Friday, August 9, 2013


With three guests remaining, I still find myself spending quality time where ever they aren't and one of my first projects that I tackled was building a workbench for my garage. I have a workbench that is slid up against a wall. It is a big old heavy thing made from 2 x 4's and plywood and on it rests my crosscut saw, drill press and large assortment of screws, nails and fasteners. On a shelf under the top I have an air compressor, a jig saw, a planer, a small lathe, and an assortment of other jigs and fixtures. I present all of this to you so that you understand when I say, it can't be moved and because it is up against a wall in the corner of a garage and has large tools taking up real estate, it isn't practical as a bench to do much work on.

Along the wall on the extra wide portion of our garage to the side of the garage door, I have a bunch of shelving for storing all the assortments of tools and supplies needed in running a household from a handyman's perspective. Because I do need to access them from time to time and don't want to get rid of them, I decided that the solution to my problem was to build a smaller workbench that I could drag out to the middle of the floor when needed that was adequately sized so that I could assembly projects on its surface and walk around all sides. Every side of the table needed to have an overhanging edge sufficient to allow me plenty of clamping space which I really didn't create when I made my other workbench against the wall.

Back when I took high school shop, the woodworking area had these large laminated table tops about three inches thick and six feet square. They were beautiful for working on and every so often, they were sanded down and refinished as needed. You could assemble a tank on those things and I've always wanted one of my own. However, after looking forever, I found that you just can't buy something like that. They just don't exist. So I found some woodworking plans for an all wood version of a comparable table and started in making the legs last fall.

Two things happened. One, the legs called for mortise and tendon joinery and I really don't have a good setup for creating the mortises. I have a handful of dull chisels and a router. I tried routing them and although successful, they were ugly looking creatures. The second thing was my choice of wood which I chose as Douglas Fir. It is a stout wood to build a table top out of but it is pretty tough to work with at times because it has a tendency to check and warp. I built my legs, Baby Abbey was born, winter set in and the project languished.

With guests, I decided to resurrect it so that I can use the workbench to construct my custom built in bookcases, a project that will soon be on the head of my list. Looking for an alternative, I went to one of those large box stores and I found a workbench in a box that had a fairly nice metal base to it of about the right size. The only problem with it was that the top was made from pressed together cardboard like material that would last me about one project before sagging and being something I would loath. So I decided to buy the table and make a custom top for it from the materials of my old project and that is what  you see above.

Because I wanted a solid 2" thick top and I wanted to prevent future warping, I ripped down my douglas fir planks into 21 strips, planed them and glued them together 7 strips at a time. Once I had three planks of 7 strips, I planed them down to the same thickness and then glued the three planks together into one table top. From their I used a belt sander to get everything smooth and routed a relief round over around the perimeter edge. I bolted the entire thing down to the cardboard like top that came with the table leaving overhang on every side for plenty of clearance (something the table I bought and most others I looked at didn't have).

I think I mentioned already that douglas fir warps a lot and I had one plank of 7 strips that warped a bit after the glue set up. I put it on the outside thinking that I could pull it down when I bolted it to the other table top and it did a bit. But it also twisted the metal frame just slightly so my table top isn't quite flat. For 99% of what I will use it for it is plenty flat enough, better than any other surface I have in this house but it still hurts the anal side of me a bit. Perhaps someday when I break down and get a welder, I may stiffen up the base a bit to fix that problem. I might also put some castors on the bottom instead of leveling legs that came with it to make it a bit easier to drag across the floor.

I was just planning on putting a couple coats of polyurethane on the top prevent glue from sticking and other liquids that I might use from staining the top but while looking for some, I found some antique cherry stain I had leftover from a previous project at our old house. I thought it would look cool on the workbench and give it a more antique look so I applied a coat of that before three coats of polyurethane. Now I have a workbench that looks like it might be better suited as a large buffet table inside. I plan on starting my bookcases in the next week or so and that should mar up the finish enough to keep that idea out of my wife's head.


sage said...

It does look like a sturdy table--a lot better than mine (a piece of plywood on sawhorses, but then I'm not into crafting fine furniture).

kymber said...

Ed - i thought the new workbench was beautiful but you don't even want to know what jambaloney had to say. just know that there was a few swear words, great envy and great admiration for the construction. he was swearing because he wants it. i want it too, but i would definitely use it as a buffet table - it's too pretty to be a workbench!!!

your friend,

Ed said...

Sage - And a lot better than my cracked and heaved garage floor which I had been using up until this point.

Jambaloney - Sorry dude. I didn't mean to get you in hock with the old lady!

Kymber - I just finished my bookcase project which scarred the top and somehow I even cut off a 1/4" from one end accidentally. It now looks like a proper workbench!

Ron said...

Looks very nice and sturdy. I've got one of those workbench-in-a-box things with a top that could use a new top like that.

Anonymous said...

That looks a good thing. Is it light enough to shift about ?.

Ed said...

Ron - Although it was quite a bit of work and would be really hard to do without a planer, it certainly is worth is just in the couple of projects I have done on it already. Just being able to walk around all sides and have overhangs for easy clamping makes things much easier. But already I am thinking of adding castors to make it easier to move around and then make a shelf underneath to store some tools like the planer that I now use on the table.

Vince - It is for a fairly well built 40 year old man. But when it become harder or perhaps even sooner than that, I plan to add some locking castors to the bottom which will make it something my daughter could do.