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Building a workbench or two

09 May

At the end of my series on restoring an Art Nouveau style cabinet, I mentioned that I had another project I wanted to tackle. That project was building a workbench.

I’ve never made anything like this before so I rather made it up as I went along.

I actually completed the project in the days immediately following finishing the cabinet, but I haven’t had a chance to blog about it until now.

Large workbench

Day 1

It had been my intention to build the workbench from 18mm exterior plywood, and a combination of 38mm x 89mm timber and 38mm x 63mm timber. However, when I got down to B&Q it turned out I would need to buy a huge sheet of 18mm ply measuring 2440mm x 1220mm in order to get a contiguous worktop and it would cost over £30. However, the guy at the B&Q Cutting Service had a large offcut that was wide enough but too shallow, and he cut it for me so that I could make the worktop in three pieces – a full width piece plus two half width pieces that would then give me the depth I wanted (ooer, missus) and charged me £3 for the wood. Bargain!

I also picked up a few other offcuts for very little money, including some 5.5mm plywood for the lower shelf, and various other offcuts that would probably prove useful for future projects since they were so cheap.

Due to new rules at the Cutting Service, he couldn’t cut the timber for me – they only cut flat sheets these days. But that was ok as it turned out.

I got it all home, but only just as I didn’t have a roof rack at the time (I have subsequently bought one).

My first attempt at packing the car worked well but the boot didn’t quite close so I had to try again

My second attempt worked slightly better but wasn’t ideal. I’m so glad that I now have a roof rack and don’t have to try that again!

I got it all home, and set to work cutting the timber and laid out the simple ladder frame that I would be using.

I then laid out the three parts of the top, and started glueing and screwing. I hadn’t learnt my lessons from the cabinet, and really over-engineered it with way too many screws, nails, and reinforcement.

Whilst that was drying, I made the lower stretcher / shelf from the 5.5mm plywood offcut, and glued and screwed the rims and joists, adding extra reinforcement joists at the ends.

Before I finished for the day, I decided to glue some reinforcement onto the area where I was going to have a vice. This was my first real mistake of the build and was going to come back to bite me later.

Day 2

The next day I cut the legs to size from 38mm x 89mm and offered them up.

I realised that when the legs were bolted to the frame, all the forces would be in shear which would put a lot of strain on the bolts, so I changed my design on the fly and chased out recesses for the legs so that the weight would be in compression from the top. This also meant I needed to modify the lower stretcher / shelf as well.

Then I bolted the legs to the frame. I didn’t use glue, so that the workbench can be disassembled in future, if I ever move house or anything.

To be honest, I think the coach bolts I used are massively over the top.

Because I had put the bracing wood in for the vice, and it was glued in so solidly, I had to chisel out the bracing joist on that side. Frankly, I think I was rather over-engineering it and it wasn’t really necessary. I also made a bit of a pig’s ear of it too. I wish I hadn’t glued them there as it would have made things so much simpler if I hadn’t.

The workbench was really coming together now.

However, I was using far too many screws. I realise now just how strong wood glue is, and that you simply don’t need all those screws. My next workbench would be far less over-engineered.

The next job was to fit tee nuts into the legs. I had some castors from some chrome metal shelving that I could use, which had an M10 thread, so bought some M10 tee nuts.

The workbench was pretty much finished now, apart from fitting the vice.

Unfortunately I had over-drilled the holes for the tee nuts and the offset forces of the castors caused them to pull out.

This was easy enough to fix though, so I mixed up some epoxy wood filler and bonded them in place. I also decided to use feet instead of castors, as the castors were making the workbench a little too high and I didn’t want to cut the legs down.

I drilled holes for the vice and offered it up.

Unfortunately, I had miscalculated the position of the holes, and the bolts went half in and half out of the front rim, so needed to be filled and re-done. I filled them with a combination of epoxy wood filler and 8mm dowels, and sanded flat. It was a bit of a shame.

It was also clear that those bits of wood I had added on the underside were rather unnecessary, and had been a pest from start to finish. A small offcut of 18mm ply would have been entirely sufficient.

I then finished it off with oversized square M10 washers.

Small workbench

I had need of a smaller workbench to fit around my tumble drier, and had loads of offcut wood left over to make it.

Just like with the large workbench, I didn’t have a single piece of 18mm ply large enough for the top so used the same construction as the large workbench.

I cut it to size with my circular saw, which came out pretty well.

I laid it all out on the large workbench, and I used an offcut of 3.6mm ply from the cabinet project to strengthen the underside of the 3-part top.

The rest of it went together pretty quickly. I didn’t use a front rim or front stretcher due to the need to get the tumble drier in and out from under it. I also used minimal screws, having learned my lesson from the over-engineering of the large workbench.

I had some tee nuts left over from the large workbench, and some spare feet, so used that idea again. This time I drilled the correct sized holes for the tee nuts.

I used meaty 6 x 120 wood screws to attach the legs to the top, and like the large workbench didn’t use glue in case I ever wanted to disassemble it in the future.

I’d had to take a sizeable break during the day to do some other things, so the light was going by now, and I finished it off the next day.

The biggest issue I had building this was getting the legs and stretchers square. They required a lot of jiggling around in the end, but I got there in the end.

To compensate for the lack of front stretcher, I used some angle brackets.

And then it was finished.

And finally…

Finally, I got both workbenches into my utility room. Sorry about the mess.

I then added a side panel onto the main workbench using an offcut of ply.

I also attached the vice, added a clip bar for my hammers, and a magnetic bar for other tools.

I have several more of those yet to fit, and also need to add something to the bare wall above the workbench. That wall used to have the large wall cabinet that is now over the small workbench.

The large grey fridge-freezer to the right of the small workbench is up for sale now, so I will probably have to rip apart the small workbench and rebuild it to twice the width. But that will be a project for another day.

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