A rock-solid workbench: build your own mobile workbench with tons of storage--it'll handle any project you can throw at it.
In this story, we'll walk you through the key construction techniques, including a unique, low-tech way to glue up the thick top. Figure A on p. 59 shows all the details. You won't need any exotic tools, only a table saw, a miter saw, a heavy-duty belt sander and at least four 4-ft.-long bar clamps. Beyond those, a circular saw and a screw gun are the only tools you'll absolutely need. While not critical, an 18-gauge brad nailer (Photo 2) with several clips 1-1/2-in. brads will really Speed up assembling the cabinet and nailing on the trim. Allow at least three days for this project: two days for the cabinet, trim and drawers and a third for gluing up and flattening the top.
Expect to pay about $600 for your bench materials, including the cost of the vises and "bench dogs" (pins that work with a vise; photo right). That may seem spendy, but consider that a comparable bench bought from a woodworker's store would cost at least $1,200.
The heart of this bench is the heavy, thick top, which is made from glued-up 2x4s (Photos 12-16). The super-strong base is made from three identical 3/4-in. plywood boxes screwed to a 2x4 platform (Photo 1). We then dressed up the base with veneered plywood, trimmed the bench with hardwood, and added heavy-duty drawers and sliding shelves for storing tools and supplies.
Our workbench is finished with oak plywood and solid oak trim. However, you can save about $100 if you build it from construction-grade plywood and use pine for the trim.
This bench is a true heavyweight, weighing in at about 400 lbs. (without tools). That's intentional, to give it the strength and stability for first-class work. It rests on heavy-duty casters, so you can tuck it out of the way when it's not in use and roll it out when you're ready to create those family heirlooms.
Buying the materials
Use special care and select straight 2x4s for the base platform (Photo 1). In addition, pick boards that have small, tight knots (or no knots) on one edge for the laminated worktop. Buy 14-ft. 2x4s and cut them to 7-ft. lengths, because longer boards are generally of higher quality than shorter, stud-length boards. If you have trouble getting the long boards home, have the lumberyard cut them in half for you.
We recommend using 3/4-in. AC plywood for the basic cabinet structure, the drawer and sliding shelf bottoms, and any shelves. When you're selecting this plywood, don't worry about surface defects. Flaws will never be seen. Just make sure the sheets are flat. Use the 3/4-in.-thick veneer oak plywood to clad the cabinet assembly and to make the doors and drawer fronts and drawer sides. If you choose another plywood type, buy matching (or contrasting) trim.
Select side-mount, full-extension drawer slides (Photos 8 and 9) that are rated to handle 90-lb. loads for sturdy, smoothly operating drawers. This beast will weigh upward of 600 lbs. fully loaded, so buy swivel casters that are rated for at least 100 lbs. Use six: two in the center and one at each corner to fully support the bench and to make it roll smoothly on uneven floors (Photo 4). When you roll out the bench, add four shims (tap one under each of the four corners; photo, p. 58) to keep the bench stable while you work.
To get the most from your bench, plan on buying two vises. Buy a 7-in. "tail" vise that's mounted at one end of the bench to use with the bench dogs for clamping bench-top work. Pick a 9-in. "face" vise for clamping work at the bench front. Plan on spending at least $70 for the tail vise and $100 for the face vise to get high-quality, smoothly operating vises. Make sure they have quick-release mechanisms so you can quickly slide the vises open and closed. You'll have to add the hardwood "cheeks" yourself.
Cut the parts and build the base
Start by cutting all of the AC plywood pieces following the cutting diagrams (Figure C, pp. 68-69). To save on materials, we cut a few of the pieces from leftover oak plywood. Mark each piece with its letter to save confusion later. Assemble the base platform and then the boxes (Photos 1 and 2). Finish the back cabinet structure by centering the triple box assembly on the base, screwing it down and screwing on the top sheet of plywood (Photo 3). When you mount the wheels (Photo 4), make sure they pivot freely and won't bind against the frame.
After the structure is together, finishing the outside of the cabinet is straightforward. Simply cover the sides and back with the oak plywood cut to fit (Photo 5). Nail each piece around the perimeter with 1-1/2-in. brads spaced every 4 in. Then add 1-5/8-in. screws to the back panels for more strength (they'll be covered by trim later). Trim out the cabinet by cutting boards to fit as shown in Figure A and Photo 6, starting with the horizontal bands at the base and top. It's a little extra work, but the bench will look more polished if you miter the top and bottom horizontal trim at the corners. Finally, cut and nail on the vertical trim boards. Be sure to cut or plane the vertical trim boards flush with the box openings at the front. Otherwise, the drawer slides will be too narrow at the front and won't operate smoothly.
