Introduction: Work-frame From a Kitchen Table Frame - the Workbench Built Around What's NOT There!

Intro -

The goal of this project was to build a functional, ergonomic workbench from a thrown away kitchen table frame and the materials, bits and pieces and assortment of parts I already had in my shop. No money was spent on getting new materials - I already had these things, other than the salvaged kitchen table frame, in my collection of shop materials, jig bits, and clamps. Much inspiration came from experience, many woodworking books, having a mechanic for a dad, a degree in exercise science and math, and a penchant for Taoist philosophy.


"We join spokes together in a wheel,

but it is the center hole

that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,

but it is the emptiness inside

that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,

but it is the inner space

that makes it livable.

We work with being,

but non-being is what we use."

- Chapter 11 of Stephen Mitchell's translation of the Tao Te Ching

This emphasizes, to me, the absolute importance of empty space. If there were no space to put things, or rearrange them, life would be pretty lame. Think about the relatively vast regions of empty space between electrons, protons, etc... Space makes room for reality.

General Patterns of Universe - my own understanding as it is right now and will continue to change:

1. OVERLAP - everything from tree bark to skin cells to religion, economy, culture and weather contains overlap

2. SUB-DIVISION - we see this everywhere too. the ends of your bones are not the same kind of bone material or cartilage as in other parts. the edge of a Japanese chisel is hardened steel while the body is softer iron. etc...

3. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT AND ACCOUNTING FOR CHANGE - change is truly the only constant.

4. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF THE ALL-ELSE - no single thing is completely independent in reality. Get used to it.

Step 1: Tabula Rasa - the Blank Slate

Ok - forgive my lack of preliminary pictures, and try to imagine these pictures without the two 2X4's let into the initial frame. Some friends of mine got married, the immense glass top to this frame of stained, approximately 2X6 oak broke in short order afterwards. Just as well as they were starting to have kids and wanted a more family-type (less breakable, non-glass) table. They asked if I wanted the frame or if they should just throw it away. Clearly, the former was the better choice.

Step 2: Materials, Tools and What Not

As mentioned in the intro, nothing extra was purchased. The various parts are all 2X2, 2X4, 2X6 construction grade lumber, 3/4" cabinet grade plywood, a chunk of scrap granite I picked up a while ago from a stone counter-top company, various clamps, bench-dogs and jig bits from my shop and plumbing floor flanges, nipples and pipe clamps.

Tools used included:

-circular saw for ripping the plywood and dimensional lumber and squaring up the 1" thick granite plate (use a diamond blade and a fence. Take your time doing multiple passes, and wear a mask, eye and ear protection. roll up your sleeves).

-hand drill for riddling this thing with dog holes (yay for empty space!!!) and embedding things like magnets, shelf standards pipe flanges, etc...

-hacksaw and files for cutting and smoothing the plumbing flanges to match the frame members.

-sand paper and polyurethane varnish for finishing the wood top pieces

-bench, jointer and block planes for smoothing out excessive rough areas and chamfering the dimensional lumber.

Step 3: Gradual Stiffening, Dog-holes and the Awesomeness of 3/4" Pipe Clamps

  • A lower railing of 2X2's stiffens the whole works to prevent racking (read A Pattern Language; it has a whole chapter on the notion of gradual stiffening to increase structural stability). It also provides shelving for a little air compressor, other tools and more clamps - WOODWORKERS CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY CLAMPS!!!
  • The dog holes in the long pieces are pretty regularly spaced for adding dogs and my handy-dandy veritas brand dog screw. You can also use quick-grip type clamps with removable heads through any of the dog-holes so your capacity is only limited to the size of your clamps and creativity. Do a good job and drill just to penetrate the far side of the stock; then go to the other side and go back through. It ensures nice clean holes on both sides... little details make big differences.
  • The holes down the legs are handy for storing the dogs when you don't need them as well as slipping a standard quick-grip type clamp with removable head through if you need to hold something vertically.
  • The shelf standards were added so I could fix my smaller tablesaw to the end of the work-frame and use the length of it for outfeed. More on this later (there's a caption on one of the tablesaw pictures), because there is a detail that needs pointed out.
  • PIPE FLANGES AND PIPE CLAMPS!!! Fancy woodworking vices are crazy expensive, pipe clamps are cheap and exert a ton of pressure with swiveling heads for round stock. You can make a pad from scrap oak or something and embed a rare earth magnet into it to stick to the metal clamp screw so you don't mar your work. The length capacity is only limited by the pipe you get or can thread. The swivel is GREAT for holding weird shapes. use coarse-threaded lag screws to attach the flanges to the frame because you may need to lose an attachment hole when you shape the flange with your hacksaw and files, as well as the enormous pressure you can generate. GET THE PIPE CLAMPS WHERE THE CLUTCH AND THE SCREW ARE ON THE SAME PART - INSTANT QUICK ACTION VISES!!!

Step 4: Practical Application - Holding the Work

The better the bench (or frame as I like to call it because the bench tops can be removed, replaced modified all around the NEGATIVE SPACE OF THE FRAME) holds the work, the better you can focus on the actual doing of the work. This brings up another crucial point - MAKE YOUR BENCH FIT YOU!!! Trust someone with a degree in exercise science on this one please! The quality of your work will suffer if you are not comfortable and stable doing the work. For hand tool work (real hand tools - planes, chisels hand saws, etc.), stand up with your arms straight down and extend your hands such that your palms are facing the ground. The height of your palms is the appropriate height of your bench top. If you don't believe me, try using a jointer plane with your shoulders all shrugged, your elbows over-flexed, and you up on your straight legs trying to bear down on the work piece, and tell me how that works out for you. Circular saw, tablesaw, and jigsaw work are about this height too. If you do a lot of router work, you may want to elevate your bench tops a little so you're not hunching over too much. you could also add on a standing router table attachment as seen in the pictures... now I'll get off my soap box on body positioning as it relates to bench work.

Look at the photos - if you think you have an object or something that this bench frame can't hold securely, please, by all means, leave a comment. I will add new pictures, explain how to do it, or, worst case scenario, concede to its limitations. this frame isn't really meant for a ton of metalwork or welding, but could be made so if the frame were made of angle iron or had another, metal table to insert into the various voids.

Step 5: Extras!!!

The genius of older tools is that they were made to be used by real people in real situations. My dad gave me his old drill that came pre-threaded for 1/2" plumbing pipe... briliant. I can mount this thing to any of my floor flanges with a 3/4" to 1/2" reducer and bam!, instant vertical or horizontal buffer, grinder, drill, lathe headstock???, etc... This old beast has a 4.5 amp motor! I've seen bench top drill presses at Lowes and Home Depot with lower amperage motors!!!

The granite plate is awesome for sharpening plane blades and chisels. Throw varying grits of wet dry sandpaper on it, spray it with water and really hone the flat backs and bevels. I have my grandpa's 100+ year old jointer plane and can take 5/1000" shavings off quartersawn oak with it. Sharp tools are a must for quality work.

Paracord and mule tape 3:1 pulley set-ups hold the bench top down to the frame.

Spring loaded bench stops rise up to bite the end of stock for planing.

Embedded magnets are handy for holding screws, bits, etc.


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