Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Workshop Refurb

Like many, my basement workspace is a mess. I've got lots of stuff and it seems to find its way everywhere. It's been about six years now since we put an addition onto our home. This addition afforded a big new basement space to use for my woodworking tools. This stuff takes up a lot of space and it's really hard to organize it in a usable way. As such, I just went with the simplest approach, that of least resistance which was to just let it go where it wanted to. Not the most efficient or attractive method.

The old bench full of stuff. Ugly and nearly unusable.

For years I've been meaning to build new work benches and cabinets. For years I've let it slide, using instead a pieced together bench that was here when we bought the house, that I'd added onto and slightly modified. Keep it mind that I didn't really improve it as much as much as just make it bigger, using recycled materials of course. If you have ever driven the way back roads of the Northeast Kingdom or Western Maine and have witnessed some of the architecture, it was in that vein. Young's Condo or Hillbilly Heaven come to mind. In my mind I was recycling the old and being green. In reality I was being lazy though legitimately wanted nothing to do with tearing that old bench apart. One of the final straws was the sweet set of benches and cabinets that my buddy AA built. He used all really nice material and they came out awesome. I was jealous and more, embarrassed and ashamed at my mess.

Yep, what a mess. No wonder I never get anything done.

Last week I started planning a new project. I'm going to put a new mantle and casing on the fireplace in the living room that we never use, in order to try and brighten and clean the room up. Less old, dirty brick and granite, more nice finished white wood. I'm using a 4x8' sheet of MDO plywood for much of the base of the project. Ripping a 4x8 sheet of 3/4" MDO is difficult without an out-feed table. I didn't have a table so I decided to build one. And that is how the project started, with one bench.

The initial cabinet designed as an out-feed table for the table saw as well as planer stand.

The first cabinet was a pain, as is always the case with the prototype. My plan was to go 2x4' and 36" high to mate with the table saw height and also to have it on casters to move easily. Beyond that it was free form. I chose to build with 2x4" framing and OSB plywood, mostly because I had a good stock of both and also because I'm cheap. Nice hardwood plywood or even MDO would have been awesome, but at $60 a sheet for 3/4" MDO, it wasn't going to happen. Over the course of half a day I fumbled my way through the design and got the cabinet built. I put simple bypass doors on that rode in a parallel set of tracks that I cut with a dado blade into a 2x4" frame. A little corner trim out of some scrap pine I had and a couple of pieces of used casing and a top made of leftover white plastic tub surround and bang, it was done.

Making progress.

The fire was lit. I could now see just how bad the old bench was and so I started down the long road of making another set of slightly larger rolling cabinets. The first was 2x6' with a 2' overhang of benchtop under which my air compressor could sit. This one went together a little better and I changed the dimensions slightly to help maximize material usage. Turned out the first one was 33" high for the cabinet material size. Had I done 32" (31 15/16" actually) I could have had three even cuts in a 4x8' sheet of OSB.

The new layout and new benches.

The 6' length threw a wrench into things but I made do. This one used some new OSB that I picked up from the Home Depot that was in much better shape that the material I used on the first one. That OSB had been exposed to the elements for a short period and had swelled a bit on the edges and started to delaminate. This stuff was dry and tight and work every penny of the $8 a sheet I paid. For the benchtop on this one I decided to use industrial linoleum tiles that are affixed via adhesive. Tough and cheap and gives a nice clean appearance. I banded the whole thing with some old oak flooring I'd ripped out of the house when we did the addition. I completed this one on Saturday and was very happy with the results.

Much cleaner, more efficient and way more space.

Yesterday I cleaned the old bench out and tore it apart. Decades old nails and wood screws under layers of shredded up OSB and pine trim held together with 20# of sheet rock screws. This made for a fun afternoon indeed. When I had it all torn apart I discovered that some of the 2x6" and 2x4" material was ugly on one side but OK on the other and structurally fine. Even some of the OSB was only hacked on one side but the other was fine. As such I incorporated as much of the leftover material as I could into the last cabinet in places where it wouldn't show. This final run of bench was 2x6' which gives me 14' of run for my bench end to end. It also gives 2x14' of enclosed, dust resistant storage underneath. The results were fine and I was again satisfied with the finished product.

Just a couple more redesigns for the bandsaw and radial arm and I'll be done.

All in all a good project that should allow me to improve the quality on some future projects. It will also make things much cleaner and more efficient. In terms of cost, I didn't really spend all that much either. I'd guess the total outlay if I'd have purchased everything rather than using it from inventory would have been a couple hundred bucks. As an added bonus, they are big enough for a normal sized adult to fit inside so when I die, chuck me in and wheel me off to the hole.

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