Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Quill is Mightier than the Sword

And now we see where the dolphin I posted about last week ended up.

This is more of the blue mahoe wood. The dolphin carving was described here.

The base of this pen holder was cut from a block of 1x4" wood and a roman ogee router bit applied to the edges. I also drilled six 1/4" holes along the back edge for tip storage.

The fin was several 1/4" thick "boards" (it's hard to call them boards when they're 3/4" x 1/4" x 4") edge joined to show off the grain. I smoothed them with a palm sander, then cut the shape of the fin out with a coping saw. A dremel with a drum sander smoothed the edges nicely.

An oopsie happened with the mounting of the dolphin to the base. The 1/8" tab I carved into the base of the dolphin snapped off after gluing it to the base. It obviously wasn't strong enough for this use! I fixed it and made it stronger by sanding the piece that stuck in the base smooth, sanding the bottom of the dolphin smooth, and creating a steel brace.

I hammered a thin nail into the base. Using a pair of wire cutters, I snipped off the head of the nail. I used the smallest drill bit I have (1/32"? I forget) to drill a hole in the dolphin for the pin to rest. Glue was put in the hole and thinly spread on the bottom of the dolphin. I put it in place and wrapped the whole thing with blue masking tape. MUCH stronger now!

No stain whatsoever was applied. Just six coats of Minwax Poly out of a rattle can. Because of the high oil content of this wood, the poly took a week to dry. I did a test piece comparing shellac and this poly. The shellac masked the grain and blackened end grain. The poly did neither. Because the grain in this wood can be so subtle, I didn't want to take any chances with covering it up.

A green felt sheet was glued to the bottom to protect my desk. I considered red as I used for a blue mahoe coaster I made, but the red is too bright in comparison with the dark wood.

I like this wood. I just wish it would maintain its blue color when finished. It's still attractive with a finish, but I don't know if it's worth the $10-12 bf it costs.

But it sure makes neat stuff!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Blue Dolphin (Carving)

I've never tried to carve anything before. This little guy took a total of like 60 hours because of start-overs. Of course, the actual time on this particular piece of wood was like 2 hours. heehee

The wood is blue mahoe that I picked up at Woodcraft a couple weeks ago. This stuff is rather diffucult to work small projects with because at small size it's very brittle.

This piece is approximately 3" tall by 2" at its widest point.

I made it from a triangle shaped 4x1x1 piece of wood. General outline was cut with a coping saw I had hanging out in my drawer. Then I did shaping with a barrel sander bit on my Dremel followed by a sanding disk on that same Dremel.

Shaping marks were removed by hand with scraps of 240 grit paper. This is a point where I broke a bunch of thinner dolphins I had started with. Just holding them and sanding was too much for the brittle wood so they snapped.

That's why I went with a triangular cross section. To add some meat to the carving in hopes that it will resist my less than gentle touch. Even then it took 2 tries...

The outline was drawn on one side of the triangle. I cut with the piece flat on the "back" of the dolphin and cut all the way through, duplicating the shape on both sides.

This dolphin will be a pen holder so after smoothing the back I used the barrel sanding bit again to cut a notch in the wood at the dorsal fin for the pen to rest in.

The block of pine it's setting in during cutting and shaping was developed out of desperation. Clamping to the bench would put too much stress on the wood when I got to the tail. I found that a wedge cut out of the pine, with a "finger" along one side to give some relief to the workpiece provided support as well as enough give to keep my fat fingers from breaking the dolphin. It works great!

The block of blue mahoe wood it's in right now was just to hold it during the photos and keep it safe on my desk while I complete the rest of the holder set. I'll apply a finish to it when it's all together.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Benchtop Router Table (Part 3)

In Part 1 of this Benchtop Router Table series, I shared my design and the assembly of the legs. In Part 2 I assembled the top and finished the legs, then joined the two together using dadoes in the underside of the top.

All that remains for this, Part 3, is the fence, the router mount, and the cleats to hang the table from the wall or other convenient location.

