My New Workbench

I am gearing up to do some major projects at my father’s house this summer, mostly related to remodeling the basement.  There is a lot of organizing and cleaning out to do everywhere, and considering both Dr. Sam and I have a crap ton of stuff, the first and logical place to start was the garage, so we would have some place to store things as everything gets shuffled around and moved in and out as I work in different areas of the house.

I don’t think I can accurately convey the magnitude of this endeavor.  Let me just say that my father has not thrown anything away in… well, ever.  It just so happened that my spring break coincided with deciding to undertake this project so with a week of free days and a roll of contractor garbage bags, I dove in.  Rather literally, often reaching shoulder deep into piles of stuff or wadding knee deep is more stuff.  I pulled everything – absolutely everything – out of the garage covering the driveway and yard with 30 years of a crazy man’s crazy stuff.  I found a lot of interesting random things such as a window escape ladder, more lawn and garden fertilizer than even my green thumb knows what to do with, a lifetime supply of car washing soap, every travel mug my father has ever owned, ice cream maker (a curiosity given that my father doesn’t eat ice cream), and much, much more.  I found tons of nice tools, a lot of useless junk that was forgotten in the corners, and several nice pieces of 2-by-4’s and plywood.

It took me four days to clean out, sort, organize, and fill more garbage bags than I care to remember.  I power-washed the walls and floor and put a coat of white paint on the walls and ceiling, and bam! it was a whole new garage!  It was about the time I was moving everything back into the garage and finding permanent homes for the select number of items I was allowing my dad to keep, that I considered the wood.  I inherited, abet not as severely, my father aversion to throwing things away, particularly if they could still be useful.  And being both crafty and handy, I’m pretty darn good at making things useful.  So while I tried a few times to throw the miscellaneous 2-by-4’s and plywood away, even moved them into the garbage pile, twice, they were 2-by-4’s!  That’s what you build everything out of.  I couldn’t do it.  But I also couldn’t justify keeping the wood if I wasn’t going to use it.

So what did my newly clean and organized garage, full of Dr. Sam’s collection of really nice tools need?  A work bench.  That’s what.  It was the perfect project to complete the garage makeover, and given my general handiness, my proclivity for gardening, and Pretty Boy’s motorbikes, we could really make use of a workbench.  When I told my father, he ask why I didn’t just buy a bench from Costco.  My cousin, a professional contractor, had an appropriate response: people who buy work benches from Costco don’t deserve them.

I found instructions for building a workbench, decided on the modifications I wanted for my bench (no top shelf, bench top flush with the front 2-by-4 instead of flush with the legs), and started considering the wood I had.  Well, plywood wasn’t a problems.  I had three big sheets of that.  But I was a little short on 2-by-4’s.  My contractor cousin came to my rescue with a lovely selection of 2-by-4’s not quite nice enough for his projects, but perfect for my workbench.  I made the measurements and marked all the cuts and got out the power tools.

Now I’m not shy around power tools or machinery in general.  I’ve used a drill and a reciprocating saw and even a pole saw and chain saw.  But I’ve never used a circular saw, which is what was in the garage for cutting wood.  I always like to be careful and have someone with me when I’m learning how to use new power tools for the first time, so when I had prepared everything else for the project and was ready to start making cuts and Pretty Boy still wasn’t there, I hesitated.  I was just about to put on my big girl pants and have at it, when Pretty Boy arrived and promptly commandeered my project.  I was a little disappointed that I missed a chance to learn how to use a new power tool, but my tired muscles were happy for the help.  He cut all the wood in a matter of minutes and we were assembling the frame.  Pretty Boy quickly discovered a few of the 2-by-4’s donated to our project were cut from particularly hard wood, and made driving screws a little difficult.  Dr. Sam came out at this point to hover over Pretty Boy and repeat obvious suggestions as the final screws were driven in.  They flipped the frame over and I thought it was beautiful.

The piece of plywood for the bench top needed to be cut down and working together, Pretty Boy and Dr. Sam came up with a pretty ingenious way of accomplishing the task.  Pretty Boy attached the plywood to the frame with the excess hanging off one ends.  They clamped a piece of scrap wood along the length of the end of plywood being cut, and offset it from the cut so the wall of the circular saw casing could run along the 2-by-4 as the cut was being made.  Pretty Boy zipped the saw along the 2-by-4 and made a nice straight cut.  I was so proud of my menfolk working together.  The bottom shelf plywood was cut in a similar manner, attached and the project was done.

In showing off my new workbench, a major design flaw was pointed out to me: all of the weigh of the bench top and anything sitting on it would be supported by the screws if the legs into the bench top in shear. And that could be a lot for the screws to support.  As an engineering student, whose taken classes on these types of stresses, I’m rather embarrassed to say I didn’t catch this.  Both the bench top and bottom shelf were supported in this way.  I reenforced the junctions with L-brackets and would caution anyone using the design to either 1) be aware of this design limitation and limit the weight on the bench or 2) reenforce the junctions like I did or 3) just find a better design.

Since finishing the garage and moving on to cleaning out the basement, the garage has served the exact function I’d projected: a perfect storage spot for things on their way out or on the way to a new permanent home in Dr. Sam’s house.  The bench has come in handy since I find a few more tools in every new pile of stuff I start going through in the basement.  Every so often, as I continue to work on this huge project that is Dr. Sam’s basement, I have to go out into the garage and just stand in the presence of a successful, mostly complete aspect of the project, to help me not get overwhelmed by the rest of the house and stay motivated to keep working.  My father’s beaming, happy face when he looks at the garage helps too!

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