The Versatile Woodworker
Article Written By:
INTRODUCTION & OVERVIEW
I have always done my woodworking projects out of my garage. Although my wife and I do not always park vehicles in it, the garage still needs to maintain its capability to house at least one automobile. This, combined with the fact that we also use the garage for storage, make it impossible to establish a dedicated wood shop in the garage. For this reason, I stayed away from many projects that would have been good skill builders -- I simply didn't have a space in which I was comfortable beginning big projects.
Last year, I set out to change the dynamic. Since my garage was multi-purposed, so would be my setup. I sat down at the drawing board to design a mobile, multi-purposed work space. My vision was to create a mobile (light-duty) work bench that would also serve as: out-feed table, assembly table, router station, etc. I also wanted it to be semi-collapsible -- I wanted to have a big table when I needed it, but I also wanted it to be small enough to tuck it out of the way when a severe thunderstorm forced me to put the convertible in the garage. This is the rough sketch from which I set out to work.
Because I built this table/system around the specifications of my tools, I won't focus on exact dimensions but rather design concepts. I know I'm not the only hobbyist woodworker who still needs a garage to be a garage. Hopefully some of you will be able to use some of this to make your space more functional.
Looking at the sketch, notice that I have a central cabinet and large wings that act like a drop-leaf table. To make the extension wings work, they needed vertical supports near the outer edges. The only way this was possible was to design legs that collapsed, then folded BEFORE the wing could be folded down. To make room for this, I made a 3" x 3" cleat along the top edge of the cabinet.
The cabinet is a simple box made from 3/4" plywood. I made the cabinet approximately 24" deep so I could maximize a single 4x8 sheet. The height of the cabinet, including wheels & top, needed to be 1" below my table saw. I ripped the sheet in half and set one half aside for use as the top (it will get cut into three sections). I kept the joinery of the cabinet box simple, using glued Kreg (pocket hole) joints every place I could. To make the 3x3 cleat, I laminated 3 pieces of poplar and glued/screwed even with the top edge of the sides. The center section of the top was cut even with the edges of the cleats.
I wanted this center section of the top to be removable to make room for my bench-top router table. To make this possible, I used threaded inserts in the top edge of the cleat. With that done, positioned the shelf so the space above it was the proper size for my router table. Actually I made the top of my router table approximately 3/4" above the edge of the cabinet. This allows me to fold the wings out and have perfect in feed/out feed area when routing long pieces.
The extension wings were fairly simple. Having cut the center section out of the half-sheet remaining after constructing the cabinet, I simply needed to cut the remainder in half. This yielded two extension wings approx. 24" x 30".
This is the first point where I deviated from my sketch/plan. I decided I wanted my work space to be slightly deeper than 24". To remedy this, I applied 1x2's around the edge of the wings and to the front & back of the center section. This made the work top a more usable 27" deep.
The legs were the most complex part of the whole build, and the one component I struggled the most with regarding design. Looking at the sketch, notice that I made the top section hollow. I used 1/2" plywood separated by 7/8 x 1" edge spacers. The "hollow" space was just over 2-1/2" to allow for the 1x3 legs to slide freely.
The inside spacers were cut short to allow for 1x4 spreaders. The spreaders make each leg a solid, structural unit. The bottom section of the legs was made from 1x3 and 1x4 stock. The horizontal bottom section is actually two 1x4's laminated together. Prior to assembly, I used my router to create a half-lap joint on each of the inside faces until the vertical legs fit snugly. The process was a little tedious, but I'm very satisfied with the results.
With all of the major components finally completed, assembly was fairly straightforward. I started by flipping the cabinet upside down on the floor of my garage. This made it a little easier to attach the hinges while keeping all three sections of the top even. With this done, I attached the legs 1" in from the outside edge of the wings. In addition to traditional piano hinges to fold the legs, I used locking lid support hinges to make sure I didn't accidentally kick the folding legs out from under the wing.
The tricky part was going to be setting the "stops" for the collapsible legs. My solution for this was to stand the cabinet upright and clamp a couple of 2x4's across the entire length of the top. With the extension wing s temporarily clamped in a level position, I drilled holes through the vertical portion of the leg. I then put threaded inserts on the back and used pan-head screws to lock the legs in position. With the holes set, I collapsed the legs and folded them -- IT WORKED!!! I hadn't been able to fully test my collapsible & folding mechanism to this point. I was just hoping that my measurements & calculations were correct.
So, with the project complete, I ended up with a mobile workstation that was approximately 27x36.
With the wings extended, my table is just over 8' in length. EIGHT FEET of assembly area! Pretty exciting upgrade from a second-hand Black & Decker WorkMate.
After I finished assembly, I wasn't done making my table multi-functional... I drilled four small holes in the top, complete with threaded inserts, for attaching my Kreg jig. I drilled four larger holes in a bigger pattern, and made several 3/4 plywood "plates" that could be screwed into these inserts. I bolted my vise onto one of these plates, my bench grinder onto another. I still have another one, pre-drilled, should I acquire another tool I would like to attach to my table.
LESSONS LEARNED & FUTURE UPGRADES:
Although I'm very proud of what I made, it isn't perfect and I won't try to pretend it is. There are no "show-stoppers", but there are a few things I would do differently if I were to build another.
1. Hardwood legs. I made the legs out of pine. Part of the reason was to keep expenses down, but to be perfectly honest -- I wasn't 100% sure my idea would work. I wasn't going to shell out the cash for oak just to have my idea fail. The part of the leg that slides into the upper shell really should be made out of hard wood for additional strength. Pine isn't bad, but it does have its strength limitations.
2. Steel collars on the leg screws: When I drilled the holes to lock the legs in the extended position, I didn't reinforce the wood. Over time, if I abuse the table, the holes will start to become oval. Again, not a show stopper, but the worn-out holes could cause the tabletop to not be level.
3. Dedicated router table. I've been very pleased with the performance of the table. My bench top router table is okay, but it also has limitations. One future upgrade for my work table will be to make another center section of the top which is purpose-built to be a router table. I've got the threaded inserts, so the possibilities are endless.
I hope the concept of my little space saving is useful in some way to my fellow woodworkers. If you have any questions, drop me a line and I'll be happy to answer them. Just in time, shortly after I completed this project we had a storm inbound promising to drop golf-ball sized hail. Time to see if everything fits!