Work benches are an essential part of making and naturally a popular topic on instructables. Most work benches I find on instructables are usually more aimed at shed (garage) based projects. I wanted to make a crafts table for my wife's mosaics hobby. The ethos of the design was good looking but using a 1/4 plywood sheet top that could be easily switched out easily once it becomes beat up. The design would also need to prevent little bits and pieces from ending up on the floor. For me personally I wanted an easy to execute design with a vintage flair to it. I'm only an amateur metal worker and I think this would make a great first welding project.
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Step 1: Research
I really like to do a lot of research on my projects. The less cuts and joins I have to make the less chance I make an error. Once I have that established a basic idea, then I like to ask how can I improve the aesthetics with minimal effort. I spent a lot of time googling images and browsing pinterest, I observed a few few key points:
- Wood working benches have a shallow recessed at the back to stop tools rolling on to the floor. A groove at the front would prevent glass shards from spilling at the front.
- Many industrial work tables have a "lip" at the back end to stop pieces rolling of the back. This lip also adds a particular style that I like.
- Any table that is still standing today was built to last. Most tables were overly generous in terms of the steel used.
- Vintage worktables always have some design flair in the legs. A basic four legs and support bars wont give an authentic style. In effect, they were made by people more skilled than my self.
After going a bit of research tangent I saw an art deco balustrade which solidified my design.
Step 2: The Design, and the Supplies.
This is my first time using sketch up and it was really only used as a visualization tool. If anyone has some sketch up tips I'd appreciate some advice.
The basic design is in millimetres however, the exact lengths are not critical. The only important point is the table top has some overhang, so I'm going to round-off the conversion to inches.
- All steel was 1.6mm (16 gauge) thick were possible. I couldn't get angle iron that thin, so I just went with what I could get.
- 4 legs, 65mm / 2-1/2" square tube, 750 mm / 30" tall.
- 6 cross beams 20mm / 3/4" square tube, 400mm / 16" long,
- 1 cross beam 20mm / 3/4" square tube, 1000mm / 40" inches long
- 4 pieces of angle iron, consistent with the length of the cross beams
- i.e. 2*400 and 2*1000mm / 2*16" and 2*40"
- 600mm * 1200 * 17mm plywood CD plywood. That is 24 * 48 across and 3/4 thick.
- 1650mm * 3 mm steel flat bar. About 65" thickness doesn't matter but it's about 1/8inch
You'll also need some paint, wood finish and screws. I used rustoleum antique white spay paint and a walnut polyurethane stain. The screws I used under the base was what ever I had laying around while I used decorative brass screws around the top. All up, I spent about $150 (NZ dollars and prices...), but it would be more if I couldn't use off the cuts in other projects.
Step 3: Tools Needed
The tools you need include:
- flat and round files
- Hacksaw or other metal cutting equipment
- Wirefeed welder. I'm using a low-end FCAW welder
- Electric Drill
- 3mm / 1/8" drill bit
- screw driver bit.
Step 4: Cut Steel to Size and Weld Up the Two Sides
I used an angle grinder to cut the steel. It's not the greatest way of cutting steels so it then had to file down the sides to the mark out line. I don't always trust may lay out lines, especially for the legs, so I tested each piece of steel for square by checking if they would stand up vertically.
Rather than use specific measurements, I used scrap wood that I knew was flat and square as a layout guide. I tack welded everything in place checked that the side would stand straight and vertical, then completed the weld. After every weld I made I propped up the garage door to get a bit of ventilation. I generally wear a dust make while welding and grinding, it's not as obligatory as eye protection, but I really find it beneficial.
With the two sides done I used some square magnets to hold the angle iron in place. I checked for square by making sure the diagonals were the same in every possible direction. It really pays to take as long as it takes at this stage. Just like the steel cross beams, the angle iron was inset using a scrap piece of wood as a shim. This little touch really adds to the design. It was getting late so I put the top on, checked that I was happy with the basic look and spent the evening watching netflix.
Step 6: Re-evaluate.
The next morning I had a look over my progress. Amazing what you find the next day. I ground down the welds so that everything looked nice. I'm only an amateur, and my first welds really went looking that good (e.g. far left in image), so I ground them right done and welded them again until the were one consistent bead and looked strong. In between the gaps between cross beams were hard to get a consistent weld all the way down so. I ended up using a filler, just to make sure all ends of the metal were sealed. The structure is quite strong and each beam has at least 3 good welds, so the filler is only an asthetic choice.
I also took the time to mark any high spots before filing them flat. Now is also a good time to drill screw holes in the angle iron, I made only 4, two on each side.
Step 7: Now for the Top
Next, I started on the top lip. First, I made the cut line against the length of the plywood, then I used the rest to make the side lips. These cuts were all done by eye rather than any specific measurements. I overlapped the diagonals to get the most length out of the steel I had. With magnets as my guide I welded up the lip and filed the welds down to look nice and smooth.
The plywood top is also quite straight forward, I used a router making 3 gradual passes to cut out shallow grove, then took of the real rough spots with a sander. I only used 80 grit sand paper as the surface is expected to get a lot of wear. I then put a mix of stain and polyurethane, I just used what I had laying around. You may notice that in the image I put down pure stain not stain-and-polyurethane, this was an accident and I had to recover with polyurethane.
Step 8: Paint and Assemble
Finishing off, all there is to do is drill some holes in the back lip and it's time for paint. I used a paint-primer, but if I had my time again I'd use a separate primer. Some of the layout marks did diffuse through the paint leaving marks. A separate primer would prevent this, or you could clean them off. It's also good to follow up with a polyurethane coating about that for extra protection. I screwed everything in place, brass screws damage very easily, so I pre-screwed the hole with a similar screw first.
Voila, we are done. I hope you enjoyed this project, and if you have any useful tips I'd love to see them.