Ever wish you had a work table that could handle all your jobs?
When I first started out over fifteen years ago, I would use anything I could find as a table. I’d lay plywood on the ground, I’d set plywood on wood blocks, and, finally, I grew up enough to use sawhorses. But most of the time my “table” was never big enough for the project I was working on. And it was never efficient.
One day reality hit me—or almost hit me. I’d loaded up twenty 2 x 6 x 8 PT joists to cut on the plywood and sawhorses. Just as I finished marking my first measurement, and was ready to make the cut, the whole table collapsed and just missed my toes. We all know how much pain that would have inflicted. Right then and there I knew it was time to change my work table situation.
I wanted something big enough for all kinds of jobs, but small enough to carry and transport—something I could leave in my truck. I also wanted it to be efficient for doing layout chores, for assembling and fastening projects. And it had to be durable; it had to hold up to any kind of weather. After some thought, I came up with a plan.
For my first table, I made the top using 1/2-in MDO and used 5/4-in. x 6-in. pre-primed lumber for the frame. It was all pocket-screwed together. I installed a self-adhesive tape measure on one side and laid the table on metal folding horses. That table worked pretty well. It was small enough to transport, but it wasn’t big enough for a lot of my projects. It held up very well to the weather, but when I cut sheet goods on it, and sometimes cut into the table itself, it became difficult to use—sometimes stock got stuck in the grooves, and pieces of the table would break off. I needed more from that table than I was getting. Still, that first table lasted me about three years! All that time, I brooded about improving the design.
I wanted a table that would be more efficient for all my projects. I decided to take another stab at it. This time, I wanted one that would be big enough to work on, but small enough to transport. I wanted it to be large enough for two guys to work on it at the same time, so we could move through projects faster without increasing set-up time. I wanted the table to support rafters and joists, to assist measuring and layout. I wanted to use it as a miter-saw stand. I wanted to use it for drilling and assembling pocket-screw kits for windows and door trim. Basically, I wanted this table to be a work station for all my rough and finish projects.
Durable & Lightweight
MDO had proven itself durable enough for my first table, so I used the same material for the top of the new one. I rarely use a table saw on the job. Instead, I use a guide-rail and plunge cutting saw to cut sheet goods. I like using a track saw to cut all my sheet goods. Track saws are great to use on all phases of a job. They’re very accurate, easy to use, and don’t require two people, as with cutting sheet goods on a table saw.
As with the first table, I made the new frame from 5/4 x 6 pre-primed pine stock. It’s light and strong, and the material is perfectly straight. I used weather-resistive pocket screws to fasten the framing together and secure the top. I ripped all my frame stock to width, getting two pieces from one 5/4 x 6.
|Like I said, I wanted this table to last a long time, so I primed all my cuts.|
|Then I drilled holes for my pocket screws.|
To assemble the frame, I set up a 90 degree corner and fastened it to my work table with pocket screws.
Using the corner made it much easier to keep the framing tight, and allowed me to assemble all the pieces without clamps—so I moved much faster. That’s another reason I like working on a good table—I can cobble together a jig or fixture very quickly. Since most of my work is repetitive, those jigs and fixtures always save me time and energy, especially when I’m working alone.
No matter how hard I try to cover every base, I seem to always forget something. You’ll notice from these photographs that I glued and pocket-screwed all the frames together before realizing that I had to drill pocket holes to attach the top, too! Fortunately, I was still able to get the frame onto my pocket hole jig.
To make sure the top stayed put, I attached it with screws and adhesive. My current adhesive of choice is called Pur Stick by Todol Products. I love this adhesive because it’s easy to use and bonds to almost anything. All I do is shake the can for about a minute, release the pressure to my desired amount and squeeze away. I use it on most of my projects, from framing to finish. I also use it for interior and exterior projects. The gun costs about $100, and each can costs about $21, which is more affordable than some other top adhesive products.
I used pocket screws to fasten the top because I didn’t want any screw heads—even counter sunk screws—in the top. I wanted a smooth surface to work on. Besides, to keep the table light, I used 1/2-in material which doesn’t provide enough thickness to countersink the screws.
One thing I hated about my first table was carrying and storing it. That, and the fact that it was too small for many of my projects. The thing I like most about this new version of my work table is that it folds in half, making it easy to store, transport, and set up. And because it folds in half, I was able to make this table bigger than my first one. I used a piano hinge to attach the two halves together.
