Introduction: Folding Workbench

After rearranging my dorm room, I discovered that there's actually enough room to put in a workbench! Provided, of course, that I can fold it away when it's not in use.

This folding workbench consisted mostly of materials I already had on hand. It cost me less than $30 to make.

Step 1: Design Constraints

When I moved into my dorm room at the beginning of the year, I never imagined I would have space for a workbench. East Campus rooms are not horribly small, but mine's a double--so every square foot of floor space counts. When I rearranged my half of the room after Christmas break, I discovered that there might actually be a place to fit a workbench!

The pictures below show where the bench will go. Before Christmas, this is where my desk was. Now my desk is directly below the camera, rotated the other way--there are perhaps four feet of space between it and the wall. (This was the primary motivation for making a folding bench; I still wanted room to push my chair back.)

My bench design began with a bit of serendipity. I found a discarded piece of 5/8" plywood in the lounge. It measured 24" by 48"--perfect!

Unfortunately, this piece of plywood was pretty ugly.

Step 2: Shellac

A quick trip to the local hardware store, and I had a can of this stuff. It's shellac, a natural polymer that is actually harvested from the waxy secretions of a certain type of insect from southeast Asia. This one-pint can cost about $7. I was skeptical of the can's claim that it "enhances the natural beauty of wood", as my plywood was rough and had some pretty ugly knots.

I also bought some sandpaper (of various grits) and two removable-pin brass hinges. It was $9 for each of the hinges and $5 for way more sandpaper than I needed, so the total cost of purchased materials was right around $30.

"Sand bare wood as smooth as possible," the shellac said. So I did. This took maybe ten minutes with 220 grit sandpaper. I wrapped a quarter sheet around the back of a blackboard eraser to make a convenient (and incredibly comfortable) sanding block.

Sorry, no pictures of the bare wood--I didn't decide to make an Instructable until after the project was done.

Step 3: Shellac

Once I was satisfied with my sanding job, I cracked open the can of shellac and went to town. The stuff is incredibly easy to use; it brushes on evenly with absolutely no effort and dries to the touch in ten minutes. The effect was nothing short of miraculous. Originally the knots on my plywood were so ugly I was going to use the other side. But with shellac, they were beautiful!

The shellac directions say to wait about forty-five minutes, sand with 220 or finer sandpaper, and apply a second coat. So I did. It took maybe five minutes to quickly go over all the surfaces with sandpaper. (When it dries, shellac leaves the surface feeling rougher than before--all of the surface wood fibers are now encased in a hard material. Sanding makes a huge difference.)

I went to put on another coat--and discovered that my brush had transformed into a solid chunk of shellac. Oops. Luckily, the directions suggest wiping the stuff on with a rag. This worked well and made my fingers very messy; T-shirt cloth absorbs shellac like nothing else.

I decided that two coats was enough. Another coat or two would've made the wood even smoother. I didn't sand the second coat; there had been obvious scrapes on the wood after I'd sanded the first time. A very fine sandpaper might be okay, but I didn't have any.

Shellac doesn't come off your hands with water. The directions suggest an ammonia solution or denatured alcohol for cleanup. I simply washed up with hand sanitizer and the stuff went away like magic.

Step 4: Install Hinges

There was some damage along one edge of my plywood--remember, it was originally scrap. Luckily, with strategic hinge placement, it could all be hidden! Brilliant.

I measured in eight inches from each side and laid out my hinges. Once I was satisfied that they were even, I marked each screw location and drilled a small pilot hole. The screws that came with my hinges were exactly as thick as the plywood, so I just went ahead and drilled all the way through.

To decrease the gap between my workbench and the wall, I carved a slight chamfer underneath the hinge with a pocketknife. This allowed the barrel of the hinge to fit better.

Step 5: Mounting the Bench

My walls are cement, so this will be attached directly to the wooden molding that runs around the room's perimeter. I measured to center the bench underneath the existing shelf brackets, then held the plywood in position to mark the screw positions. I drilled small pilot holes, then screwed the bench in place.

Step 6: Upper Support

My bench will be also be attached in two places to the upper molding that goes around my room. I started by measuring and drilling two sets of holes, as shown. These holes are 3/16 diameter--just large enough to fit a piece of 550 paracord. Each cord is tied in a small loop.

Step 7: Webbing

I had two pieces of 1" tubular webbing about twelve feet long. These run through the loops I created in the last step. The ends are tied together with a water knot.

The next step is to adjust the webbing lengths until the table is level. Water knots are very adjustable, so this isn't a problem. I could even turn this workbench into a drafting table by simply making the supports longer!

Step 8: Done!

That's it! I now have a work surface that instantly folds neatly against the wall.

Not bad for $30 and an evening's work!