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one 2x4 frame to rule them all (workbench design)

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Forum topic by Spikes posted 10-23-2018 06:51 PM 1480 views 0 times favorited 20 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Spikes

74 posts in 220 days


10-23-2018 06:51 PM

Dear all,

newbie woodworker here. I’m still working on setting up my shop and it’s time for me to stop working on the floor, ie workbenches time. I’ve looked at dozens of projects and youtube videos and I’m trying to figure out if there is a better frame design that I can just use over and over since I need an assembly workbench and several carts to hold planer, belt sander, drill press etc.

The basic idea is to use 2×4s which I know tend to not be straight, but people seem to get good results so I’m guessing I’ll have to pick the best ones I can find and plane as needed.

With that in mind, for the workbench itself, I’m planning on using this project:

https://lookinto.com/home/48842/diy-workbench-you-can-build-for-under-100-home

I like this because it saves a whole bunch of work doing rabbet-like joints (is that the correct name?) but as far as I understand solves the same issue of distributing the weight well and creating something very sturdy. The only difference is that I plan to laminate a bunch of 2×4s for the top instead of using MDF. Normally the lamination is done on the long edge, I guess for extra sturdiness, but to save money I was planning on having them flat. Do you see a problem with this?

This however seems overkill for the carts/tool benches so I’m looking for simpler options. One common option I’m seeing is two have two frames connected with a leg, like this:

From the little understanding I have this doesn’t seem very good as the weight would go on the screws and not be transferred vertically onto the legs (as opposed to the project above or if you rabbet jointed the frames on the legs. Is that a correct observation and does it indeed make a difference?

Another similar design is this:

Again the weight from the top does not seem to end up on the legs and so not be ideal.

I’m tempted to use rabbet joints and basically achieve the same thing as in the first workbench, basically how here he builds this stool:
https://youtu.be/7w3DGnX94zk?t=18

what do people think? per another thread part of what I’m really interested here is to understand more about how joints and design helps with weight and sturdiness/durability.

thank you in advance for all the comments.

Spike

-- Don't worry about making progress, worry about practicing. If you practice you will make progress even if you don't want to.


20 replies so far

View BattleRidge's profile

BattleRidge

64 posts in 391 days


#1 posted 10-23-2018 09:08 PM

My combination workbench, assembly table, outfeed area is of a relatively simple design without a bunch of fancy joinery, primarily of 2” x 6” construction and screwed together with deck screws. The top consists of two layers of 3/4” plywood screwed together (no glue), and the work surface is a piece sheet of hardboard (that can be easily replaced when worn or damaged) that is held in place with double sided tape and a section of modified oak trim around the edges. The height is just beneath the top of my table saw (and a future upgraded table saw). The overall unit is 4’ x 8’ with a 30” x 30” drop down area that I use for my sander, portable router table, scroll saw (each of which stores in the workbench when not in use) and for other purposes. One side has shelving for handheld portable equipment and other items and I will be installing drawers on the other side for woodworking supplies, sandpaper, etc. The workbench is quite solid, sturdy and doesn’t budge while in use.

The designs you have posted should work and if screwed together (as I did mine) you can always disassemble and rebuild in the future if your needs change. I’m off to a meeting so have to be relatively short, but I’m sure you will get additional feedback here.

View lumbering_on's profile

lumbering_on

563 posts in 665 days


#2 posted 10-23-2018 09:21 PM

If you want, I can post the references to show you how strong screws are, but suffice to say that one #8 screw is capable of safely bearing around 90lbs, and that’s rated at 40% of its actual shear strength. Not only that, most of the weight will be resting directly on the legs as wood distributes the weight evenly over the surface.

In other words, there is no issue with using screws. However, I would strongly suggest you use this to practice your joints as it’s a cheap project and doesn’t have to look good. It’s an ideal way to try something to improve your skills.

View Spikes's profile

Spikes

74 posts in 220 days


#3 posted 10-23-2018 10:00 PM

ok, I guess I’m still not understanding what’s going on with joints/screws and how weights is distributed. In the other thread about the meditation bench my takeaway was that screws were not as solid/a good choice as dowels or good joinery and so latter should be preferred wherever possible. That said maybe the issue was with end grain more than anything else and I was mixing that up when I posted this question.

In any case, at least from a theoretical perspective, if I have a rabbet joint and the stretcher is resting on the leg, and I put a heavy object in the middle of the table, I’d imagine the weight to be better distributed to the legs than if I screw the stretcher onto the side of the leg. In the latter case the force would be on the screw and transferred to the leg through that.

Then in practice this may not matter at all and there’s no reason to believe that the screw will eventually give (I was worried about this too, if over time the screw would have given and caused the top to no longer be true).

