Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Making a Tool Bench out of 2x4s

"A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week." - George S. Patton.
"An okay plan now is better than a perfect plan never." - Toy Making Dad's version.

So, since the nature of the work space is to have a space to work, I needed to get tools out of my friend's basement and into my new utility room. The main working area of my space is this 6'x7' corner. Once there, they need to be on "things." Shelves, tables, the floor, etc.

During my exile from toy making, I read a lot about work surfaces. In one of those "Duh" moments the idea that kitchen tables (meant to sit at) and kitchen counters (meant to stand at ) are different heights for a reason really struck home. I knew I needed something higher to put my stationary tools on for easy use. But how big, what shape, what material, all that needed to be worked out.

First off, I realized that I had more stuff than I remembered. I have a table saw and a full size band saw. Both of these need to live on the floor and I'll get to them in a later post. I also have a stationary belt sander, a drill press, a table top bandsaw and a scrollsaw. Those tools are responsible for about 80% of my toy making. In my old setup they resided on my dad's ridiculously cluttered (by me) workbench and a Workmate. It was an OSHA nightmare of cords, clutter and sawdust. In retrospect, some days I spent more time looking for stuff than actually making stuff.

Two wildcards came into play at this point. I inherited a rolling Craftsman tool chest that while great, didn't fit my needs. My space is only a few feet wide, I don't need my hand tools to be mobile and I don't have the wall space to just park it. The other piece is a mini fridge that we purchased during our recent renovation. I don't really need it. It's nice to have... but again, I don't have a good place to put it.

I had the mini fridge on top of the tool chest for awhile. While maybe being marginally safe, it looked goofy and still took up a lot of space. Grrrrr.

In staring at the fridge and tool chest, it suddenly hit me that I could build the tool bench over them and I'd be all set. The tool chest would become the drawers and the fridge could sit in one of the bays. Now they weren't taking up space; now they were helping me make better use of the space I have. I removed and stored the caster wheels from the tool chest so it would be the right height. The casters may end up on my bandsaw in the coming weeks.

So, now I had something to design the bench around and needed to settle on size. 
The distance from the outside wall to the edge of the dryer is 7'3". I wanted a depth of 2' because I knew that the focus of this bench was a place for stationary tools and not assembly, clamping, finishing etc. The tool chest pretty much dictated the height - 41". (I'm sort of on the tall side, so this is a decent height for a work surface you stand next to in order to work on.) I also knew I wanted to use 2x4s since they are cheap and they are strong. (Hey, they build houses out of the suckers.)
What I came up with a structure with 4 walls that created three bays with a 7'3"x2'x7/8" OSB sheet on top with 1/8 hardboard glued to the top of it. The 7' long horizontal boards end butt against the vertical 2x4s of the outside walls making a total length of 7'3". Here is the general idea:

The middle is open across the bottom so the caster-less tool cart that weighs 87 quadzillion tons didn't have to be lifted up and the bench didn't need to be nearly 4" higher. The left and right bays have a 2x4 lip with a piece of OSB attached to make a shelf.
The two outside walls are constructed like this with the horizontal 2x4s facing in towards the bay:
The inside walls were similar but not as wide. The horizontal 2x4's also faced in toward the bays giving me the maximum room for the tool cart.
Building these was actually pretty easy. I just measured 37 times and cut once. A borrowed chop saw and speed square made short work of most of this. I used 3" screws that were offset for almost all of the basic construction. (Totally worth a couple of bucks more for the coated star drive screws. Just saying.) I used a scrap 2x4 to make sure I was allowing enough space for where the long 2x4 stretchers would attach on the outside walls.
Here they are all done along with the OSB I had them rip in half at the big Orange store. I was a fool to ever buy giant boards and try and cut them myself. I can trim a foot off the end with my circular saw but trying to rip a 4'x8' sheet when I don't have the space was stupid at best.
I also picked up some peg board and had it ripped so that I could make panels for the walls. This allows for at least some air circulation. The mini-fridge can benefit from it now but once that goes off to college, a vacuum can move in and breath a bit in the bays.
I attached the front kick plates to start assembling the two bays and used scrap blocks and a few strategically placed 5 gallon buckets to hold the walls vertical while I started screwing them in. I just focused on making each corner square one at a time. As long as it was square, the next one would be easy.
Putting the 7' long runners was straight forward as well. I just set the bays on their backs and ran the top horizontal board and then flipped it over and put the two long runners on the back. Again, just making sure each joint was square, one at a time. Once that was done I flipped it upright and was pleasantly surprised to see how sturdy it was even without the top and bottom shelves.
I used a bunch of drywall screws to attach the OSB to the frame. Why drywall screws you ask? Well.. that's what I had. Besides when the four legged inspector came by to check my work, he approved. After that, I glued the 1/8" hardboard to the top and secured it with all the clamp I have and put my socket sets, drill press and small band saw on it to weigh it down overnight.
Now the moment of truth... would it fit in the space between the wall and the dryer. Short answer - yes. Longer answer - yes, but only just. The outside wall of the room is at an angle so there is more space as you go back. So it fit but right before I have 7'3", I only have 7 '2 and 3/4" if you catch my drift. I had to unhook the washing machine and dryer. Move them. Get the tool bench in place and then hook the appliances back up. (Because of a in-wall vent and very tight space, they really need to be exactly where they are.)
Within moments, I had all sorts of junk on it and in it. Mission accomplished!
I think my total cost was around $65 or $70 bucks. The OSB being the most expensive piece. (The hardboard wouldn't ring up so they gave it to me for free. I asked if I could go back and get four more sheets...)
Is it perfect? Ummmm...nah.
Does it meet all my current needs? You betcha.
I mostly make toys. I don't land airplanes. No one is expecting perfection. Good now is better than perfect never.

I promise to not keep putting pictures of my cats in every post but a funny dynamic seems to be taking place in our house. We now have two boy cats. Both are relatively young and they help me out during guy time. They are fascinated whenever I am in making stuff. I guess one never knows when a mouse or can of tuna is going to pop out of nowhere. One is an orange tabby. The other looks like a bespectacled balding middle aged man-child.

  1 comment:

  1. Very nice.

    I have that same square! It rocks.

    When do we get to see the bandsaw?


Just Saying...

While we don’t necessarily need more objects, we just might benefit from more making.
- John Dunnigan


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Regular guy who likes to make stuff who lives with a very patient wife, three daughters and three cats.