What's she gonna do on the bench, I mean...
December 9, 2016 2:59 PM   Subscribe

Craigslist has been (too) good to me, and I find myself in need of some kind of workbench to hold various tools. Please help me think about my construction requirements.

I use my workshop for mostly metalwork to craft jewelry and small sculptures. I have a jeweler's bench, a decent torch work setup, and OK homes for an anvil and bench grinder. But I find myself without the bench space to work with a bunch of tools that I currently have and those that I hope to obtain in the future.

Specifically, I'm looking for a "home" for a bench vise, belt sander, tabletop hydraulic press (example of the style I'm looking at), and a shear (throatless and/or a 3-in-one slip-shear-break). And I keep watching videos involving people doing things with bandsaws and metal lathes (again, baby sized) so those will likely happen some day too. Maybe a chop saw?

I know that some things will need "permanent" table space (vise, press), other things I'm fine moving from a shelf to the table top as needed. I have about 8 horizontal feet to work with. No need for drawer storage, but a nice big shelf underneath would be nice (i have pegboard/french cleats for days in that room -- storage of small things isn't an issue). I want to use the bench-top for layout, so a nice contiguous open area is desirable.

Between Mr. Motion and I, we have the skills and tools to do some reasonably complex welding and fairly simple carpentry, so DIY is the plan (barring a lucky Craigslist find). This is not the kind of "making" that I have any passion for at all, so I would like this to be as cheap and easy as possible while still ending up with something safe and sufficiently sturdy to last, say, 8 years.

So, given the parameters above, here are my questions: What kinds of benches should I be looking at? Will just following a plan like this (welded steel square bar with MDF top and shelf) lead me astray in any way? Given that I won't be burning (much) on the table, is there any benefit to a metal top? Any reason why I'd want to go all wood?

Any annoying mistakes that you've made that you'd like to warn me about? Any amazing plans I just have to see?
posted by sparklemotion to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When I get round to it I'll be building a base for my Myford ML7 using Masterclamp -look for the the wallchart on that page -joiners and 48mm Ø galv. pipe - pretty much anything's possible. I tend to be pretty mobile and would rather make things than build benches, also I can't weld.

A while back I built a pipeclamp bench as per a Fine Woodworking book and 8' long - and very adjustable, I have a scan of the plans if you need it - but I found it in
posted by unearthed at 3:33 PM on December 9, 2016

Best answer: Bit of a stream of consciousness on benches because I'm building one now:

Except for welding or casting I prefer a wood table top.

Here are a couple of pictures of my current bench in progress. The basic assembly is
  • 2x4s on edge screwed together into a box
  • prepac kitchen base units on srt on top and screwed down
  • plywood top set on those screwed from below
One can use also a manufactured counter top. Alternatively you can cover the plywood with a sacrificial top made of thin hard board or MDF. I also made one bench with linoleum floor tiles on top which was quite nice (and if an individual tile got damaged it was easy to replace). I've also seen welders lay a sheet of thick sheet metal or plate steel on top of the plywood.

In your case you could buy two 16" or 24" base cabinets and place them at each end of your space as pedestals then join them with a plywood top.

My pictured bench is sized to match the height of my table saw and was assembled from bits I had hanging around hence the mismatch of cabinets. But it shows how a prepac with integrated toe kick (the green cabinet) can just set on top of the 2x4 base if you want the height. The white cabinets on the left were designed for Ikea style legs which I removed to use my base. I'm using 15/16ths flooring ply laid over top of 1x4 with an eventual 2X4 edging but a double layer of 3/4" ply would work just as well.

The base and the top tie the two pedestals together. You can plywood over the base for a shelf and add another shelf or two in between the two base cabinets. The back of the open space in my cabinets are open however one can add a back.

And you can put either doors on or drawers in the base cabinets. Or just shelving with or without doors. A piece of plywood mounted to full extension slides like a really shallow drawer would allow you to store machines in the cabinets while still making them easy to lift straight up unto the bench. I'm going to be mounting my grinder on hinges so it can swing underneath and this can be done with several tools.