To make the cleats I ripped a 1x4" piece of pine at a 45 degree angle as shown in the picture above. One half is mounted to the wall with the point away from the wall, the other half gets mounted to the table between the legs butted to the underside of the top with the point away from the table. The table can then be set on the cleat mounted to the wall. The angle of the cut pushes the weight of the table against the wall so all the weight isn't on the screws holding the cleat to the wall. Very efficient design that can hold a lot of weight.

After it was assembled I applied 4 coats of wipe-on polyurethane to the pine edging around the top and the cleat mounted to the back. I couldn't force myself to use any more of that "cherrywood" finish I used on the legs.

The next step was the fence. I've been debating between 3" and 4" high fences for a while now. But I settled on 3" high because the T-Track set I bought came with bolts that wouldn't support a 4" high fence. I could have bought new ones, but that would have delayed this project by a week. And honestly, do I *really* need a 4" fence? I can make another one later if I decide I need it...

The fence is 24" long, 3" high, and the corners were rounded with a jigsaw. I drew the rounded corners with the inside of my roll of blue masking tape.

To cut the arch that goes over the bits, I used a 2" hole saw. I clamped the fence down with a sacrificial piece of scrap to balance the hole saw and keep it cutting straight.

The waste was a pair of matched arches. I hung on to them, and I'm glad I did. They work great when bracing small glue-ups.

I measured and re-measured and re-re-measured the holes for the T-Track bolts. This was one thing I really didn't want to mess up because it would mean starting the fence over from scratch.

Once I had the locations marked, I used the Drill Guide from Rockler to keep the holes straight through the fence. After testing on some scrap, I decided the best diameter hole would be 5/16". That's cutting things pretty fine when working with 3/4" melamine. So precision was VERY important here.

With care I was able to get the holes straight, true, and NOT crack the brittle melamine. A test fit showed I had nailed it. (Whew!)

I mentioned in part 2 that while the original plan called for using my offset base for the Harbor Freight 1/4" trim router, after spending some time looking at the base on the table I realized it would weaken the top unacceptably. While I could reinforce the top to support it, that would add unnecessary complexity to the design. So I went with making a separate base plate for using with this table.

The base plate is a simple 5" diameter piece of .220 acrylic sheet with one side flattened and 4 holes drilled and chamfered to match the router. I located it on the table and sketched its outline. I grabbed my jigsaw and cut an opening 1/2" inside the outline then used the trim router to cut a rabbit around the edge, cutting to the outline.

I realized I have a glaring hole in my router bit collection. I have no rabbit bits! Arrgghhh... I did the rabbit by hand and eyeball, which is why the edges are so rough. I did do some hand smoothing with sandpaper, but everything fit together so well I decided to leave it alone mostly.

To make the opening for the bits in this part I decided to use my big fat DeWalt step drill bit. It went up to 3/4" which is adequate for 3/4's of my bits. If I use one of the larger bits I'll open it up some more.

The flattened side of the base plate worked like a charm. The router doesn't turn at all when running, even when making a deep cut with a 1/2" straight bit.

The whole thing feels rock solid. These little HF routers make a heck of a racket when running, but in the table they're more like a "normal" router. The wood of the table absorbs the high frequencies, making it much nicer to use.

I put the fence back on and ran some test pieces through, just to make sure it's stable and solid and won't fall apart during use. I'm happy to say it did NOT fall apart!

I still have some things to do. I made a UHMW movable face for the fence to provide as close to zero clearance around the spinning bit as possible. For that I'm going to wait until I buy a slot cutting bit. So next week I'll add the faces.

Last is where to mount the cleat. I have it on the wall right now, but I've been thinking how cool it would be to have it attached to the end of my workbench. That will take some thought and planning, as well as a slight reorganization of my garage... errr... shop. I may also have to reinforce the legs where the cleat mounts since having it there will mean quite a bit more weight will be on it than if it's just hanging from the wall.

Even with those two things left undone, I'm considering this series finished. I'll do separate articles for the others since they can be applied to any tool, not just a benchtop router table. And the table is quite functional as it stands.

Now go destroy some wood!

