Woodworking in the great white north.

Workbench redesign – location, location, location

Before I can really get into designing the workbench, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to establish the location first.  The reason this makes a big difference is that the workbench will either be integrated into my main outfeed bench (as it currently is) or it will be an independent bench entirely.  Ya, ya, I just made life a whole lot more complicated.  In fact, this is dangerously close to becoming a discussion about workshop layout in general.  I’ll try to rein myself in and not drift too far off topic.

For this post, I want to focus on where the workbench will be and that in turn will help me to determine if I leverage one of the existing lab benches as a base, or build a workbench on its own.  Trust me, I’ll show you some drawings and it will all make sense.

Above is an approximation of the current layout of my workshop.  I’ll link back to my workshop tour to give you pictures of what it looks like, though some aspects are not that easy to see due to my disorganization.

I’m looking at four options at the moment, but I’m sure more ideas will flood forth as I continue investigating.

Option 1:  Re-orient the lab cabinets and just build a new bench top using the cabinets as a base. 

Pros: 

  • This is probably the easiest approach
  • No legs required, just levelling up the cabinets
  • The benchtop can be split between hand tool work (traditional top) and assembly work (torsion box top)
  • The cupboards will be more accessible than they were
  • The router can get a dedicated place in the tablesaw wing-extension

Cons:

  • To use the bench as outfeed I have to clear off any project work
  • I will not be addressing other inefficiencies in my shop layout
  • I lose the cutout shelf for the chop saw
  • I have no clear location for an apprentice’s tool cabinet near the bench
  • Have to build a new router table

Option 2:  Leave the current bench alone and build a new standalone bench against the back wall that would replace some of the currently inefficiently used shelving.

Pros:

  • No big structural changes to the existing bench
  • Keep the current power tool centric features of the old bench
  • Get to build a shiny new workbench entirely of my choosing
  • Potentially better use of the space I’ve got

Cons:

  • The old bench top will still require some rework (new torsion box top?)
  • More work, building an entire workbench from scratch
  • Some organization work required to deal with what’s in the shelving that I’m going to lose.
  • The bench being against the back wall limits maneuverability around the workbench (really only one side access)
  • The bench being against the back wall may limit the use of heating and lighting that I currently have set up

Option 3:  Reorient the cabinets to shorten the outfeed bench, build a standalone hand tool bench on the end of the outfeed.  Remove some shelving from the back wall to give more room, use the back wall as french cleat wall for tools and tool cabinets.

Pros:

  • More efficient use of space
  • Better access to tools
  • Dedicated hand tool bench is separate from the outfeed bench
  • Access to three sides of the hand tool bench
  • The router can get a dedicated place in the tablesaw wing-extension
  • Get to build a shiny new workbench entirely of my choosing

Cons:

  • More work, building an entire workbench from scratch
  • More work, building a french cleat system and associated tools storage
  • Some organization work required to deal with what’s in the shelving that I’m going to lose
  • The remaining outfeed bench will require a new top (new torsion box top?)
  • I lose the cutout for the chop saw or have to build a new one
  • Have to build a new router table

Option 4:  Move the lab cabinets against the back wall and use them to get more table top surface area, with french cleats above on the wall.  Build a new bench and a smaller torsion box outfeed with the router table inset into the tablesaw wing.

Pros:

  • More efficient use of space
  • Better access to tools
  • More counter space on the lab benches
  • Dedicated hand tool bench is separate from the outfeed bench
  • Access to three sides of the hand tool bench
  • The router can get a dedicated place in the tablesaw wing-extension
  • Get to build a shiny new workbench entirely of my choosing

Cons:

  • More work, building an entire workbench from scratch
  • More work, building a french cleat system and associated tools storage
  • Some organization work required to deal with what’s in the shelving that I’m going to lose
  • The remaining outfeed bench will require a new top (new torsion box top?)
  • The lab benches will need a counter top of sorts
  • I lose the cutout for the chop saw or have to build a new one
  • Have to build a new router table

As you can see, I tend to go off the rails when I start ‘reorganizing’ things.  At times this can be an awesome exercise, getting things to evolve in a new direction, other times it’s just a huge amount of work with only a modicum of improvement.

So, for this stage, my main challenges are:

  • minimize the change and take advantage of what I’ve got today versus taking advantage of the opportunity to evolve the workshop significantly?
  • build a bench top that I can use for hand tools versus building an entirely new bench dedicated to hand tools?
  • focus on the hand tool bench alone versus branching out and working on accommodating power tools in a better way as well?

Let me know what you think…

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7 responses

  1. Steve Jones

    Disclaimer: I’m working towards unplugging everything in my shop except the lights, HVAC, and the lathe.

    That said, I would bite the bullet and evolve: Move the TS and a slightly narrower torsion box bench toward the doors and allow room for a free-standing hand tool bench. Since a hand tool bench is basically a giant clamp, it’s handy to be able to walk around the workpiece that it’s holding.

    My $0.02 (American). Your mileage may vary. Have fun.

    November 26, 2010 at 1:51 pm

  2. I have to say that I’d go with option 4 and build the new hand tool workbench

    November 26, 2010 at 3:59 pm

  3. Ian,
    I like option 3. In addition to providing you a great new bench, it will also free up some floor space, which I suspect you’ll appreciate (as it’s been a while since you could dance in the shop).

    But seriously, the open space will come it handy for any number of uses so I think it’s a good idea.

    November 26, 2010 at 4:00 pm

  4. You may find that your hand tool bench needs to be higher than your power tool bench. That’s purely a matter of what works for you. I find my bench is perfect for hand tools, but it would be too tall if I were to put a benchtop router table on it. My vote would be option 3 if you don’t need the hand tool bench to be part of you outfeed. Otherwise, I would go option 2

    November 27, 2010 at 9:35 pm

  5. Kyle

    I like both Option 3 & 4. With that said, I would start with Option 3 and then move to Option 4 over time. It doesn’t have to be done all at once; and you’ll probably change your mind a dozen times or two.

    November 29, 2010 at 12:20 pm

  6. Paul

    Workshop design is something I have given a bit of thought to myself. Nothing major I just wanted everything to fit. I find 2D floor layouts of limited utility. There is just too much room in a 2D rendering for fudge factor.

    This was the technique I used:
    http://www.instructables.com/id/Design-a-workshop/

    Though over the course of time things evolved as well:

    January 6, 2011 at 9:02 pm

  7. Pingback: 2012 is the year of the workbench « Woodcanuck's Blog

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