Ultimate: Last in a train of progression or consequences; tended toward by all that precedes; arrived at, as the last result; final.
I have been designing and building homes for a while, and, somehow, I completed all of them without the aid of the Ultimate Work Bench (UWB), but I always knew there had to be a better way.
What Makes a Work Bench Ultimate?
Usually, when the finish work begins, saw horses come out, plied with door blanks—one, two, sometimes even three. One for a table saw out-feed, and one or two others for assemblies.
Trying to put mantels together on these small surfaces was just too difficult, which meant that large projects ended up on the floor—ugh, my back, my knees! The same was true for wainscot, which I like to pre-assemble with pocket screws and a few dominoes. Then there are cabinets and book cases. While most cabinets show up ready to install, it seems I’m always fabricating a bookcase or two. And then there’s always that little niche which just demands some custom work.
So the quest began. I wanted a large, waist-high surface that could handle bigger projects. I also wanted somewhere to store tools. These days, I have specialty tools for everything. Routers (not just a router), track saw (how did I ever complete a project without one of those?); pocket hole cutter, drills, screw guns, mallet, chisels, and the Festool Domino (the coolest tool ever), tape measure, and the various accessories which inevitably come along for the ride. If I put the tools on the work bench, then there is no space for the work piece. If I put the tools on the floor, then my back and knees suffer. If putting the tools on the top is no good, and the floor is even worse, what do I do? And how do I clamp wood or jigs to the bench? I know this much: a table saw out-feed is a must in my workflow.
Lastly, how do I get the work bench from job to job? It can’t be too big or too heavy to handle solo.
So there it is: I want a bench with a large surface, tool storage, clamping options, table saw out-feed, and it has to be light enough for one person to manage. Simple! I’ll make it big and small, heavy and light, plus fold-able to carry it around in my back pocket! Well, the last part might be going too far, but what about the rest?
After figuring out the properties of the ultimate work bench, it was time to design it, which is where the fun begins—in the virtual wood shop. Earlier, I said the domino was the coolest tool ever, but I spoke too quickly. In a lot of ways, that distinction goes to SketchUp, a computer modeling program that is easy to use, and FREE!
Within my MacBook Pro, the cutting, routing, drilling, and assembling began. A few days—and no less than twenty variations—later, the detailed plans were ready to take to the shop. Had I begun the process in a brick-and-mortar wood shop, I would probably have settled for the “penultimate work bench,” since, let’s face it, the “this one’s good enough” syndrome would have set in somewhere around version three. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly willing to accept that “perfect is the enemy of the good,” but modeling allows us to get a little closer without sacrificing the good.
Both bench-top sections are identical, except they’re mirrored for the table saw supports and crosscut dadoes. The sections are bolted together on each end with a simple bolt, washer, and plastic knob. The bolt assembly remains attached to one section, while the second section has two large holes drilled to drop over the assembly. This saves time and possible misplacement of the bolts.
Mounting the DeWalt was a simple matter of ripping down some 2x and attaching it to the underside of the saw. The 2x has a V-grove along the entire bottom edge, which centers up on the pipe and provides a stable connection. The width of the 2x will, of course, depend on the saw used. I estimated, at first, and made them a little large for the test mount. Then it was a simple matter of ripping off the difference to make the saw top flush with the bench top. I also added some cutouts to the 2x for convenient hand holds when placing and removing the saw. At first, I considered some type of through-bolt or pin to keep the saw in place, but I’ve found that the saw’s weight keeps it securely in place. Plus, the V-grove provides ample friction to keep the saw from sliding back.
The sections are made up of 1/2-in. plywood sides and cross supports, which are assembled with dadoes, rabbets, glue, and staples. I used a router template to cut long ovals to reduce weight, and allow access inside of each section for tool storage and clamp use. The top and bottom of each section are constructed of 1/2-in. plywood. The bottom is solid, and the top features 3/4-in. holes routed using Festool’s track and router guide for precise 4-in. centers. I pinned the two tops together and routed them simultaneously, which saved a lot of time, and insured identical layout. The tops and sides were rabbeted 1/4 in. x 1/4 in., then glued and stapled together.
With the work surface complete, the saw horses were next. Beginning with a 46-in x 30-in. section of 3/4-in. plywood, I laid out the first sawhorse section. All intersecting points were drilled with a 4-in. hole saw. I used the Festool track saw to connect the dots, and finished up the cut with a jig saw.
A little fussing with sandpaper, and the first sawhorse section served as a router template for the other three. Finally, a 1/8-in. round-over bit softened the edges and gave them a finished look.
The bottom shelf serves many functions: a spacer for the two horses—keeping them from splaying open—and a convenient place to store larger tools. I decided to cut out a section of this lower shelf, so the dust collector could nest beneath the table, which keeps it from being under-foot.
Putting it all together is magic. Every project I have been on with this work of art has ended up with my clients—both men and women—spending more time admiring the table than the work for which I was being paid!
Assembly is a snap. After backing up my tool trailer and dropping the ramp, I pull out the two saw horses and place them where I want the bench.
Finally, the second top section is dropped onto the sawhorses over the large body washer. I tighten everything up in under 4 minutes, without breaking a sweat.
On the job, this work bench is a dream. Even on a small project that may last only a few hours, the setup time is easily recouped. I am safer, and more comfortable, which helps me produce better work.
Mission accomplished! Safe, accurate, and pleasant to use. Next, the Ultimate Miter Stand!
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Ron Paulk started his company, Paulk Homes (www.paulkhomes.com), in 1990 alongside his wife, Chris. Together, they have built over 150 homes, and completed uncounted remodels. Ron never rests, thinking he knows it all. Keeping his mind open, always looking for a better way, he devours many monthly publications, and now many more online, plus attending every trade show and seminar around. Somewhere along the way, he picked up CAD skills, and began designing homes with a strong interest in designing and building for minimum environment impact—it is so much more than insulated windows and an efficient furnace. Now, Ron wants to help other builders and carpenters by sharing his knowledge. That is, when he is not behind the camera, or playing with his grandchildren.