EDIT: Oops! I forgot to put a pic of the finished router hanging from the wall! Here ya go!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Coated vs Uncoated Table Saw Blades

Recently there was a thread on the Woodnet Forums asking about coated blades. Freud's blades come coated, but many do not. And the original poster wanted to know why.

Aside from appearance, the general consensus is that it keeps the resin in woods like pine from sticking to the blade, or makes the blade easier to clean.

This morning I was cutting up some UHMW plastic to make the fence face for my benchtop router table and got to see the difference first hand.

The uncoated blade is the Harbor Freight "Lifetime" 64T carbide tipped blade I talk about in a previous post. It gummed up with plastic so quickly I only got 2-3" inches into ripping the 1" thick plastic before tripping the breaker on my admittedly weak 1hp table saw. I messed around with blade cut depths and running oak scraps through the saw, but nothing could improve things.

The other blade is also a Harbor Freight "Lifetime" blade, this one a 40T carbide tipped blade with a titanium nitride coating.

As you can see in the first pic, the plastic didn't stick at all. The blade didn't slow down, didn't trip the breaker, and required little pressure to feed the plastic through. The other blade took so much pressure to get it through I worried my push sticks would snap!

So, at least for me, if there is a coated blade option, I will always take it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Benchtop Router Table (Part 2)

In Part 1 I wrote about laminating the melamine and particle board, and building the stand.

Here I'll talk about the finishing the stand, installing Rockler's T-Track (at the time of this writing, the kit with bolts and knobs is on sale for $10.99. I paid $21.99...), edging the top, and putting everything together.

In Part III I'll go into the router mounting, cleats for wall mount storage, and the fence.

Once the glue dried, I gave the particle board legs and the pine stretcher a thorough sanding. I had a can of Deft "Step Saver" in Cherrywood that I've had so long I don't remember buying it. At least 15 years... Ugh. I need to get rid of this stuff.

The color was unbelievably ugly, even on the pine. But I hate throwing stuff out if I can avoid it, and since it's a shop piece anyway...

I applied it to every surface except the tops of the legs that will be glued to the table top. I taped those off. But it didn't matter. BORG (Big Orange Retail Giant) particleboard is crap. It was so porous that the stain/finish soaked right through. Sanding just revealed more stained particle board.

So I let it dry a bit more with the help of a heat gun.

While that was drying, I turned my attention to the top. I attached the front facing edgine (a 1x2" piece of BORG "select" pine) and realized I didn't have enough for the sides. Whoops. Poor planning on my part. Off I go to Lowe's (I needed some hardware for a picture frame for my daughter too).

I get a 6ft length of Lowe's "Select Pine" 1x2". I also bought the hardware and a big chunk of UHMW (Ultra High Molecular Weight) plastic sold as a tapping block. It was on the clearance rack for $5, normally $13. Of course, Lowe's being Lowe's, when I got home I discovered they had charged me the full price. CRAP! When I drove back they said they couldn't just credit my card with the difference, but instead had to credit the whole amount, then I had to buy the thing again. My card was close to the limit so that wasn't an option for me. (And the cashier argued with me.) I decided to just get the refund and walk away.

Anyway, when I got home I discovered a few things. Home Despot's "Select Pine" is nowhere near as nice as Lowe's pine with the same designation. Lowe's was slightly larger in all dimensions, it was a lot smoother and denser, it was free of knots, and the grain was darker. These two stores are 12 miles apart so I doubt it is a regional issue. Just a big difference in quality.

This bothered me since the front and sides wouldn't match. I can sand down the size differences, but the colors wouldn't match. As it turns out, the difference after sanding them both wasn't too bad. Plus I kinda like the single knot on the front.

I attached them with dowels and Titebond Original Wood Glue. It also used up the last of my bottle. I need to go to the store!

After the glue dried, I went at the top with my table saw and a really crappy Craftsman dado set. I've only used this set a few times and I have yet to get a smooth cut and a bottom without lines. I'm saving my pennies...