Build the drawers
We give you the measurements for the drawer fronts and backs, but that assumes that you cut and assembled your cabinet boxes perfectly. It's best to measure the box widths at this point and cut the front and back of the drawers exactly 1 in. shorter than the openings. Double-check those pieces before assembling the drawers. If they're any larger or smaller, the slides won't work.
Photos 8 and 9 show how to use plywood spacers to mount the drawer slides accurately. (See the Cutting List, pp. 68-69, for spacer sizes.) Slightly angle in the spacers and rest the drawer on them so the drawer projects a few inches beyond the cabinet front. Pull out both drawer slides until they're flush with the drawer front and drive the first screws through the slots (Photo 8). Slide out the drawer until the next screw holes are showing and install the next two screws and then slide it out farther to access the last ones. Rip the spacer and mount the second drawer the same way. Use a 1/4-in. spacer for the bottom sliding shelf, bottom drawer and utility drawer (Photo 10).
Cut and edge the drawer and door fronts
Cut three identical panels of oak plywood (Figure A) for the doors and drawers. Cover the edges with strips of matching hardwood for a neat, durable edge treatment.
Rip your own strips or buy 1/2 x 3/4-in. "parting stop" at the lumberyard. Glue and pin on the edging with 1-in. brads and slightly ease the edges with sandpaper to prevent splinters. Then cut the drawer fronts from one of the panels on the table saw. When the drawer fronts are mounted, the spaces between the drawers will be the thickness of the saw kerf (use 16d nails as spacers), so the top and bottom will remain aligned with the doors. Mount the fronts as we show in Photo 17. Tack strips of wood spaced 1/2 in. from the openings on the bottom and one side to align the bottom drawer fronts. Screw the hinges on the cabinet doors (3 in. from the top and bottom) first and then center the doors and screw the hinges to the cabinet.
Glue up the bench top
Gluing up and flattening your bench top will take most of a day. You can get by with four pipe clamps, but if you have any buddies with pipe clamps, borrow them too; they'll speed up the process and ensure gap-flee glue joints.
Begin your top by cutting twelve 14-ft. long 2x4s in half. Choose the best edge of each piece: the one with the fewest, smallest knots and without any corner defects. Rip each 2x4 to 3-1/4 in. wide, trimming the best edge square. Cluster together the first five boards, find the center of the group and mark lines every 6 in. (Photo 13). Later, avoid these locations when you're driving screws so you can drill clean holes for the bench dogs.
It's important to glue and clamp the top on a flat surface. Lay out three pipe clamps and glue and screw the 2x4s one by one (Photos 12 and 13). The mini paint roller speeds up the glue spreading considerably. Keep the board tops as flush as possible to minimize sanding later. And mark the screws on the bench top as you go to avoid hitting them with the next row of screws.
You can tell if the joint is tight by looking for an even glue "squeeze-out." Where you don't see oozing glue, add the fourth clamp to pull together the 2x4s before running in a screw. Predrill 1/8-in. holes through the first 2x4 for each screw to help draw the boards together.
After gluing a few boards, scrape off the glue squeeze-out (top and bottom) with a chisel and wipe off the joints with a damp rag (top only). Otherwise the glue will clog up your sandpaper during the flattening process later. You can really beat yourself up striving for a perfectly gap-flee top. If that's your goal, use at least eight clamps and carefully cull any twisted 2x4s. The truth is, a few narrow gaps in your top won't hurt anything but your pride.
Cut the top to length and sand it flat
Mark a square cutoff line on the right side of the bench 6 in. away from one of the bench-dog layout marks and another 6 ft. away on the other end.
Your circular saw will cut about halfway through, so flip over the top and transfer the cutting lines to the bottom and cut the other side (Photo 14). If you're using a cutting jig as we show, remove it and follow the saw kerf freehand to finish the cut. Be careful: If your cuts are misaligned, you'll be facing lots of sanding to flatten the ends!
Belt-sand the top with coarse paper in a diagonal direction first one way, then the other, until the top is flat (Photo 15). You'll have to repeat this process several times to achieve a flat surface. Then, belts-and parallel with the grain to remove sanding marks with coarse-, then medium-, then fine-grit belts. Finish up the sanding with a random orbital sander using 100-grit paper.
