My New Bench
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I decided to make myself a portable bench. It came out reasonably well so I thought I'd share it. Please note that I haven't had a chance to actually use it yet so there may be small changes in the future.
This bench is made out of pretty much just some 2x4's. The top is a quarter sheet of 3/4” birch plywood. Fully assembled it's nice a sturdy, although there's a trace of side to side looseness so I may add some bracing running from the front lower left to back upper right and vice versa.
This is a portable bench so it's important that it break down for easy transport. Here it is fully broken down so you can decide if I did the job:
Notice those brackets? They hold all the cross members in place. The whole bench is held together by the tension braces so the cross members just have to not fall out.
Currently it's 36” high but I may decide to make another set of uprights for a different height – that's something I'll have to decide after I use it for a while.
Ok, on to the details you need to know if you want to make one.
You'll need a quarter sheet of good, heavy plywood for your top, five 8' 2x4's, 14 3” L brackets, 12 4” long 5/16” carriage bolts, 12 washers and 12 wing nuts to fit the carriage bolts, 8 strong eye screws, a couple of dozen nails, some cord, and some light rope. All those little bits are in the blue bag, along with a chunk of 1/4” rod for driving the carriage bolts back out of the 2x4's (the ones I got are damp so they stick to the bolts).
Here are all the small bits:
That pile on the right are the nails. They're just being used as pegs so each one has a pull loop added. I tried fishing line first (it was handy) but it didn't work out – it cut into my fingers when I tried to pull the pegs out and a couple broke. This heavier cord works much better. It's just a loop of cord attached to the 'peg' (ok, nail) with a lark's head knot.
Cut two of the 8' 2x4's in half to give you 4 4' pieces. By the way, when making something like this where the only plans are in my head I measure certain pieces and others I make by measuring or marking against the other bits as I go. You can go with careful measurements and drilling templates if you want.
Now cut your four legs. I cut mine at 36” so I got two legs and one 2' section (to be used for a cross member) from each of the two 8' 2x4's I used.
Now, as mentioned, you can make a nice drilling template and use your drill press to make your main frame or do like I did – clamp the pieces together in the driveway and have at them with your drill. Drill the holes, put in the carriage bolts and secure with a washer and wing nut.
This picture shows a few things – one is that every piece / connection is labeled so I can put things back together properly. You can also see the slot routed in the top piece (labeled '2') that's used for the bracket holding the cross piece so it drops in and lets the top sit level. That hole near the lower right of the D is used for the peg that keeps the top from moving.
At the top the cross pieces should be level with the tops of the uprights. The uprights go to the outside of the cross pieces. That way you have a handy 2” deep lip you can use to clamp things to the edge of the bench. The back set of uprights gets a lower cross piece bolted on as well. There's a cross piece that needs to go under this one so the bottom of it should be about 4” off the ground (I just used a bit of 2x4 to line it up).
Now you need to make the cross pieces. I did this be standing the uprights upside down on the top and measuring the distance between the cross members. I cut the top cross members just a hair short – remember, the whole unit is held in compression at the end. To attach the brackets I set the cross piece tight up against the board it would hook to, held the bracket in place and marked the end of it on the cross piece. Then when I attached the bracket to the cross piece I put it just over the mark to give me a nice, snug fit with the board it hooks over. I don't want the top to ride up on the brackets going over the front and back boards so I used my router to inlet them. Yes, I just hooked them in place and marked the edges. Once you have the top two cross pieces your bench will start to take shape.
The bottom cross pieces are the trickier ones. You cut them to fit in between the uprights, but the brackets go the other way (so I used pairs). This shot shows the bottom cross pieces in place against the back frame.
Use a drill bit slightly larger than the nails to drill the holes for the pegs – that's what makes them pegs rather than nails. Again, they're not holding things together, they're just keeping them lined up. I only pegged the holes that line up with the 2x4 the bracket is attached to so the nail can pass through the front 2x4 and plug in to the one the bracket is attached to.
This shows the pegs going through the upright into the cross piece, how the lower cross member on the back frame goes above the cross piece, and how everything is labeled for reassembly. You can even see the ends of the brackets overlapping the marks I made when I held them in place.
Once you have all four cross pieces in place and pegged you have an ok framework
The problem is that it's not terribly sturdy. Way too loose and wobbly. That's where the fun part comes in. You'll notice the eyes screwed in to the uprights. There's one just above and one just below the cross members. The rope is tied to the bottom eye on each upright (simple bowline). Your rope should be long enough to go from the lower eye up through the upper eye on the opposite upright and back down to the lower eye. That's not exactly how we're going to tie it, just the length we need.
The knot we use is called a Trucker's Hitch – it's actually a set of knots. You secure one end of the rope (bowline to the eye in this case), run the other end through your other endpoint and then make a simple slip knot loop in the line running from the starting point. Come back down and through the loop and now you have a nice pulley setup you can use to draw the line bowstring tight. Because this is intended to come back apart easily I slipped the end when I tied it off.
Once you've gone both ways you've got a nice X brace on the end holding the whole thing under compression.
The front bottom cross member isn't firmly attached - it's cut to fit and has a pair of brackets. This lets me put it where I want - either right up against the uprights like the back one or I can put it back a bit (as shown) to give room for my foot pedal. Once again, it's held in place by gravity and compression.
I may add one more set of braces to tighten it up side to side. Just another pair of ropes tied the same way, running from the front bottom to the upper back and across the width of the bench.
The top isn't actually attached. I just set it in place and then drilled a peg hole in each corner. The pegs keep the top from sliding around and gravity keeps in in place. The pegged on top adds a bit more stability to the whole bench.
It's pretty easy to both tear down and set up, although I do still need a hammer to encourage the carriage bolts to move. Most of that is due to the wood being damp though. Apparently these boards were rained on from the time the left the lumber mill up to the morning I bought them. Made them tougher to cut and drill too. Once they dry I probably won't need the hammer anymore.
I added the cross braces - they make it rock solid. In fact, it's important to put the top on before you tighten them because if you don't you can skew the whole thing enough you can't get the top in place. I also drilled the bolt holes out another 1/64" so they slide through without problems.
And I did some other bits to set it up for use. I drilled some holes, mostly. There's one through the top, in the overhang that's there so I can stand my graver there. The others are in the front cross member - a couple of small ones, one of which is an alternate place to park the graver, the other small one is for a small allen wrench. The larger ones hold the knob and wrenches used to tighten the vise.
The other thing I added is a 'monster cupholder' to hold the 20oz CO2 tank used to power my Lindsay Classic.
This is made from two PVC pipe bits - a 4" end cap and a 4" to 3" adapter. The 4" to 3" adapter has an inner flange you have to scrape down for the 20oz tank to fit but it only takes a moment. It just slips into the top of the 4" cap and is there to stabilze the tank.
I made this one removable so instead of just two screw holes I drilled larger holes right under them and filed out the connection so I can place it over the screws and then slide it down to lock in place. Because the screw heads stick out further I had to cut a small notch in the bottom of the 4" to 3" adapter to let it sit far enough down in the 4" cap to be stable. For placement you just put the tank in the 4" cap and move it up and down the upright until you like where it is.