When it comes to stability/sturdiness, what about building with 1 2×4 vs doubling that as in the first design I posted? or using 1 board only makes sense if it’s a 2×6?

in any case I like the idea of practicing joinery as you suggested @lumbering_on, so I’ll do that.

thanks,

Spike

-- Don't worry about making progress, worry about practicing. If you practice you will make progress even if you don't want to.

View Hermit's profile

Hermit

209 posts in 1500 days


#4 posted 10-23-2018 10:41 PM

Don’t over think it. I have built most of my cabinets and bench just like you have diagramed except used 4×4’s on the corners. Used drywall screws for assembly. You’ll have no problems.

-- I'm like the farmer's duck. If it don't rain, I'll walk.

View LesB's profile

LesB

1838 posts in 3618 days


#5 posted 10-23-2018 10:45 PM

I have built several similar benches only I use 1 1/8” plywood sub-flooring for the top and then add 3/4” MDF which I seal with varathane so it resists glue and moisture. Also the MDF is easily reversed when it gets dirty and scared up and it is inexpensive to completely replaced.

The one element I see missing in your first drawing it lateral stability. This can be solved either with cross bracing or just adding plywood sheathing to the back and ends. Shelves underneath also makes great storage; which I never seem to have enough of.

-- Les B, Oregon

View lumbering_on's profile

lumbering_on

563 posts in 665 days


#6 posted 10-23-2018 10:51 PM

Spike, I’m glad to see you are going to be practicing your joinery.

That being said, end grain is a different animal. In this case, you are screwing through the face grain into either face or edge grain. If you think about the straw analogy, and imagine that you are pushing the screw across the straws, then you will realize that it will fasten the two boards quite securely. Just make sure that you drill a pilot hole or you could split the wood instead of pushing through it. see this video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rEqVvW75Q4

As for the size of the boards, you can certainly get away with a single 2×4 rather than two of them. Although, it’s not a bad idea to use the two as it’s easier to make it stable.

View ChefHDAN's profile

ChefHDAN

1140 posts in 3024 days


#7 posted 10-23-2018 11:24 PM

Not to throw more points to ponder, but unless you’ve already bought the lumber, you should take a look at this video from the Wood Whisperer when he built a table from plywood, using a design similar to one from Norm years ago. My dislike of the 2×4 build is that the dimension of the lumber can waste quite a bit of space/storage volume within the workbench, and using plywood screwed and glued can be a stronger and more stable product.. Just my pair of pennies, If I needed another table I’d use the plywood design

-- I've decided 1 mistake is really 2 opportunities to learn.. learn how to fix it... and learn how to not repeat it

View Spikes's profile

Spikes

74 posts in 220 days


#8 posted 10-24-2018 03:07 AM

@lumbering_on, thanks for the link, I had seen stuff about pilot holes for softwood, but never knew about the difference when doing the same for hardwood, hopefully one day I’ll have some of that goodness to work with, for now it’s just out of budget.

@LesB, thank you for the note on lateral stability, hadn’t thought of it. when you say first drawing tho, do you mean the first picture or the first link? I’d like to keep the back at least open because it will be in the middle of the shop and I want the bottom shelf to be accessible either side. Would ply or cross-bracing on sides enough? alternatively would it be enough if I just added supports, which I planned to do anyway, like in this picture?

@LesB, also about the replaceable MDF part, how do you attach it to the ply so that it can be easily removed? from other designs I was thinking of using an hardened tempered panel (HD lingo, not sure what else to call it, but seems to be the thing ppl use).

@ChefHDAN, thanks for the additional design, had not seen it, I may use that approach for the single-tool carts, I’m just honestly surprised that something with that little support and thickness could be so sturdy.

-- Don't worry about making progress, worry about practicing. If you practice you will make progress even if you don't want to.

View ChefHDAN's profile

ChefHDAN

1140 posts in 3024 days


#9 posted 10-24-2018 12:00 PM



@ChefHDAN, thanks for the additional design, had not seen it, I may use that approach for the single-tool carts, I m just honestly surprised that something with that little support and thickness could be so sturdy.

- Spikes

It’s okay, no worries, my first bench was 2×4, double 3/4” MDF with a tempered hardboard top skin. What you’ll learn over time is that structure and how the parts work together give the strength, in the beginning I over engineered everything, and I still do to an extent, but, then, experience is the best teacher over time, design and build to please yourself, that’s really the only person that matters

-- I've decided 1 mistake is really 2 opportunities to learn.. learn how to fix it... and learn how to not repeat it

View LittleShaver's profile

LittleShaver

411 posts in 794 days


#10 posted 10-24-2018 12:21 PM

For my assembly tables, I use your first design and top them with damaged hollow core doors with a couple of coats of shellac. Deck screw hold everything in place except the tops, they stay in place with gravity and added blocking on all four undersides to keep the tops from shifting about. I picked up the doors for next to nothing at the local Lowes in the back corner. I have two that have been in service for about 9 years and have had no issues with racking, weight carrying ability or stability. The only problem I’ve ever had was overloading one edge and having the other lift up. A clamp fixed that transient issue. I did add levelers to both tables so that I can use them for out-feed tables when needed. My garage floor is far from level as are most.