Set the top and mount the vises
Cut the slotted angle iron to length with a hacksaw and screw the pieces to the support blocks with 1-1/2 x 5/16-in. lag screws. Place the blocks on the cabinet, mark the angle iron holes, then drill and through-bolt the blocks to the cabinet with 5/16 x 2-in. bolts with nuts (Photo 11).
Center the bench top on the cabinet and mark the center and outside angle iron holes on its underside. Hold the vises in place and scribe their footprints on the underside. You may have to clip one block end to get the vise to clear (Figure A, part XX). Flip over the top and drill 1/4-in. pilot holes for the angle iron lag screws, and then cut out mortises so the tops of the vises will be flush with the bench top (Photo 16). (It will save time if you first make several passes with a circular saw set at the right depth.) Then bolt the vises in place, flip over the bench top and lag-screw it to the angle irons.
Draw a light pencil line centered on the tail vise dog and parallel to the side to center the 3/4-in. bench dog holes. Then drill the holes spaced every 6 in. along the line. Apply three coats of polyurethane to the top and two coats to the cabinet, sanding between coats with 120-grit paper.
Draw pencil "progress" lines over the surface while you're belt sanding (Photo 15). As the lines disappear, you'll be able to keep track of which areas have been sanded and where more work is needed.
1 Cut all of the 3/4-in. AC plywood pieces and 2x4 platform parts (Figure A). Screw the platform framing together and then screw on the plywood base.
2 Glue and pin the box sides together with 1-1/2-in. brads, then predrill and anchor them with three 1-5/8-in. screws along each edge.
3 Screw the three boxes together, then center the box assembly on the base (3/4 in. from each end) and screw it down. Then screw on the plywood top.
4 Flip the bench upside down and screw the wheels to the underside with 1-1/2 x 5/16-in. lag screws. Position two in the cabinet center.
5 Glue the plywood end and back panels onto the boxes and nail them with 1-1/2-in. brads. Screw the perimeter of the three back panels to the boxes with 1-5/8-in. screws.
6 Miter, then glue and nail on the bottom and top horizontal trim pieces. Then cut, glue and nail the vertical trim in place (Figure A).
7 Glue and nail the drawer sides to the fronts and backs. Square up each drawer with the bottom panel and glue and nail it into place.
8 Rest the top-drawer slides on a spacer flush with the front trim, then extend them and screw them to the sides of the cabinet boxes.
9 Rest the drawers on the spacers. Screw the slides onto the drawer at the front first, slide the drawer out and drive the second pair, then repeat for the third.
10 Mount the drawer slides to the utility drawer blocks using 1/4-in. spacers and then mount the drawer. Center and clamp the drawer blocks to the cabinet base and fasten them with 3-in. screws.
11 Lag-screw the angle iron to the bench-top support boards with 1-1/2-in. x 5/16-in. lag screws. Then bolt them to the base with 2-in. x 5/16-in. nuts and bolts.
12 Rip twenty-four 7-ft.-long 2x4s to 3-1/4-in. widths. Lay three pipe clamps on a flat surface. Roll a thin layer of glue over the two mating faces of the 2x4s.
13 Clamp each board and screw it to the others With 3-in. screws spaced every 6 in. Add another clamp and more screws as needed to close large gaps,
14 Mark the bench at 6 ft. long, then cut off both ends with a guide and circular saw. Cut from both sides.
15 Belt-sand the top flat diagonally first one way, then the other until the "progress" lines disappear. Then finish sanding with a random orbital sander.
16 Set the top on the bench and mark the 1/4-in. pilot holes for the angle iron. Flip the bench over and drill the holes. Cut and chisel mortises for the vises and mount them. Screw down the top.
17 Tack guide boards 1/2 in. from the bottom and side of the center box. Pin the drawer fronts into place. Then screw the fronts on from the backside with four 1-1/4-in. screws. Mount the doors.
Woodworker's Hardware: (800) 383-0103. www.wwhardware.com
* Full-extension 24" drawer slides, No. KV8405 B24 ANO, $11 each.
* Swivel-plate 3" industrial casters, rubber, $10 each.
Highland Hardware: (800) 241-6748. www.tools-for-woodworking.com
* Bench dogs, pair, No. 019715, $16.
* 9" quick-re/ease vise, 199152, $110.
* 7" quick-release vise, 199151, $75.