I used a scrap piece of the T-Track as a plane inside the dado to smooth out the bottom. It worked surprisingly well at this task! I discovered another poor planning issue though. Stopped dadoes need to be squared off. Whoops. I don't own a chisel! Or anything else that would work that I could think of. So there is a little dado ramp at the forward ends of the fence T-Tracks until I have the money to buy a chisel and sharpening stuff.

I set the T-Tracks in the dadoes. The fit was tight (as intended) and I rapped them into place with a wood block and light taps with a hammer. I have one minor gripe about the Rockler T-Track. Not enough mounting holes! I ended up with only 2 holes in the long jig track, and one in each of the fence tracks. I'll have to drill new holes and chamfer them out myself at some point. For now we'll see how stable it is if left alone.

I then used my Harbor Freight 1/4" trim router with a 1/2" round over bit to round the top and bottom edges of the pine, as well as the corners. I skipped past where the T-Track ends were exposed, as the picture shows. Then a quick sanding with the melamine taped off.

For the last picture, I put all the bolts and knobs that came with that T-Track kit. I really like this stuff. I've already got some pretty slick fingerboard sketches waiting for me to finish this table.

Also in that picture, you can see my router's base mount and the offset base I made for it. I had originally planned on using that offset base as the table plate so I could just drop the router in when I want to use the table. But as you can kinda see in this pic, it would remove a LOT of material from the top. That means a weaker top.

I've decided to go with something a little more standard. Either making a plate from more acrylic, or (gasp!) buying an aluminum plate and making my own holes. Part III will have more discussion on this topic.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Benchtop Router Table (Part 1)

This is the project I'm working on right now. A router table for my Harbor Freight trim router.

Click on the image to the right for a copy of the plan I drew up.

One thing I haven't decided yet in the drawing (marked with a "?") is whether to fully open the hole for the router, or leave a band of wood for a little extra support. I'm still working on that...

The main material is 3/4" white melamine. The top has an additional sheet of 1/2" particleboard glued to the underside for strength. Sand the melamine until it's very rough, then apply a 2 part epoxy in a thin film. Quickly clamp the 1/2" pb to the melamine. It helps to have the clamps adjusted and ready to go. I used cheap squeeze clamps to hold the two together while getting the bar clamps in place.

While it makes the top quite heavy, it also provides the structural integrity needed when cutting the 1/2" deep dados for the T-Track and the 3/8" deep dados for the legs.

The top is wrapped with doweled 1x2" pine to protect the edges of the particleboard. I've already seen how brittle the top surface is. The white melamine is already chipped at the edges (grrr...)

A note about those squeeze clamps is needed here. They suck. At least the cheap ones do. I used some small ones on there and while they fit over the 1 1/4" thickness of the wood, after a minute or two they snapped. Sounded like gunfire and I had a piece of one go whirrrrring past my ear!

I'm liking the little wood screw clamps. There's one on there in the pic, the only one I own. I'd never tried them before, so when I saw them on sale for 99c, I figured I'd get one and try it out. I *love* the adjustability! And the wood probably won't mar the surfaces it's working on! I suspect I'll be buying a bunch more in the future.

Once the glue for the top dried I fitted the 1x2" to the front edge. Of course I figured out too late that I had failed to stop and buy another length of wood... The 1x2" I had was just long enough to do the front edge. Sigh. But I ran 4 dowels into the border between the two boards, thinking the dowels and glue would reinforce the joint there as well as hold the edging. Once that was clamped I turned to the legs.

Having a true scaled drawing made this part super easy. (I'm glad I took that drafting class in high school, though I'm more than a little rusty...) I was able to duplicate the drawing on the wood with no trouble at all.

I cut up a pair of squares 15" on a side, then stuck them together with double sided tape. After double and triple checking my cut lines I went at the thing with my 5amp Skil jigsaw. I think I'm getting the hang of using this thing. I found if I turn on the orbital feature, it locks the scroll knob. Whew.

After cutting the lines, I went after them with a router and a 1/2" trim bit to make sure the two pieces were perfect matches. I also drilled the dowel holes for the bottom 1x4" stretcher. I used a drilling guide ($12 at Rockler) to keep them straight since I don't have a drill press anymore.

