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work benches

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  • work benches

    I have noticed in many shop photo's, the benches appear to be of the "steel frame with stainless top configuration". I'm wanting to build some nice permanent benches into the shop, and am looking for some tips. My usage would be centered around small engines and light fabrication associated with learning the trade.

    I would assume the framework is welded, and most look made of 2"x2" steel square pipe? Not being able to see in the pictures, I would assume there is a wooden structure, under the stainless top, for ridgitity/mass. Are these usually solid? tounge and groove planks?

    Some other obvious things that come to mind, are dimension. I'm 5'6", and have been told 36" is a normal height? as well as 24" deep?

    I have a friend (welder), coming over in a week to help fabricate. As alway's, price and ease of construction is nice, but I don't wan't to look back and be dissapointed with the results, or lack of durability.

    My thanks go out in advance for everyones time.


  • #2
    36" is about right for a desk. 42" is about right for a stand-up kind of work bench.
    At least for me... that's half the beauty of building your own.


    • #3
      I built my bench about 5 years ago. Space is tight here so I designed it to accomodate storage underneath. Its all steel welded up with the top supported by channels that span from side to side so there are no supports in the way. For storage I scrounged two drawer file cabinets and mounted casters under them, so they can roll out so I can access the space behind them where big things that I don't need often, live. I also left space on top so my very heavy rotary table lives on top of one of the cabinets and I can roll it out to wherever I need it, and its protected under the benchtop most of the time.
      I used steel that I had lying around. The legs are 5" channel the top is supported by 6" channel the top is 1/4" plate I begged from a customer. I made adjustable height feet from 3/4" threaded rod welded to a piece of flat bar bolted to the floor, the rod passes through another flat welded to the bottom of the leg channel, with nuts and washers top and bottom. Its quite heavy and stable. I also welded on a piece of flat bar along the back edge so stuff doesn't get jammed between the bench and wall. (its a fieldstone foundation, not flat) By measuring out the steel I figured that it weighs about 500#.
      Its great to have a bench that doesn't run away from you finally.
      Previously I had my vise mounted to an old safe. That was OK, but for useing benders and for heavy pounding, it would move. So after I built the bench I gave the safe to a friend for his vise.

      Its 8' wide and 3' deep and about 42" high.
      (I say about because the floor is messed up)
      I'm also 5'6" and the height is great. The vise comes out high for really heavy work, but I get around that by standing on a box.
      For finer work the height is great because it doesn't require bending to see what's going on, also gives you more clearance for holding bars vertically. IMHO 36" is much too low unless you're working on large stuff.
      If you can make your bench of all steel welded solid it will last a liftime without trouble, even with really heavy abuse.
      I would email you a pic. but my bench is covered with unfinished projects and there is no floor space left to move them to.

      [This message has been edited by yf (edited 12-11-2002).]

      [This message has been edited by yf (edited 12-11-2002).]


      • #4
        I built my bench out of 2 layers of 3/4" plywood laminated together with a layer of 1/4" tempered Masonite on top. It's 8' long x 2' deep. I bolted a 2x4 to the wall with 3/4" dia. "Star Tamp-in" concrete anchors that take 3/8-16 bolts, bolted the benchtop to that, and used a 4x4 running under the front edge sitting on 4x4 legs to support the front.
        As far as height, I arranged for the top of the vise jaws to be at elbow height, which is considered correct for filing.

        [This message has been edited by SGW (edited 12-11-2002).]
        Try to make a living, not a killing. -- Utah Phillips
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        Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects. -- Will Rogers
        There are lots of people who mistake their imagination for their memory. - Josh Billings
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        • #5
          IMHO the best material for bench tops is bowling alley sections if you can get them. Any thing that can stand up a steady diet of 16lb projectiles has to be could. Be fore warned though. If you find some its going to take help to move them around
          Forty plus years and I still have ten toes, ten fingers and both eyes. I must be doing something right.


          • #6
            I put in a lot of Teletype machines. Standard hieght for 95 percent of people is 42 inches. Thats to your work surface. if you do work on taller things, make the table lower. You always shim a table up, its harder to make it shorter. SGW has it right about bent elbows being correct hieght. Most people, with elbow bent, arm parallel to floor and fingers slightly curved, will find the finger tips to about 42 " from the floor. Kitchen counter tops are standard at 36" (memory?). But the women are shorter as a whole. and they usually have a bowl to reach over or into. So, for most folks its 42 inches at work level, then make the table shorter depending on the work you foresee. Within limits, shorter beats taller for comfort. There are several good books to consult. I go to "time saver standards, a handbook of architectural design" by Callender or Ramsey/sleeper "architectural Grapics standards" for ergonomic type stuff. Best is Nasa's book, but we really doint kneep to know some of the things they plan around for the astronaughts. Not if you have a touch of claustraphobia.