Drawer and sliding shelf spacer sizes *
Top shelves: 18-1/2"
Second shelf: 14"
Third shelf: 8"
Bottom shelf: Space it from cabinet bottom 1/4"
Top drawer: 17"
Second drawer: 11"
Bottom drawer: Space it from cabinet bottom 1/4"
* See Photos 8 and 9
Cutting List KEY PCS. SIZE & DESCRIPTION A 1 23-3/4" x 64-1/2" 3/4" AC plywood (base) B 3 21" x 28-3/4" 3/4" oak (back) C 1 23-3/4" x 64-1/2" 3/4" AC plywood (top) D 6 23-3/4" x 23-3/8" 3/4" AC plywood (box sides) E 6 19-1/2" x 23-3/4" 3/4" AC plywood (box tops and bottoms) F 8 18-1/2" x 23-3/4" 3/4" AC plywood (drawer and sliding shelf bottoms) G 1 39" x 23-3/4" 3/4" AC plywood (utility drawer bottom) H 2 24-1/2" x 23-3/4" 3/4" oak plywood (cabinet end panels) J 3 19-1/2" x 22-1/4" 3/4" oak plywood (drawer and door fronts). Plywood cut sizes only. Add banding (U) for final sizes. K 1 20-1/2" x 11" 3/4" oak plywood (bottom drawer face). Cut sizes after banding is installed. L 1 20-1/2" x 6" 3/4" oak plywood (middle drawer face). Cut sizes after banding is installed. M 1 20-1/2" x 6" 3/4" oak plywood (top drawer face). Cut sizes after banding is installed. N 1 43" x 4-1/4" 3/4" oak plywood (utility drawer face). Cut size before banding. P 4 4-1/4" x 23-3/4" 3/4" oak plywood (drawer sides).Top and middle drawers only. P1 2 3-1/4" x 23-3/4" 3/4" oak plywood (utility drawer side) PP 4 4-1/4" x 17" 3/4" oak plywood (drawer fronts and backs). Top and middle drawers only. Q 2 9" x 23-3/4" 3/4" oak plywood (bottom drawer sides) QQ 2 9" x 17" 3/4" oak plywood (bottom drawer front and back) R 2 3-1/4" x 37-1/2" 3/4" oak plywood (utility drawer front and back) RR 10 1-1/2" x 17" 3/4" oak plywood (sliding shelf front and backs) S 10 1-1/2" x 23-3/4" 3/4" oak plywood (sliding shelf sides) T 2 5" x 8' 3/4" oak hardwood (base molding). Cut to fit for lengths. U 4 1-1/2" x 8' oak hardwood (trim). Cut to fit for lengths. V 1 2-1/4" x 8' oak hardwood (vertical trim). Cut to fit for lengths. VV 24 1/2" x 3/4" oak hardwood (door and drawer edge banding) Cut to fit for lengths. W 4 1-1/2" x 3-1/2" x 6' framing lumber (base platform). Cut and assemble to fit part A. X 12 1-1/2" x 3-1/2" x 14' framing lumber (work top) XX 2 5" x 30" framing lumber (top sup- ports; one is 27" long) Y 2 5" x 25-1/4" framing lumber (utility drawer supports) Z 3 23-1/2" angle iron (top hold-down) ZZ 1 30" angle iron (top hold-down) 6 sets 2" x 5/16" nuts, bolts and washers (angle iron to cabinet base) 30 1-1/2" x 5/16" lag screws (wheels to cabinet base, angle iron to sup-ports) 6 2" x 5/16" lag screws (angle iron to worktop) 1 lb. 1-5/8" screws (base to platform framing) 1 lb. 1-1/2" screws (all plywood-to- plywood connections) 1/2 lb. 3" screws (utility drawer supports to cabinet base) 9 pairs 24" drawer slides
I built a version of this bench last winter for my shop and believe me, it's a joy to use. (My wife complains that it's nicer than our kitchen cabinets!) If you've never had a decent vise coupled with bench dogs, you're in for a treat. They're great for planing, sanding and many other tasks.
I urge you to customize the drawers and sliding shelves. When building my bench, I laid out my tools and supplies and decided the number and sizes of the drawers and sliding shelves to store them all. The 4-in.-tall drawer in the space between the bench top and cabinet base is my favorite. It stores my tape measures, squares, chisels, drill bits and marking knives. I added slotted bins in the bottom of one of the cabinets for my air guns.
Send me some digital photos of your new bench along with comments regarding the building of your bench and any problems you encountered. We'd love to see and hear how your bench took shape. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Art Direction * BOB UNGAR
Photography * BILL ZUEHLKE
Illustrations * FRANK ROHRBACH
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|Title Annotation:||DREAM PROJECT|
|Publication:||The Family Handyman|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2005|
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