The Labor Day weekend is over and with it comes the semi official end to the summer season. Yes it’s still warm, but we’ve already had a few cool mornings and for those of us in northern latitudes, the clouds and smell in the air can quickly turn your thoughts to the rapidly approaching autumn. I don’t know about you but that gets my workshop juices flowing and I can envision the months ahead, out in the garage, tools on the bench, parts carefully arrayed and a project under way. I start to smile just thinking about it.
Between the thought and reality, though, is the fact that we moved a few months ago and the garage isn’t set up. The tools have no home where I can always find them without having to search, parts are not shelved where I can see them, and come to think about it, where’s that bench? The garage is a shell, it’s not a shop.
Over the weekend I took step one and built the first bench, it’s not fancy, but it’s big enough, 8 feet by 30 inches, and sturdy enough to hold most items I could imagine lifting up there. I used one of those kits with 4 legs and a bag of screws, you supply the 2x4s and plywood. The top surface is at 36 inches, a comfortable height for me and I chose a 30 inch depth (you can use the whole 4×8 sheet if you want to) because it’s just wide enough that a person can reach the back without stretching and it doesn’t eat up too much floor space.
The kit is a quick way to build a bench. You won’t win any awards from Fine Woodworking but if you need something fast without lots of precise joinery, this is your kit. If you want to knock it down and resize it or modify it later, that’s easy to do. I didn’t use the 2×4 shelving kit that came with it, I have some other ideas, there. You only need a circular saw to cut the plywood to size unless you’re going the full 4×8 and to cut the 2x4s. After that it’s a power screwdriver. Like I said, it’s easy. I used a polyurethane finish on the top to give it a chance to look a little cleaner in the face of the inevitable spills.
I still need to build several more benches and figure out what kind of shelving to put up, then pegboard, worksurface lighting of some sort and all of the many storage options for parts large and small. Those recent workshop articles on The Kneeslider are no coincidence, I’ve been looking at them myself for ideas and I’ll incorporate more than a few.
You can’t appreciate how hard it is to build anything without a bench until you try it, even simple projects are more hassle than they need to be. Once you have a bench, it’s like a workshop seed, everything grows up around it.
When I see how much there is still to do with only one lonely bench so far, I can see the workshop may very well be the whole project for quite a while. It’s hard to think about getting too involved with something that requires using the shop before the shop is set up the way I want it. I’d be constantly thinking about some shelf out of place or missing, some tool that could be better stored, a constant reminder that I had jumped ahead to a new project before finishing the one I was already working on. I know you’ve never done that, but I’m guilty in the past of letting some things sit neglected while I charge off in a new direction. I’m a recovering multi-tasker and striving to do better.
I’ll let you know what I come across as I look for neat garage gear and whether it’s as good as it first appears when you actually get it in hand. I’m also going to try to keep the prebuilt garage furniture to a minimum. Have you seen what some of that stuff costs? Wow! Now, I’m not a cabinetmaker but I can build what should be very serviceable and decent looking benches and shelves and I bet some of you might find my experience helpful in setting up your own shop.
So as the weather begins to cool and thoughts turn to winter projects, maybe you should give your workspace a tuneup before you launch into it. If you’ve found an especially helpful tip for your own workshop, let us know, heck, let me know, maybe I can use it myself.
Link: 2x4basics workbench kit