Articles - Foldable Workbench
02/07/2012
I like having a workbench in the garage for those bigger or dirtier jobs that cannot be done in the house. However, the garage is shared with tools, shelves, and a truck, so space is at a premium. When I was a youngster, my Dad had built a small workbench that you could lift up and lean against the wall. We used that to do our various projects on. By folding it up against the wall, it was out of the way when it was not needed. I had built such a table years ago to have a small workbench under one of my N-scale layouts. I like the idea so much that I decided to build another one for the garage. Only this one would be larger and heftier. The garage floor has a slope to it, so I decided to put this workbench at the end wall of the garage. That way when the table is down, the legs are level. Somewhere along the way I have read that a good workbench height is just below your elbow (when you are sitting or standing). So, I measured my bent-arm's elbow location and subtracted one inch from that height. That became the top-of-the-workbench height. I just remodeled the garage and wanted to have a "splash board" mounted against the wall to protect the new, clean wall from tools or even paint. Also, the workbench needed a very solid mounting method so just two studs in the wall weren't going to be enough. I decided on a 12-inch wide piece of solid wood to act as the mounting board (see the first photo below). The length of the board was determined by the spacing between two sets of wall power sockets. I then used a router to put a nice cove around the edge of the board. Several 2-1/2" screws were used to mount it to the two studs behind the wall. I determined the vertical location of the board to be such that the top of the workbench would be about two inches from the bottom of the board. That way the wood would provide plenty of strength for the workbench, and there would be enough of the board left over to act as the "splash guard". After that I painted it with two coats of the same paint used to paint the garage walls.
Foldable Workbench
With that done, I started building the workbench. I bought one sheet of 3/4" 4'x8' quality plywood. The top surface has the hard wood veneer on it, while the bottom does not. The workbench surface is 63" wide by 38" deep. The width was determined by the amount of space between the two routed edges of the mounting board. After cutting the top surface from the plywood sheet, I cut several 3-inch wide strips which were mounted edge-wise to the bottom of the top board using wood glue. These make sure the workbench stays flat. I also added one such strip to the bottom, front edge of the top board to give the front of the workbench a sturdier look and feel. The front edge of the workbench is now 1-1/2" thick. This is helpful when applying clamps to the table surface to hold something down.
Foldable Workbench
Waiting for the glue to dry takes some time. So the next day I attached the hinges. I decided to use two 30-inch lengths of piano hinges. These are incredibly strong, yet don't take up much space. With careful installation, they also help the workbench stay level. I attached the one side of the hinges to the back edge of the workbench, with the hinge's fold facing toward the front. That way the hinge is installed correctly, and the fold keeps the hinge level and even with the top of the workbench during installation. The next photo shows the loose side of the hinge in its "down" position against the top of the workbench (just for clarification).
Foldable Workbench
Next are the foldable legs. The idea is that the legs lean up against the bottom of the workbench when upright, and straight down when extended. The photo below shows the two legs. On the bottom of the leg I installed t-nuts and a matching height-adjusting bolt. On the top of the leg I installed a flat-folding hinge. The loose side will be mounted to the bottom of the workbench.
Foldable Workbench
I glued a scrap piece of solid wood to the underside of the workbench so that the hinge part of the hinge assembly can rotate freely. Once the glue dried, I installed the legs, making sure that they were perpendicular to the edge of the workbench.
Foldable Workbench
Attaching the workbench to the back board was not a trivial process. The workbench only has two legs and those are not sturdy. In addition, the workbench is quite heavy now. I used the router table base (shown in the next photo, the burgundy cabinet; a yet unfinished project) to hold the workbench in place while I attached the piano hinges to the back board. The key here is to make sure the table is level and at the correct height.
Foldable Workbench
This workbench is heavy, so it needs to be securely stored when in its upright position. I cut another piece of solid wood and attached it to the two studs in a similar manner as the back board. This one was positioned so that it was near where the top of the workbench would reach.
Foldable Workbench
The next photo shows the hardware I used to hold the workbench in its upright position.
Foldable Workbench
This is the workbench in its upright position. Readily usable, but out of the way when not needed. I plan to paint the underside and legs with the same white paint so that it is not as noticeable. I may install some edge banding around the edges of the workbench, and then stain the top and sides.
Foldable Workbench