-- Sawdust Maker

View MrRon's profile

MrRon

5139 posts in 3418 days


#11 posted 10-25-2018 01:35 AM



My combination workbench, assembly table, outfeed area is of a relatively simple design without a bunch of fancy joinery, primarily of 2” x 6” construction and screwed together with deck screws. The top consists of two layers of 3/4” plywood screwed together (no glue), and the work surface is a piece sheet of hardboard (that can be easily replaced when worn or damaged) that is held in place with double sided tape and a section of modified oak trim around the edges. The height is just beneath the top of my table saw (and a future upgraded table saw). The overall unit is 4 x 8 with a 30” x 30” drop down area that I use for my sander, portable router table, scroll saw (each of which stores in the workbench when not in use) and for other purposes. One side has shelving for handheld portable equipment and other items and I will be installing drawers on the other side for woodworking supplies, sandpaper, etc. The workbench is quite solid, sturdy and doesn t budge while in use.

The designs you have posted should work and if screwed together (as I did mine) you can always disassemble and rebuild in the future if your needs change. I m off to a meeting so have to be relatively short, but I m sure you will get additional feedback here.

- BattleRidge


I like the 4’ x 8’ bench. When located so all four sides are accessible, all sorts of projects can be handled. I had a 4×8 bench at one time when I was doing tools sharpening. The tools needed for sharpening were conveniently located on the bench within easy reach. Tools were needed to retooth, set and sharpen saw blades and that made the process flow smoothly. Now that I no longer sharpen tools, my bench has been down sized to match my current needs, which is model building.

View Eric's profile

Eric

49 posts in 48 days


#12 posted 10-25-2018 02:15 AM

Lots of good ideas here. So I will add another point to think about.

Fir additional vertical strength add a style against the legs between the top and bottom rail, then add a short block below the bottom rail to the floor.

Also add a joist from the front rail the the back rail placind against the legs. Then a few in the middle section.

As for the top 3/4” plywood will work well. I would band the edge of the plywoodakimg it higher to acomindate either MDF or hardboard. (For a replacement top) drill a 1” hole in the center front edge of the plywood, this allows you to push the MDF up and flip or replace.

Good luck on your project.

-- Eric, Upstate South Carolina

View Al_in_OH's profile

Al_in_OH

2 posts in 710 days


#13 posted 10-26-2018 05:40 PM


The one element I see missing in your first drawing it lateral stability. This can be solved either with cross bracing or just adding plywood sheathing to the back and ends. Shelves underneath also makes great storage; which I never seem to have enough of.

- LesB

I built mine like in the first picture and LesB is correct. I have lateral stability issues. Not too big of a deal until I am performing a task that requires a lot of force in one direction, hand planing a board as an example. The whole table rocks sideways. I also recently added casters and when I try to push the table around (it’s fairly heavy) there is a lot of lateral movement. I haven’t put anything in place to correct this, but thought about plywood sheathing as this would give me a place to hang some more tools. I also added a shelf to the bottom.

View Spikes's profile

Spikes

74 posts in 220 days


#14 posted 10-26-2018 06:56 PM

thanks for chiming in @AlinOH.

At this point I’m wondering about a basic design principle: is it the case that to make a stable box (workbench in this case) you need 3 sides (back and 2 later sides) enclosed or braced? even in the case of a metal shelf I fixed for the shop it was wobbly until I added the 3 side panels. However pretty much 99% of all the woodworking benches I’ve seen are not, especially the roubos or nicholsons of the woodworking world. Are those ok because all the aprons and stretchers are massive in size with tenon joints? or more simply it’s just a matter of using tenon joints instead of screwing things together like in the first pic?

thanks,

-- Don't worry about making progress, worry about practicing. If you practice you will make progress even if you don't want to.

View JayT's profile

JayT

5926 posts in 2386 days


#15 posted 10-26-2018 07:46 PM



or more simply it s just a matter of using tenon joints instead of screwing things together like in the first pic?

thanks,

- Spikes

This. A well fit mortise & tenon joint is extremely strong in multiple directions and does an excellent job of resisting racking forces. Now take a horizontal M&T joint for the stretchers and combine with a vertical M&T joint from the legs to the top and you have increased the rigidity exponentially because of the different directions.

-- In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. Thomas Jefferson

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