A New Workbench

Today was lazying-around-doing-nothing-in-particular-day. I needed it, my back hurt as if I were shoveling gravel. Four days in a row I was working as much as I could on making the best of the bad weather and making a new work bench for my workshop, something that was desperately needed for a long time by now.

I have started by taking some ca 5 m long boards from their storage in my garden-shed half of the workshop building.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

These super long spruce boards are reclaimed from attic renovations when a few years ago the old board flooring was replaced with OSB boards. They have some insect damage, but not excessive so they are still strong, and they are super dry. Thus whilst they are straight lengthwise, they are slightly bent across. They also have fitting tongues and groves.

I have cut 10 of 2300 mm long pieces and 17 of 700 mm long pieces and cleaned all the grooves and tongues first with a chisel (they were full of decades-worth of dust) and then with sandpaper. After that I have put five long boards next to each other with the concave side up and I flattened them with my handheld belt sander.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

The concave side of the boards required less material removal than the convex side would have, therefore the belt sander was sufficient. And it has also removed the oil oil/wax finish on the boards.

Flaterooned boards could be glued side-by-side together, forming the base of the workbench. To keep them together I have lashed them with four Spanish windlasses.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

I have used PU-based glue for his bench but I have used PVA for my first one and it worked too. The PVA only needs a longer time to cure and the PU has a further advantage in that it foams up, filling neatly small voids, etc.

I did not wait for the glue to set, however, and I started sanding the convex sides of the short boards straightaway.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

When those vere sanded flat, I started gluing them to the base and attaching them with screws to hold them in place. That was my first workday finished.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

So I have two layers of boards, perpendicular to each other, glued at flattened concave sides. The next day I removed all the screws and then came the hardest part of this whole ordeal – flattening the convex sides of the bords in the upper layer and of the five remaining long boards.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

The convex sides needed to remove more material than the concave sides, thus belt sander alone was not sufficient. I had to take out the one tool that I actively hate – the electric hand planer. I never figured out how to use it properly. It hogs material away quite successfully, but it also makes gouges in the boards no matter what I do and the gyroscopic force makes its movement extremely difficult and tiring. And it is extremely dangerous on top of that. And it makes an unholy mess.

But I have managed to get the sides at least somewhat flat so I could glue on the long boards as the top layer. again using screws to hold them in place. That was the second day finished.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

The next day I again removed all the screws and I filled all the holes and gaps with bbq skewers, popsicle sticks, and/or a mixture of PVA glue and sawdust as appropriate.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

It has cured very quickly so in the afternoon I could flatten this side, using mostly the belt sander, but I had to use the dreaded planer too a few times. I made one unseemly gauge on the surface :-/

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

I had to fill in some voids again, but I was able to give it the first coat with strongly diluted acrylic paint that very same evening.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

At this point, I was so physically tired that I could not even sleep properly. Fighting the electric hand planer made my back and neck ache something awful. But at least the 2300x720x70 mm workbench board was mostly finished at this point. It is not tutti flatti perfetti, but it is flaterooni enough.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

The third day was thus finished, the first coat of paint dried overnight.

The next day I have again filled some cracks with sawdust and acrylic paint mixture, gave the whole thing a coat of undiluted paint and I weighed it. It weighs approximately 42 kg. It did take some work to get it through the workshop door and into the workshop, but I have managed it and I managed it solo. I was afraid to ask my father for help because he could easily hurt himself. I was more comfortable with banging the board about and eventually breaking something than with him getting some serious injury. Luckily I did not break anything, nor did I injure myself, I was just very, very tired at the end of that endeavor and I have not made any pictures of what I have done inside the workshop. I just remembered to make this one picture at the end.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

The board is fixed to the wall on the rear edge and supported by two legs on the front two corners. Under it are some reclaimed furniture cupboards that were there even before, just without a nice continuous workbench above them. Because it is fixed to the wall, it is very sturdy and It can take my whole body weight in the middle without bending.

That was the fourth day finished. I was still too tired to even sleep properly, so I did not.

Now that it is in place, it will get two more coats of paint (one is drying right now) and then I will put on it the machinery. Either tomorrow or the day after that, depending on how fast the paint cures and how I feel.