Then I slid my framing square between them to cut the tape holding them together.

I don't want bare square edges, so I hit the front and back sides with my router. I used a 1/2" roundover on both sides and ended up with a bullnose edge. (I don't have a bullnose bit.) The top and bottom edges I left square.

Using 1/4" dowel centers I marked the holes in a 17" 1x4" for the bottom stretcher. Glue and clamp.

I ran into a problem with the drill guide mentioned above. It isn't very stable on the end of a 1x4". After the drill wandering off center and cutting away from what I needed, I discovered putting my wooden screw clamp on the board flush with the end provided the necessary stability.

Today I will finish the base and buy some 1x2's for the table edging. I haven't decided what color to do the base... Either satin black or use up some old minwax I have. I'll probably do the minwax just to use it up.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Trim Router Offset Base v0.1 (Part 2)

In Part 1 I showed the plan I drew, how to make the template, and using the template and my router to cut the base from a sheet of acrylic.

Here in Part 2 I'll make that bare cutout functional.

Once I had the acrylic cut and the template removed, I started on the holes. I needed 4 small ones to match the base mounting on the router, a big one for the router bits, several small ones for pins, jig mounting, etc, and another small one for mounting a knob.

First I clamped the small square baseplate that came with the router to the new base. I marked the 4 holes, and removed the small base. With the new base clamped to a piece of scrap, I drilled out the 4 holes then used my Bosch countersink bit to let the screws mate flush.

I did a test-fit of the new base and found the stock screws just barely fit. They only caught one or two threads, not enough for my comfort.

I ran across the street to Ace Hardware and got some longer screws. M4 is the size. They only had screws that were the same length, or ones that were double. The double length ones bottom out, but are workable. I may grind them down a bit later to get a more perfect fit.

In the photo you can see the quality difference. The one from the Harbor Freight tool just looks like crap compared to the new ones from Ace.

Test fit completed, I figured out where I wanted my knob. Because this baseplate is also going to be used as a plate in a router table, I went with a small, 1" diameter, wooden knob. $1.29 for two at Ace. The screws that came with them were 2" long, way too long for my use. I dug in my screw drawer and found some 1/2" screws of the same diameter that would work fine.

I measured the hole to mount the knob 1 1/2" away from the small end of the baseplate. I drilled and countersunk and tested the fit.

To make the pinholes, I chose a location approximately 30 degrees from the centerline, at the edge of the large circle. Then I measured the center of the large circle to 1 1/2" along the centerline and made new holes every 1/2".

The line of holes wandered a bit... My 4 year old daughter helped me make the marks. Since this is just a prototype I used her marks. Made her day, which is way more important than whether the holes are in a straight line.

Anyway, the reason for the single hole in the big circle was as a guide. A pin in there combined with a pin in the first of the other holes will allow me to lock the router bit on a center line when cutting grooves in board edges. Keeps things aligned nicely.

One place I really blew it here was the bit opening. I figured since the router did such a wonderful job on the outside edge, why not just plunge the bit through the base using the router?

I found out why. For some reason it cracked and chipped its way through the plastic instead of cutting smoothly through it. I'll use a hole saw on the next one...

I am happy with the end result. It's comfortable to use, and helps stabilize the router when working on narrow boards like picture frames.

The next version will have a stepped cut for the bit opening so I can mount a template bushing. Plus the circles will be rounder, and the holes in an actual straight line.

Feel free to ask questions if I skipped any point. I loved making it and would be happy to share details!

Harbor Freight "Lifetime Carbide" 64t Cutoff Blade

Lifetime Carbide
8" Precision Cut-Off Blade
C-3 Tungsten Carbide Tipped
64 Tooth
Thin Kerf

This blade was $12 at Harbor Freight. I'm always looking for 8" blades since my craptastic Black & Decker table saw uses 8" blades. I won't spend any "real" money on a blade because eventually I'll get a 10" saw and these 8" blades will be sold with the B&D.

