My Shop ~ Part 9 ~ The Workbench

I made a workbench back in Colorado just before we moved to Panama. I’ve really enjoyed using the bench for the past few years, and now it is just about to have a new home in my new shop. So even though this isn’t current work, I thought I’d post it.

Most workbenches, including all the ones I have had in the past, are built up against a wall. Over the years I’ve found that this has a few shortcomings.

  • The size of the project that one can work on is limited to that typical two-foot depth.
  • The bench becomes a cluttered catchall.
  • I don’t like to work facing a wall; I’d rather be working out in the middle of the shop.
  • Benches are usually made of 2″x4″, 2″x6″, and 4″x4″ stock and are heavy as all get out. Most benches can’t easily be moved.

I set out to build a better bench, at least better for me. I had a general idea of what I wanted, so I made a couple sketches and was on my way. I designed a bench that was on wheels and had a 4’x8′ footprint. I needed a place to securely store my hand power tools so that they would be out of sight if someone looked through the windows; I was selling my old work van, so I cannibalized the large drawer that I had installed in it some years earlier. I also wanted some smaller drawers for quick access to hand tools.

I believe that to build strong you don’t need a lot of strong lumber or steel. A massive bench made of heavy stock such as 4″x4″ lumber for the legs can easily be redesigned and built with smaller stock if you use the principles employed in trusses. I had some extra hem-fir 2″x2″s and 2″x6″s, and some 1/2″ plywood hanging around, so that was a start.

First I used the 2″x6″s to make a base. I half-lapped the corners, glued the joints, drilled bolt holes through the lapped corners, and bolted on large castors. The bolts hold the corners together along with the glue.

Then using the 2″x2″s and the plywood, I made a lightweight but strong carcass. I glued the joints and screwed everything together with drywall screws. Here’s the start of the bench:

This end of the bench will have the smaller drawers.

Next I installed the big drawer. I bought the drawer online from Joey Bed Cargo Trays (a note on their website says that they suspended business in 2009). I think they are out of Oregon. The unit arrived knocked down and was easy to assemble using plywood that you supply. These drawers can carry a lot of weight:

Next I cut in some electrical boxes, trimmed out the drawer faces, and made the top. I’d seen the top design in a woodworking magazine. They said it was strong and stable. Strong it is. Very strong. But I built it in dry Colorado and moved it to wet Panama. Big mistake, as the whole top now has bowed up in the middle about five-sixteenths of an inch, making flat assemblies impossible. I’m planning to remediate the situation by building a metal top above the wooden top. Makes more sense because I now do more metalworking than woodworking and it will make welding and grinding easier. Here’s a photo:

Working by myself, I had to craft a way to lower the top piece of heavy MDF onto the grid after I applied wood glue to the grid. Here’s what I came up with; the upright struts acted as ¬†hinges, placing the MDF perfectly when I pivoted the sheet downward.

I covered the top and the bottom of the bench top with plastic laminate (I did both sides so that it wouldn’t bow… yeah, right…), and trimmed the edges with some nice pine boards. Then I made the small drawers; poplar sides and one-quarter inch plywood bottoms.

Now, what to do with the raw plywood sides of the workbench? Well, I’m a big fan of aluminum diamond plate. You know, the stuff that the toolboxes in the back of contractors’ pickup trucks are made from. So because this bench is a mega-toolbox, I bought some 4’x4′ sheets and some pre-bent corner pieces of diamond plate from Online Metals and UPS delivered the package a few days later. After installing the aluminum (I cut the aluminum with a plywood cutting blade in the table saw and installed it with hundreds of pan head sheet metal screws), I installed the electrical outlets and trim covers, drawer handles, deadbolt locks, and the project was done. Here’s the finished bench from the small drawer end:

And the big drawer end:

With one drawer open:

OMG! Did he actually dovetail those drawers?

And with the big drawer open:

The workbench doesn’t look brand new anymore, but that’s okay, I don’t either:

That’s all for now.