Some other advantages of this style of bench is it's easy to modify and the plywood top accepts either insert nuts or T-nuts to mount equipment or you can bolt through for thing like a vise. It's also relatively cheap and the mass of the particle board cabinets help hold it in place. It also damps vibrations better than a metal bench. The top can be any depth you want; mine is going to end up 30ish inches deep and the shelves underneath 23 inches. The base cabinets are a couple inches away from the wall so there isn't too much over hang out front but still more than a standard kitchen counter so I can clamp things to the top at the front.

I'd add at least end plates and probably a back sheet on the youtube bench to prevent racking unless you planned on attaching to the wall.
posted by Mitheral at 6:14 PM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I like the welded steel legs. Easy, solid, customizable, easy to modify in the future. Great. I've had many shops, and many arrangements, and after literally dozens of different workbenches, and workbench surfaces, this is my favorite topper:

Many different sizes available, and they are solid as a ROCK. I have 3. You can really beat the hell out of these things. I myself put them on rolling stainless prep tables for restaurant work, but that's because I like everything on wheels.

Anyway, they're also great for bolting a vise to. That shear break and roll you're getting is so lovely. If I didn't already have one I'd get it as those under 36" are often hard to find.

Why wood? I've had metal benches and unless they're super thick they bounce around a ton. Wood absorbs, you can drill past your work into it and not damage your bits. You can pound on it and it won't break your eardrums. Wood. That's my vote.

A note about storing things under workbenches. I hate losing things to "temporary" storage. Before too long it gets dust covered and lost for weeks if not years. Happens in my shop all the time under my benches. A constant battle. Solution! I use these for drawers in a lot of applications:
durable as hell and you can see INTO them. They're inexpensive and come in many shapes and sizes. I make plywood shelves that they slip into easily. The Sometimes I even put lights on the underside of my tables so I can see what's going on there more clearly.

Lastly I'll say this: design so that you can't really put anything BEHIND anything else. It's as good as throwing stuff away when you have stock on the back of a 14" deep shelf and something in front of it. Gone!

To recap:
Grizzly top
Welded legs
Shallow shelves
Clear drawers

Have fun!! I love building shops.
posted by asavage at 8:55 AM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for your input!

After more beanplating than was probably required, it was determined that augmenting this shelving unit (on sale for $120) with a decently thick hunk of MDF, some 3" construction screws (and probably some combination of foam/zipties/glue to hold the wire shelves in place better) hit the sweet spot between cheap and easy that I was looking for.

Results (note the proud positioning of the yet-to-be-plugged-in belt sander, the peg board was preexisting -- I wasn't *that* ambitious this weekend). Total cost: ~$160, including screws and appropriate bit, total time: <3 hours (including hemming and hawing about going to the store, travel to store, hemming and hawing about options, loading large things into medium vehicle, travel home, unloading and assembly).
posted by sparklemotion at 7:00 PM on December 11, 2016

That looks great. I forget that people who aren't assembling furniture don't need any height above the bench top.
posted by Mitheral at 7:57 PM on December 11, 2016

Best answer: One thing that I have always done (and loved, EVERY SINGLE TIME) is to install one of those enormous, semi-permanent power strips directly to the bench/wall/pegboard. Ease and quantity of power access has always been a desirable thing for me. That piddly one you have dangling below would only serve to infuriate me :-)
posted by milqman at 8:02 AM on December 12, 2016

Response by poster: Oh yes, the electrical needs work (hence why the belt sander wasn't plugged in). Mr. Motion and I experienced some of the intermittent frustration of not being able to find any decent power strips in the house even though we are both of the impression that we have a sizable horde of such things.... Somewhere.

I am thinking of something like this (maybe with individual switches). I will admit a certain ignorance of electrical safety combined with a desire to hook things up safely is sending me down another research hole.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:32 AM on December 12, 2016

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