I intend for this workbench to be a permanent home for my belt sander and band saw and also, in the future, a lathe. That should free my first workbench significantly, allowing me to do manual work more comfortably and have more than one vice.


  1. flex says

    My word. Three layers of tongue-and-groove board cross-assembled and properly glued, and you thought it might bend under your weight?

    I’d say it may be a little over-engineered, but it does look great!

    And I’m impressed at your use of reclaimed materials (although not surprised as you do that a lot). Most of us would just go purchase a sheet of 18mm plywood and call it a day. I feel inspired to do more reclaiming for my projects myself.

  2. lochaber says

    That’s a lot of work. looking at the tongue-and-groove on the end grain in that one shot, it looks like you’ve sanded/planed off quite a bit of material. But, like flex said, it sounds like a pretty solid design, and pretty cool that you did it with reclaimed material.

    Also -- using allen keys/hex wrenches in the Spanish Windlasses is pretty clever, I’m going to try and remember that. :)

    Hope you recover soon

  3. Ice Swimmer says

    A lot of work, but a solid result. You are a master of reclaiming.

    If you were an electrical engineer and worked in the same spirit, I would really like to see the results. For example, a high-voltage DC circuit breaker as a Charly design and implementation would be a sight to see. The hefty springs for opening the contacts and the sheet metal for the arc chute could be reclaimed materials.

  4. says

    @flex, plywood of this size would cost me 150-200,-€, I would have to pay extra for oversized delivery, then I would still have to cut it to size and make all the supports on the wall, the legs, the paint-job, etc. So even with all the work included and the cost of glue (~30,-€), I come financially ahead, not to mention that it is easier for me to spend time than money, since I have no reliable income -- my money is limited but I have time until I die. And since the material cost me nothing, over-engineering is not a problem. Most engineers make things on the edge of functionality as a cost-saving measure, not because it is a good thing in itself. My philosophy is to under-promise and over-deliver, even when making things for myself.
    @lochaber, I was searching for a way to make the Spanis windlasses stay locked and using the hex wrenches came naturally when I was browsing my workshop for something to use to wind them up. It works pretty well.
    @Ice Swimmer, the most sophimasticated electrical work I have ever done was to make myself a switch for etching. And only because I could not find anything commercial that would suit my needs. My knowledge of elektrimcity is very limited, I mainly know to not put my fingers in the socket. That is one area where I either have to buy a solution or go without.

  5. Jazzlet says

    That gluing together reclaimed boards to make things is something Paul does a lot of, the results are always strong, and often beautiful. I expect the bench will out last you, I hope you can manage to get some sleep now it’s finished.

  6. flex says


    Don’t get me wrong. I’m saying it’s over-engineered as a compliment, not as a concern. What you have assembled is impressive.

    I guess there are a couple ways to define the phrase, “over-engineered”:
    1. Designed and built with a design margin which greatly exceeds the defined requirements of the object.
    2. Spending an excessive amount of material or time to design or create an object.

    I would say definition 1 is positive, we all like to see creations we know are not marginal. We then know that in normal use there is no worry about durability or reliability. But also because anyone with any experience knows that occasionally the use will exceed the margins.

    Definition 2 is negative only in a sense that there is a cost to using an excessive amount of material or time, and that cost is the opportunity to use that material or time on other projects. As you say, your time is your own to spend, and the material is reclaimed, so definition 2 does not really apply.

    My comment about plywood was really saying that the rest of us are lazy, not that it would have been a better choice for you. You are perfectly right that even with a sheet of plywood that doesn’t complete the work. A frame would need to be made, it would need to be cut to size, etc. So not as much time/effort would be saved as us lazy people would think.

  7. Ice Swimmer says

    Charly @ 4

    My comment was also praise. However, actually you wouldn’t have to be an EE to take part in designing and implementing a high-voltage DC circuit breaker, also people who know the mechanics are needed (and the electrical engineer will specify and explain what they want*). And the mechanics need to be sturdy or the switch cannot be operated many times.

    * = Things like clearances, layout of the electrical and electromagnetic parts, minimum dimensions for the contacts, the force when the contacts are closed and how much time should the opening take.

Leave a Reply