designed to take long periods of constant loud noise, and overtime the effects will become apparent.

Finally, use common sense around these tools.  There is no need to fear them, but just lie my shop teacher said in high school, it is important to develop a healthy respect for the tools we use.  Keep them clean, sharp, and use them as they were designed.  Following those guidelines everyone should be safe.


The second subject to consider before starting this project is what I need for a workbench.  For most people, the following should be put on the workbench:

  • Plenty of flat, level space.
  • durable and solid as stone
  • wide enough to give plenty of space, but narrow enough that every place on the workbench can be reached.
  • The ability to transport the workbench if necessary.
I decided to include a couple more things:
  • Ability to rip plywood using a jig saw or circular saw.
  • Able to glue together 22" wide modules
  • clean, flush edges to allow for cutting and measuring.
Other options some may consider:
  • A place to bolt in a vice for smaller projects or carving.
  • Adjustable height to use in conjunction with other bench tools such as a table saw, or drill press.
  • casters or wheels for ease of transport through a shop.
  • storage underneath for tools
  • a lip around the outer edge to allow room for bar clamps
  • anything else you can think of?
Also, consider height.  I've found through trail and error that the best table height to gain leverage over and object on a table when drilling or sawing without straining the back is about waist height.  For an average person, the waist is about half a person's total height.  For me, being 6 foot even, that means I need a table height around 36 inches or 3 feet.  It can be a bit taller, or shorter, depending on preferance.  ut waist height seems to be the sweet spot for workbenches.

With those points in mind, I formulated a plan in my head to what I wanted.  I wanted an area of about 2x8, using a heavy plywood top, 2x4's for the framework, and light lumber for the frames using bolts, screws ,and glue to hold all the joints together.  The whole thing needed to be level on uneven surfaces and had to be around 36 inches in height.

After a trip to the lumberyard and hardware store, here is what I got:
 Left to right: a 2x8 sheet of 3/4" plywood, 3 8 foot 2x4's, and several pieces of 1x3 and 1x2's.
 The plywood has a rougher, knotted side on the back, but has a very smooth top surface which is perfect for the workbench top.
 I am using a method called "screw and glue" It's fast, easy, and very strong.  First, I double check that the two pieces to be joined fit together properly.  Then I lay a bead of glue, in this case Titebond for molding and trim, press the two pieces together, and apply clamps to maintain pressure.  While the glue starts to set up, I drive screws into the joint.  After a few minutes, I can remove the clamps and move on to the next joint.  When dry, the joint is stronger than the wood will ever be.

 For the cross braces, I used a square (the triangle-shaped piece of plastic) to ensure a straight and strong cross brace.  I used the same method to join the cross brace like I did with the two sides.
 And the result is a solid top which won't fall apart, and will last the punishment it will receive from paint, tools, chemicals, the weather, and all sorts of other situations.

 Next, I decided to make the legs.  Using a 1x2 and a 1x3, I joined the two using the "glue and screw" method into an L-shape.  I also added a short piece of 2x2 scrap lumber for the T-nuts and the carriage bolts which go on the bottom of each leg.

 I drilled holes in each piece of 2x2 roughly near the center, hammered in the T nuts, and screwed in the 2" long, 1/4"-20 carriage bolts.  This set up allows the table to be adjusted on un level ground to give a level or nearly level table surface.
This concludes part I, in Part II I'll document the attachment of the legs, fitting the support braces, and sanding rough edges.

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