I didn’t think of it at the time, but a folding table is also handy when you have to suddenly move your setup to a different location—it can act as a handy carrying case! You can stick a bunch of tools inside, fold the table up, and carry a lot of different stuff at the same time.
|To strengthen the 1/2-in. top, I installed cleats about every two feet along with foam glue, and pocket-screwed it to both parts of the frames.|
|To make sure the table doesn’t open while I’m carrying it, I installed two sash on the front edge.|
Having a work table that’s lightweight and easy to setup is great, but it’s the accessories that really turn a table into an efficient work station. And there’s no end to the accessories. I keep thinking of new ones.
I attached self-adhesive measuring strips around the entire perimeter of the table, which makes it easy to measure materials—no matter where I’m working, one of those tapes is always available.
Cutting Adhesive Flashing
I use a tremendous amount of self-adhesive membrane, and always like cutting it square. So I made a cutting board that keeps me from cutting into my table—something that used to really bother me. The cutting board works just like the one in my kitchen. The plastic cutting surface is smooth and, surprisingly, it stays that way!
Miter saw supports
I do all types of work—demo, digging, concrete, framing, and finish. I use my miter saw a lot, and when I do, I’m often cutting framing material. For that reason, I don’t need continuous extension wings—that would be just one more thing to store and carry. Instead, to make it easier to set up my miter saw, I installed a couple of handy pop-up supports. I probably spent more time on these accessories than I did building the whole table, but it was worth every minute invested.
I started by cutting slots in the uprights, which receive a pair of bolts and wing nuts. Using one bolt wasn’t an option—I didn’t want the support to swivel. Finish carpenters who need continuous extension wing supports can use this same system.
Next, I drilled pocket holes in the top of the uprights, then attached the top.
Carrying, storing, and setting up this work table is a snap. It takes up very little room in my truck and sets up on my saw horses in a second.
|When I’m cutting sheetgoods, I put a few sleepers on top of the table. The surface is always dead flat–the table never sags.|
The first time I used my new table I was trimming out some windows. Using the cutting board, I cut membrane to size for water protection. I set up my miter saw and cut all the window trim, then drilled and fastened the frames with pocket screws—using my Kreg clamp. When I was finished, I folded up the table and slid it into my truck. Setup and rollup were effortless, and the table worked even better than I imagined.
Work tables are an important tool for me, and this one is the best I’ve ever used; in fact, it’s the first tool I set up on every job site!
. . .
. . .
Emanuel Silva has always had a love for carpentry. At the age of three, his mother heard an unusual noise coming from the living room where Emanuel was playing. She went in to see what was going on, and found Emanuel with a butter knife and spoon trying to cut the end table. She asked him what he was doing and why. His response was, “I’m try to cut these small spindles off and attach them to the bottom of the table so the table won’t shake anymore.”
As Emanuel grew up, he would get involved in anything that required manual labor. Whenever it snowed, he would be out there shoveling, and in the spring when his father would prep the garden for vegetables, he would help turn the dirt over with a shovel.
When Emanuel went to high school, he also enrolled in a local carpentry program. He graduated high school and completed the carpentry program, for which he was given an award for “Outstanding Tradesman.” Emanuel then attended the North Bennet Street School, for a nine month carpentry program. After graduating, he went to work as a carpenter’s helper. He then got his carpenter’s license and struck out on his own.
Emanuel now owns and operates Silva Lightning Builders. No, it’s not an electrical company. In high school, he and a friend had always talked about going into business together, and they came up with that name—they’d been thinking of the image of a silver lighting bolt, and came up with the name Silva Lightning Builders. (Those not from New England might not get the play on words.) His company does complete renovation work, from rough to finish.
Emanuel is always looking for new ways to improve his skills by attending carpentry shows, reading magazines and watching how-to shows. He is really excited about giving back to others some of what he knows, and hopes to write many more articles in the future. He has written for JLC and Fine Homebuilding magazines.
Emanuel lives with his wife, Diane, and their three boys Zachary, Carter and Corey. When not working, he loves going on walks and taking day trips with his family. Right now, they’re spending most of their time renovating their 1900s bungalow. Emanuel’s middle child has the carpentry bug, too. He is now six, and has been helping his dad since he was one. Who knows, maybe in the future it will be Silva Lightning and Sons!