Introduction: Portable Worktop
This instructable will show you how to build a 4' by 2' portable worktop with a built-in removable vise, and a lip around the top edge to keep tools and small parts from rolling off. This worktop is equally at home indoors, like on a dining room table, or outdoors, put up on a couple of saw horses. It's inexpensive and easy to build, flat, sturdy, extremely versatile, and when not in use can be stored in any out of the way space you have available, like under a bed, or leaning against the back wall of a closet. You can use it for woodworking, gunsmithing (think: AR building), leatherworking, or any other craft that requires a surface you don't have to worry about damaging. If you're not in a position to have a "real" workbench, either because of space or budgetary constraints, this is the project for you. Even if you do have a workbench, having something you can easily set up to work outside on a beautiful day is a nice option to have.
The tools required are minimal. You can get by with just a hand saw, hammer, and a drill/driver w/ a 1/2" bit, though a miter saw or circular saw will make things go a little quicker, and a tape measure and combination square could come in handy. You'll also need a 9/16" wrench or crescent wrench for tightening the hex bolts holding the vise down.
- one quarter sheet each of 3/4" and 1/4" plywood
- two 8' 2x4s (the flattest and straightest you can find in the pile)
- two 8' 1x2 furring strips
- a small box of 4d wire brads (maybe 50 brads)
- a couple dozen #6 or #8 1-1/2" flat head wood screws
- a bottle of wood glue (any kind)
- a vise - The Yost LV-4 is an excellent and inexpensive choice, however for about $10 more I think the Bessey BV-HW45 is a better all-around choice. The jaw widths are the same, but where the Yost vise has a max opening of 3", the Bessey can open all the way up to 4.5". For gunsmithing, you won't need the extra capacity if you're only building AR15s, but you might if you're building AR10s.
- four 3/8" pronged tee nuts (plus four more for each additional vise mounting location)
- four 3/8" flat washers
- four 3/8" x 3" hex bolts
- one pack of self-adhesive rubber pads (optional)
All of these materials, except for the vise, should run you less than $50. Plus another $28-$38 for a vise, if choose one of the suggested options.
Step 1: Frame the Underside With 2x4s
- Lay the 2x4s parallel to each other on the ground, and lay the 3/4" sheet of plywood on top.
- Align the edge of one of the 2x4s with one of the long edges of the plywood, with one end of the 2x4 flush with one of the adjacent short edges of the plywood. (picture 1)
- Mark the other end of the 2x4 that protrudes from under the plywood. (picture 2)
- Cut the 2x4 to length, and repeat with the other 2x4 on the other long edge of the plywood.
- Carefully align the two pieces you just cut with the long edges of the plywood, and kneeling on top to hold everything in place, drill pilot holes for your screws at approximately 6"-8" intervals. (picture 3)
- Lift off the plywood, spread glue on top of the 2x4s (picture 4), carefully put the plywood back in place, and - starting at the corners - drive screws into all of the pilot holes you drilled.
- Flip the plywood over.
- Lay a piece of 2x4 against one of the short sides of the plywood, with one end aligned with the inside edge of one of the long pieces you just screwed into place. Lay another piece of 2x4 across the first as a straight edge, and mark where the first needs to be cut. (picture 5)
- Cut the marked 2x4 to length, then repeat step 8 on the other end.
- Flip the plywood over, put the pieces of 2x4 you just cut into place, and drill pilot holes as in step 5.
- Glue and screw the short pieces of 2x4 in place as in step 6.
When you're done with this step, the underside of the worktop should look like picture 6.
NOTE: If you want to save yourself a little time and effort (at the cost of a few more dollars), get self-drilling screws (like these), and you can skip drilling pilot holes in step 5.
Step 2: Attach the Second Piece of Plywood
- Flip the worktop back over so the 2x4s on the ground.
- Run a heavy bead of glue back and forth in an approximately 4" strip, all the way around the outside edge of the plywood. (picture 1)
- Lay the sheet of 1/4" plywood on top.
- Making sure the edges of the plywood all line up, kneel on top of the plywood to hold everything in place, and - starting in the corners - nail the top piece of plywood to the bottom piece. Place the nails 4"-6" apart, and about 3/4" from the edge.
NOTE: If the 1/4" plywood is bowed at all, put the bow facing down when you nail it to the 3/4" plywood.
Step 3: Install Blocking for the Vise
- Cut two pieces of 2x4 about 6" long.
- Put a generous amount of glue on one face of both blocks.
- Flip the worktop over so the 2x4 frame is on top.
- Taking into account that the vise will be installed directly over the corner where the blocking is installed, place the blocks, glue side down, in the corner that will put the vise in the position you want when the worktop is right side up.
- Gently rub the blocks against the underside of the worktop to spread the glue.
- Put the vice on top of them to "clamp" them in place. (picture 1)
- Leave the whole assembly undisturbed for 24 hours to allow the glue to fully cure.
If you want to have a second location where you can install the vise, install blocking there as well. For example, I wanted the option of moving the vise to the center of my worktop, so I put blocking there too. This is the only part of the project where it'd be handy to have a tape measure.
Step 4: Drill the Holes for the Vise
- Flip the worktop right side up.
- Position the vise over the corner where you installed the blocking. You can lay out its location with a tape measure and combination square, or just use your finger as a measuring tool to get it "close enough". Make sure you position the vise at least 1-1/2" from any edge, to leave room for the edging, but still close enough to the edge that the handle clears it. (pictures 1 and 2)
- Use a pencil to outline the vise mounting holes on the plywood.
- Prop the worktop up on a couple of pieces of scrap to keep from drilling into your work surface, then use a drill/driver to drill 1/2" holes for your vise. (picture 3)
- Install the tee nut into the holes from the underside of the worktop, and lightly tap them into place with a hammer. The tee nuts will get fully seated the first time you bolt the vise onto the worktop.
Step 5: Install Edging
- Cut pieces from the 1x2 furring strips to go along the long edges on the top of the worktop, the same way you marked and cut the 2x4s for the bottom in steps 1.2 through 1.4.
- At each end of the 1x2 pieces hammer a brad through until the tip protrudes about 1/16" from the other side. (picture 1)
- Put a fat bead of glue down the middle of a piece of 1x2, then lay it in place along a long edge of the worktop.
- Press down the ends to dig in the nails, which will keep the piece from sliding around while you nail it.
- Starting at the ends, nail down the furring strip with brads, spaced around 6" apart.
- Repeat steps 3 through 5 for the other piece.
- Mark and cut two more pieces of 1x2 for the short sides of the worktop, the same way you did with the 2x4s in step 1.8.
- Glue and nail them into place along the short edges of the worktop, as in steps 2 through 5 above.
Step 6: Optional: Rubber Feet
If you ever plan to use your worktop on a surface you don't want to damage, like a dining room table, it would be a good idea to put some rubber strips on the underside. They will serve the dual purpose of protecting the surface the worktop is on, and keeping it from sliding around.
- Wipe off the 2x4 frame with a damp rag to remove dust and dirt.
- Cut the self-adhesive rubber pads into 1" wide strips.
- Once the surface of the 2x4s is dry to the touch, peel off the backing on the rubber strips, and adhere them to the underside of the worktop in a pattern similar to picture 1.
NOTE: Take care that the ends of the bolts holding down the vise don't protrude beyond bottom of the worktop, or the rubber feet may not help you. If your bolts are a little too long, add another set of washers at the top.
Step 7: You're Done!
Congratulations, you've completed your worktop. Above are a couple of pictures of my worktop in use indoors (picture 1), and out (picture 2). You can see more pictures of it in use in every other instructable I've published.