            • #7
              I agree with the bowling alley section idea, the first 20' or so are maple and are the prized sections. The rest is pine (what I have), but works fine. I'm building my second "bowling alley" workbench right now. Manhandling a roughly 8' by 4' section...must weigh 200 lbs or so.

              I build a perimeter frame out of 2x2 angle to hold the wood (The wood needs no additional support)then use square tube for the legs and frame(1x1) on the first, 2x2x.065 on the one I'm making now.

              [QUOTE]Originally posted by Spin Doctor:
              [B]IMHO the best material for bench tops is bowling alley sections if you can get them.


              • #8
                I use 1 1/2 square tube, welded, two layers of 1/2 plywood and install hardwood flooring on top of this. Sand and apply hardwood floor finish. Has held up for years.


                • #9
                  Steel is too noisy for me. My main workbench is an old one with a 4" thick wood top. Very nice to work on.


                  • #10
                    Sounds like most believe a 2in. thick wood surface provides enough strength. I'm convinced for my small engine work, a stainless or galvanized sheet metal surface, is a plus for cleanup and durability.

                    Using the formula for height, I come up with 38" (I'm the size of the average 14 yr. old). And a depth of 24" seems to be o.k. I'm leaning toward using door slugs as a surface, with a couple inch overhang (over the frame), in the front, for a clampable edge. My next step would be to find a reasonable priced metal surface (have no idea what stainless would cost), and have it formed, for a cleanable top.

                    Many good ideas, thank you.


                    • #11
                      A nice feature on benches is to have your electrical outlets on the front just under the overhang. This eliminates having to leave a space at the back of the bench for wall mounted outlets and you don`t have an electrical cord dragged across the top of your bench whenever you use a power hand tool.


                      • #12
                        On outlets, I like having them under the edge too, but back a ways, like 5 or 6 inches, and turned to face down.

                        Too much stuff hangs over the front and might curl around into an outlet for me to be happy to have them close to front and facing at you.


                        • #13
                          I put the outlets on the ceiling. (its low)
                          Also the air quick locks.


                          • #14
                            My workbench is 36" high; the top is 2 x 3 fir nailed together & glued. This was originally part of my mother-in-law's gardening bench; I salvaged it, sanded down the top and epoxied it. I use a sheet of masonite as a sacrifical surface and replace it when it gets ugly. The frame is 3" square steel tubing; the legs have 4"x6" plates on the end for bolting to the ground. Even w/o bolts, I can reef pretty hard on the 5" vice... there's a power strip along the front which is quite handy. I glued the top down with construction adhesive as well as lag bolts through tabs weled to the square tubing. I've used this now for 16 years or so; works well and cost less than $100 to build from scrap steel & salvaged top. The steel is painted light gray and the top I left clear wood.

                            Bart Smaalders


                            • #15

                              For welding I like a 1" (.500" min.) plate on top of 4" pipe legs. Angle iron connects the bottom legs and provides for storage or welder mounting. The reason for the heavy top is I can weld jigs to the top and grind them off afterwards with an angle grinder. It can be used as an anvil surface to beat the crap out of things. A 4'x8' top will give you tons of room to work on and only weighs around 1,280 lbs. Once placed in the shop, no one will steal it. If you do lots of fabricating, a big table is great (as is a big floor sometimes). And it can be cleaned off and used for such things as assembly. A wood top can be made to drop over the top (3/4" MDO is ideal).

                              I like Maple tops. If you make one put lots of polyurethane clearcoat on it to protect the wood from lubes and coolant.

                              For electronics I use a table with Isolated Ground outlets and grounded anti-stat mats for the top and floor.

                              For stainless tops I always use 304 - you can get various finishes, some will alows stuff to move more easily on the surface so look at them before buying if you go this way.

                              Colded rolled steel will work just as well as stainless (and much, much cheaper), but will need painting in the more humid climates to prevent rusting. That is not a problem here.

                              However you make you bench, think seriously about how you work now and how you want to work, and what you need to make your work more effecient. Every trade is different. I know woodworkers with traditional woodworking workbenches and 18" high rolling platforms to assist them in their cabinet building endevours. Those would not be handy for the normal metal worker. So think you work shop around what you are doing now, and what you intend to do in the future.

                              Remember the 6 p's - Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance!