Making: Evolution of a Shop Table

If you’re getting seriously into MAKING of things, you really need to have a good-sized shop table in the middle of your workshop.  Ours has just sort of evolved over the years.  Legs were built one year, first top (old 2×6’s) went of next.  Slapped a coat of white paint on it (so as to see small parts) and that worked swell…for a while.

Next thing to come along was a mess of also scrap lumber to make a bottom shelf.  See, there’s not a single “good” cabinet to throw all those damn blow-molded tool boxes on.  God forbid manufacturers ever agree on a decent set of common sizes, either.

A few years later (four years back?) I picked up a 4/8 sheet of melamine *(one-side) to put something a little smoother on it for a work surface.  It was $30 bucks.  Panama’s (now wife) Donella put some edge trim on – a very nice touch.

(Continues below)


As you can tell, it’s been an evolutionary table.  And if you’re any kind of a serious “maker” there are lots of reasons to let your main work table sort of evolve as your needs and interests drift around.

For one, if you drop something, and your bench is up against the wall,  it’s a beast to get it from what is 36 to 48-inches away.  Depending how wide your bench is.  But, if you build the main bench in the middle of the room, no sweat:  you can get at it from all sides.

This also applies to sheet goods.  I can’t be the first guy to have a gasket or small part get lodged between the wall and the bench, can I?  I didn’t think so!

Second reason is ease of clean-up.  Pretty much the same motions as finding a runaway part, only with a shop vac.

Third:  You can get at all sides of a project.

You’ve seen my “scrap wood bedroom tables” for the guest room?

A few leftover 2-by-4’s, a couple of feet of 1-by-4 and two 15″ square tiles cut down on the wet saw.  Two hours, tops.  (Think of this style as Mission Style Lite – I didn’t bother staining it…)

Point about the bench is that because I could get at three sides of the project, there was no moving anything to toss in guns and finishing nails off an air nailer.

While (blissfully) gets us to the point of today’s discussion about work benches.

Now I want you to meet the three most important pieces of 2-by-4 in the shop:  They make up a beam (of sorts) that runs about over the top of the bench…40 inches up from the surface.

Runs the whole length of the bench, too.

On the north end, there is a 25-foot one of those coily air hoses.  There’s u-shaped pipe support to hold it (so it can be removed if needed elsewhere) and then it goes over the top of the 2-by-4 and rests on some clamps ready to be grabbed and put to work.  Next to this is a paper towel holder because wherever there is glue, there’s a mess.  When there’s paint…hell anything I touch turns into a mess, usually.

Thank Elaine for the overhead air hose idea.  When she wasn’t masseusing she worked construction and was always keeping people from killing themselves with hoses and extensions.  “One day I’m going to come over here and you’ll be injured or dead from all these cables on the floor!”

That’s why “the beam” has power outlets overhead along with air.  No cables on the flood to trip on, no extensions to wind up before hitting the work area with a broom.  A pass or two over the bench and once around the floor to the garbage can…

Continuing up the “beam” on one side there is a dandy (scrap wood, of course!) set of screwdriver and hammers and fitting tools.

Yes, that’s right, there’s even a small square in the rack.  Some day I’ll use it.  (Just kidding – use it all the time and would be lost without it.)

What you are seeing is how the bench has evolved over uncountable weekends.  Odd blocks of time.  Like this part with the screwdrivers and hammers.  It’s a very satisfying half hour project because it makes lots of sawdust.

Common to all people who “make” things is an almost compulsive need to make piles of unused materials.  My friend Jim Lewis (see if you need to design and build metal work that’s past home shop skills) calls it “…making chips…

Absolutely!  Big chips from the woodworking tools (power planers are dandy chip-makers!) to metal lathes and milling machines (for making metal chips BUT WEAR EYE PROECTION!)…YEP!  CHIPS, CHIPS AND MORE CHIPS!

Down at the other end of the beam is yet another outlet (six in all) and on this part of the beam is where are your “spare hands” go.  Non-handy bastards will wrongly call them clamps, squeeze-clamps and other foolish terms – also used in catalogs.

Opposite the screwdrivers and hammers in the middle of the beam is a two tube LED worklight.

As the sharp-eyed with notice, it has one of those Alexa-capable wireless switches plugged in (there are lots more outlets) and this one allows me to be in either the office or at the house and say “Alexa, turn off shop light” without wandering around in the dark.  Next time they are on sale, a Bluetooth and Echo will start to drive the shop’s hifi.  Another project.

Now let’s see where all this is going:

At one end of the shop table is where the 12″ double-compound chop saw lives.  Behind left is where three roll-around tool cabinets live.  Each draw in these has a name.  Like “Sharps”  “Welding”  “Squeezy” (pliers and ViseGrips when they’re not beside the computer!) “Twisties” (wrenches) and so forth.

Up at the head of the table you can just catch the black trim around a yellow cabinet named “Air Tools.”

All-in-all it’s a damn useable bench.  Future refinements?  Oh, sure:  Thought about end caps and two opening doors to keep the sawdust off the blow-molded case shelf.  But from the standpoint of “getting ‘er done” that’s what down the “Who Cares?” list.

I’ve decided (into year 70) that there are just some projects that work best being allowed to evolve along the line of morphic resonance fields as Rupert Sheldrake might call it.

Although more erudite (and accurate) would be to proclaim it is a Lamarckian result.  Since everyone in our shop knows that reference, you should, too:

Lamarckian inheritance) is the hypothesis that an organism can pass on characteristics that it has acquired during its lifetime to its offspring. It is also known as the heritability of acquired characteristics or soft inheritance. It is named after the French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744–1829), who incorporated the action of soft inheritance into his evolutionary theories as a supplement to his orthogenetic concept of an inherent progressive tendency driving organisms continuously towards greater complexity, in parallel but separate lineages with no extinction. Lamarck did not originate the idea of soft inheritance, which proposes that individual efforts during the lifetime of the organisms were the main mechanism driving species to adaptation, as they supposedly would acquire adaptive changes and pass them on to offspring.”

Yea, verily, fellow handy bastards, we know not all of the parents of this shop bench.  But we know some of its soft inheritance came from my time as an R&E mechanic when young (never knew of a “tool room” till then)  and even Elaine’s experience with “ground clutter.”

Have fun evolving Ure’s…

Make it – better!

14 thoughts on “Making: Evolution of a Shop Table”

  1. I don’t do as much large woodwork as you do, but I’ve found it handy to have two 3-foot by six-foot tables with fat 4×4 braced legs, and on high-grade wheels with toe brakes.

    There’s a set of wall-mounted shelves mounted strongly to the wall, and these benches can roll under the lowest shelf when I need more floor space. The tables “live” under the shelves a lot of the time, and come out when something big is being done on the table saw — which bed is at egg-zactly the same height as the benchtops, meaning one or both benches can act as feeds or catchers for table saw fodder. (I hate it when the cut piece “falls away” to the floor! Buggers up what would have been a perfect, splinter-free end.)

    The tables are a lot firmer than I thought they might be. Not bedrock solid, but the big low-compression “factory floor” 6-inch wheels make a good difference.

    Both tables have removable industrial grade low-nap grey rug toppers, so electronic things can be handled without scratching when they need to be on their sides, or upside down.

    • The great thing about your note is that it shows how your shop table evolved in a little different environment with a little different outcome. Lamarckian! I like the idea of the removable rugs – good one, that…might get some for my main bench, too.
      In the meantime you’re wheels make getting things out a cinch – The shop table I grew up with was a behemoth 4 X 8 which weight 6-tons and if anything fell down behind it *(it was against the wall on two sides) it was a goner.
      One of the few deficits of Ure genetics is to make lots of storage. After a few months, the odd tool was left on the big work table having nowhere else to live. Soon, it multiplied. And at the end of a few years, the table was useless as a table and completely covered in tools.
      It proved to be an oddity. B ecause at the fire house, pappy (Capt. Ure) was the leading advocate on the rig of “a place for everything and everything in its place!”
      Here in the SoU (son of Ure) operation, I’m trying to make up a bit with lots oif tool drawers and places for everything.
      My son (SoSoU) (son of son of Ure) is way past over-the-top on this stuff. He can spot if a single item on his pin neat desk and workspaces has been moved and is not in his idealized position.
      Such are family genetics. One gene falls, another rises…and so goes Life.

  2. A great place to spend a day. After we upgraded the a new 50″ led in the Den at the house in town I found myself with the dilemma of what to do with the old 40″. Answer, why put it up in the shop at El Rancho de Chaos of course. No, not so I can sit in there and watch the crap on local TV. But I found it’s a dandy way to put up drawings and plans. Just attach the laptop or ipad (no wifi at the ranch yet just a hotspot)and good to go. It did take some creative shielding to protect the set from dust and such. And during summer time we do battle not only with the ticks and chiggers but with mud daubers in stationary items. Up til now I have just been keeping it under wraps so to speak between use. That will change this spring with a planned vented box using a couple high volume PC cooling fans and fine mesh screen. Just need to have enough air movement.

    73 AD0YQ

    • Nice plan!!! With a $40 usb microscope you can do bore sights and intricate work, too – get a 10 ft usb extension to reach the TV’s port if it’ll work. or one of those i3 sff $120 computers works as a front-end too

  3. I’ve never had the room to put a bench away from the walls, but I never thought about it either.

    I like the idea of the overhead air & power!

    When a project needed a large table I used saw horses (with extensions to raise the height to bench top level), 2bys for support & a sheet of plywood on top (all held together with sheet rock screws).
    When the project was done (I built a large bookcase/room divider once & a engine wiring harness another time) the bench pieces were stored away until next time.

    Power & air running across the top would have been a great thing t have!

    Where do you mount your vice?

    • Wood vices on two wall benches, anvil for real bending outside, a metal vice 6″ is on a tool stand…

      I have done a good bit or work on saw horses. Keep 6-foot hunk of 1-by-10 around if you do. then you have somewhere to lay tools down…

  4. George, your article offered many great ideas on the work bench and shop. Another idea for a work bench is to get an older wooden desk that is 36″ x 72″, which are many times free on craigslist. Desk surface is smooth and usually has several drawers for storage.

    • I actual have one, but it’s a problem: the one I got $20 bucks (with a return shelf) was made out of MDF. So the return warps in time and there it went – to the burn pile.

  5. Lamarck…and the more recent field of epigenetics relating to environmental factors causing DNA changes in gen1, and first manifest in gen2

  6. Lacking the space for a full blown shop, I’m envious of your workspace. I am reminded of the workbench we had at my first TV station in the midwest. The back room was huge, and we had a bench in the middle that must have been 6’x8’with a flat top and multiple layers of epoxy grey paint over decades of usage scars. Half a dozen engineers shared this space, with tool cabinets scattered around the room. The old Chief Engineer, my mentor, was adamant about several things. Tools were always put away at the end of your shift. Works ‘in progress’ could be left neatly on the bench. No old parts or rubbish left on the bench. Sometimes people got lazy about cleanups and the Chief would place a garbage can at the end of the bench and with his arm would sweep everything on the bench into the can and walk away. Woe to those who left something valuable on the bench! The sloppy ones were seen the next day digging in the can for that critical part they thought they needed. The enforcement worked, and there was usually a clean expanse of work table available anytime you needed to do a quick repair on some equipment. Later in life at multiple TV stations I revamped the shop areas with good work tables, usually 4’x8′ for convenience, and I always topped them with a sheet of masonite for a smooth surface (to find small parts droppings) with an available piece of carpet for ‘pretty’ work pieces. The masonite was harder than wood and resisted chips and dugouts on the surface.
    Besides available outlets on the walls, I put a long powerstrip along the front edge of the bench just under the overhang. Handy and accessible for powering equipment and temporary test equipment without having to reach over the bench to plug things in.

  7. George
    Some 1×6 cut to the right length, or some correct length 1/2″ Plywood in a 6″ wide strip, makes a handy “backsplash” that keeps most of the small stuff from rolling off the back and sides of the bench. On my reloading table it keeps the stray primer, bullet, or case from rolling off the back. On others keeps springs, screws, etc. from jumping into the wall space.
    Even if the table is in the middle of the room it can help keep all the small parts facing the front of the bench and the “toolmaster.”

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