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  1. #1
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    Default Assistance please: Designing/building a light duty workbench/cabinets/drawers

    Hi folks,

    I have asked previously about building a good workbench (and received plenty of helpful info, thanks!), but this one is a bit different. It's going to be a fitout for a van, basically turning the van into a mobile workshop. Nothing too heavy duty - only small engine repairs & maintenance (think mowers, whipper snippers, chainsaws etc.) Although there may be some water around - if it's raining outside I will still be in/out of the van all day, bringing in wet gear.

    I just wanted to put some ideas out there - any comments, tips and additional ideas gladly received!

    For the bench - I was thinking something like a solid piece of ply (sealed with epoxy resin to protect from moisture?) with a piece of sheet metal attached to the top? I'm thinking the ply + sheet metal because I want something of a durable surface, but don't want to load up the van with unnecessary weight. Or you think a piece of ply would do the job well enough by itself? If a sheet metal top is the better way to go, any ideas on thickness and type that would be best? Not 100% sure on size, but probably something around 5-600mm deep, ~3,000mm long?

    One other important thing - the bench will have a sink in it as well. And now that I think about it, it's probably much better to build a more "permanent" type bench, rather than one that would need the surface/top to be replaced... Maybe it is better to use a good solid slab of steel, and give up a bit of length to save weight?

    As far as the frame I was thinking aluminium square box sections? My reasoning is that it's much lighter than steel, and the square sections will give more options for attaching drawers/shelves/cupboards etc. I'm not sure on sizes for this either... 30mm, 40mm? Depends on the bench top I suppose?

    Other things I'm wondering - how far apart to space the uprights?

    Probably overlooked some things... but I'll draw some layouts when I get a chance. That always seems to help sort things out.

    Cheers

  2. #2
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    I'd suggest going with a ply top (probably around 16mm) with a galvanized sheet on top. You can get the galv sheet quite thin, about 0.7mm thick. The strength would then come from the ply but the sheet on top would help protect it, I think just using a steel sheet for the top would be too heavy as you would have to go up in thickness a bit to make it ridged enough. Most ply and sheet metal come in 1200x2400mm so you could make it 600 deep and have a shelf underneath if you wanted. For the frame I would go with steel over aluminum only because I have a mig that's set up for steel so I would have no issues making it or if it needs some alterations later on. If you went with steel then 30x30x1.6(or 2?)mm SHS should be more then enough (might get away with 25x25) and I'd put 3 legs down each side. If you do paint the ply make sure you use a 2pac paint as it'll hold up to chemicals better(I have a 2pac wood floor sealant I'm going to use on my new bench).

  3. #3
    Join Date
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    Canberra
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    Default

    Pinch ideas from Ron Paulk's videos, starting here:

    PAULK WORK BENCH - YouTube

  4. #4
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    Default

    Cheers for the comments. I have seen the Paulk work bench before, looks pretty nifty - but I do zero woodwork so I'm not too sure that kind of bench would be suitable for me.

    Well I actually have the van now, measured it up last night so I should have some layout sketches later today or over the weekend...

    How would you setup the sink part of the bench? I mean that is not something that you want to have to remove when it's time to put a new sheet metal cover on the bench?

    Any comments about using an aluminium plate bench top? Say 8-10mm? I know it wouldn't be as durable as steel, but then again I'm not going to be throwing stuff at it, it would be babied as if it were my only child (believe me!)
    Also going with alloy would be lighter (than steel plate - or would it for the same strength? I don't really need it to cover a large span - I would just add underside bracing), then I could just build an integrated sink into the bench... seems ideal to me? Actually I'm starting to think I should just go to an aluminium supplier and find out what they would recommend for tube/sheet/plate sizes etc.

    I plan to paint everything with 2k as well - got to have it all looking good! (Already have 2k etch primer and black solid available from another project I've got going.)

  5. #5
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    Aluminum plate top would work, It'll cost a fair bit more but it'll last a long time.

  6. #6
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    3mm thick steel plate should be pretty much overkill as a surface over the top of something else (ply, pine, hardwood decking), unless you intend dropping lawnmowers onto it from head height.

    It's 23 kilos per square meter for 3mm steel plate, and since 8mm aluminium will cost you $600 for a sheet, it'll take a long time to recoup the price difference in fuel savings.

  7. #7
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    I think 3mm steel on it's own would be enough for light work, I have 2.3mm floor plate in my trailer and I haven't put a dent in it yet. It comes down to what you want to spend at the end of the day. A nice aluminum top would look fantastic(you could polish it for that extra bit of bling) and wouldn't need paint. The weight difference wouldn't be that much in terms of a load in a van(unless you are trying to save every kg).

  8. #8
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    Hi,
    If you want a solid,but light weight metal top table you might consider a table top made from 250 x 75 x 2.5 rolled Gal C Channel.
    It is the type of structural shape found in the column legs of mid size industrial buildings.

    The C channels are butted together on their 75mm faces.The one I made has fold up legs that flush with the bottom edge of the 75 mm flanges. I suspect you possibly may be able to buy a suitable 250 x 75 mm off cut from one of the mobs that put up industrial sheds.

    I can definitely say it is lightweight and strong as I have just completed such a portable table at work. It is about 1.5 metres long but you could make it longer if not interested in portability or weight .The legs for mine were 3mm rolled angle section but you could use box section of your choosing.

    As far as your under bench drawers are concerned some 150mm deep C Channels or even 100 deep would make sturdy drawer carcasses. They can be arranged with the flanges facing out leaving attachment points for the drawer slides (if used) or just go for a straight metal on metal slide arrangement.

    Spot in some suitable sheet metal for the drawer bases and you will have a rugged but attractive looking bench and set of drawers that will take your 2 pack and stand up to the rigors of having small engines on the work surfaces. These sections lend themselves to be very easily cut by 1.6mm cutting discs on an angle grinder.The welding is relatively easy too, either with an inverter electrode welder or a mig. All in all I believe use of the channels would provide you with
    • a good visual impression especially with the 2 pack paint
    • rust resistance due to duragal coating
    • light weight with strength
    • ease of fabrication
    • durability
    • reasonable cost of materials



    The only drawback as far as I am aware might be the bench width of only 500 mm.



    I can provide pics on Monday if there,s an interest.

    Grahame

  9. #9
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    I really like that idea of the C channels Grahame. Considering it comes in various sizes you could mix and match to make any width bench you want (I may look at using your idea in the near future). The only draw back that I can see (I am nit picking here) is there will be a small indent where the channels join. But apart from that I think it's an excellent idea. Also I'd like to see some pictures if you can put them up.

  10. #10
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    Ah, cheers for those infos. $600/sheet for 8mm ally?
    Well the next step was to price up each option, but before I get to that...

    Here's what I'm thinking:



    I guess I would just cut some angle sections to add to the bottom of the legs so they can all be bolted down. So 8 legs all up, not sure what type of materials would be okay for that? As a starting point let's say 20mm square tube in aluminium? Or how about in steel? Is there a general rule for judging what size of steel/alloy to use? Or are they pretty much the same if they just have to take weight and no other stresses (like hammering/pounding/bashing etc.)?

    What kind of plate would be sensible (in both steel and alloy)? For the 3mm gal plate, what kind of span would that be okay with? Should extra under bracing be added every ~300mm or so? Or better to go 5-6mm given the length of the bench? And same question for alloy plate? Keeping in mind that this top won't see any heavy hammering (doing so would be like bashing at the van floor!)

    And with the galvanised sheets/tube/plate - that is just a surface coating, right? So buying a big heavy piece of gal plate would not be a really good idea for a more permanent type work bench would it? It would just start rusting up once the surface coating starts wearing away?

    I am also interested in your C channel bench Grahame, not ruling out any ideas at this stage...

  11. #11
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    It takes a fair bit of use (in human terms) to wear the gal off, and even when smooth unless you are right near the sea, you're not going go get much corrosion forming if you always give it a quick wipe with an oily rag.

    As far as supports go, it's pretty hard to go past plywood (think kitchen construction but with ply instead of melamine faced MDF) as it'll help reduce noise from the vehicle rather than transmitting it.

  12. #12
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    Hi Mugget,

    Given you have access to a mig / inverter stick welder and angle grinder,fabrication is pretty easy.Marked out with a fine nib nitto type pen makes the lines easy to follow and cut.
    Bracing is not needed as the rolled flanges make for a structure rigid enough to support the weight of a couple of blokes.The tables for 250 C channel say it weighs out out at 8.6kgs per metre.
    I can stand on top of my bench and it doesn't flex under my 96kgs.

    Given also given that your bench surface is to be used for small motors I don't see any real rust corrosion problems. Scratches from the motors and tools will not corrode greatly as gal coated stuff self heals to a degree, after surface damage.If that still is a worry why not lay a sheet of insertion rubber across the work top.

    My bench has no drawers of course but again I feel that C channels of the appropriate dimension would make excellent drawer sides.It was mentioned that the gap between the rolled edges in the centre might be a problem.It could be filled with some heavy duty fixant like Silkaflex.
    I will take some pics tommorrow

    Grahame

  13. #13
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    I got around to taking pics but only with the Ipod-the good camera went out on job.The pics are good enough to give you an idea if it will be suitable to your purposes.

    I pulled some 100mm C channel out of the racks and noticed it was only .9 or so .With out a mig it might be a drama to weld.I will have to check the manufacturers tables to see at what width point the C Channel steps up to a weldable thickness.I can see some test welds on the scrap 100mm C channel is warranted.



    As you can see the vice is a 5" Eclipse and is fairly hefty. It fits in a socket welded in the end ,similiar to a Hayman Reese towbar connection. It allows me to use the vice around the shop in a couple of places.Today I used the bench as a portable weld and fabrication table.
    Before anyone asks ,the bars at the back are re inforcing bar and make up a grid over which I can oxy cut.The uneven lengths of the 2 elements are due to the two original lengths being different, so to make up the difference I filled it in with reo.
    Times are tough so I needed to make do with what I had.
    Cheers
    Grahame
    Attached Images Attached Images

  14. #14
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    Thanks for those photos Grahame. Looks like a good solid workshop bench! I will keep that in mind for the future...

    For this bench I'm doing now, I'm going to go with ally, mostly for the light weight and I see it being less of a hassle long term (less corrosion problems etc.).

    So this is what I'm thinking:
    • square box 32 x 32 x 2mm (for legs, frame etc.)
    • 3mm sheet (5083, for bench top)
    • angle 32 x 32 x 3mm (for brackets)


    I'm just trying to work out the best way to secure the bench top to the frame. This is what I had thought of doing, but not sure if it's a good idea (does ally weaken around the welds? Probably not so much an issue for home/light duty type stuff?) Also not sure of what size solid round bar to use - 16mm dia. pictured below (everything is to scale).



    The brackets would be on the inside edge of the table, outside edge being flush with the sheet and square box.

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