I've been using an 80 tooth 7 1/4" blade for cutting plywood and such with fair results, but hoping to find a true 8". This one fell off the blade rack at Harbor Freight while I was looking at 7 1/4" blades. It really wanted me to buy it!

The construction quality appears better than the Sears Craftsman dado set I have, though this blade came with scratches all over it. No wear, just handling scratches.

The brazing of the tips isn't bad either. I was expecting more splatter and holes. Neither were apparent.

The teeth are sharp and well ground with an alternating cut.

I used this blade immediately. But not for wood! For cutting the .220 thick acrylic for my trim router's offset base. It cut clean and true.

I had to wire brush off the melted plastic, then I used it to miter some 1x2" pine. It cut well, with a fine tooth pattern cut into the wood. No major scoring or saw half-moons visible.

The pics hopefully show the teeth and how they're brazed onto the body of the blade. Not superfantasticalbeautiful robotsfromthefuture made this, but better than I would expect for such a cheap (errr... "inexpensive") blade.

Enjoy the pics, and remember not to automatically avoid a cheap tool just because it's cheap.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Trim Router Offset Base v0.1 (Part 1)

As you'll find in my posts, I'm a huge fan of cheap tools that work. Harbor Freight (aka: Horrible Freight) is one of my favorite tool stores.

One of their gems, IMHO, is the 1/4" Trim Router. It goes on sale for $15 frequently, making it an amazing buy. I like its size better than full sized routers. It just fits my hand nicely, plus it can be used one-handed when necessary.

As cool as this little workhorse is, it's missing one thing: An offset base. While I might be able to force a commercial unit to fit, it would be huge compared to the router, expensive, and it wouldn't work as a table base. I'm building a benchmount router table, and I want to use the offset base as the platform to hang this router from.

After a few design ideas, I ended up with a 5" circle for the router mount, a 1 1/4" circle for the knob end with a 7 1/2" reach between the centers of the two circles. The total length is just over 10", ideal for a small trim router. Plus it's small enough that .220 thick acrylic will be rigid enough for table use.

I added "pin holes" to mount locator pins, centering pins, or when used in a table, pivot pins. One pin hole is off-center at the big end of the 5" circle. The rest are staggered 1/2" apart starting 1 1/2" from the collet center and ending at the knob mount that's 1 1/2" from the small end.

Those pinholes will allow the base's use as a circle jig too, with 1/2" precision.

Construction of this version 0.1 is rough. I suck with a jigsaw. Especially this Skil 5amp model I just got a couple months ago. I can't get the hang of using the scroll knob on top, and so my curves aren't as smooth as they could be. Version 1.0 will be made with this base, allowing smooth and correct circles.

After drawing the plan, I made a template using a piece of hardboard. This material is sturdy, dimensionally stable (won't expand or shrink due to humidity), and cheap.

I made my own compass to draw the circles (I've since purchased a "real" compass). I then used my table saw (with a Harbor Freight 8" 40t carbide cutoff blade) to hit the straights and trim close to the circles.

I then used that Skil jigsaw to make the circle cuts. I ended up cutting a bit smaller than I had designed, but that worked out ok.

Making your own compass is easy. Just take a scrap of wood and drill two holes, the distance between them being the same as the radius (distance from the center of a circle to the edge) of the circle you are trying to draw. Stick a screw or nail through one hole and into the workpiece, and the other hole gets your pencil or pen.

Once you've cut out your template, the edges will probably be rather rough. That's OK. Hardboard is easy to sand smooth. I used a piece of 220 grit paper and just held it in my hand to sand the edges. Keep smoothing the edges until they're VERY flat and smooth with no ridges, ripples, or bumps.

Any imperfections WILL be transferred to the acrylic by the router!

Once the template is ready, use double-sided tape to stick it to your acrylic. Note that most acrylic you buy will have a protective thin plastic sheet on both sides. LEAVE THIS ON. It keeps the acrylic from being scratched and damaged. It also makes removing the tape easier when you're done with the template.

Apply a little pressure for at least 30 minutes to make sure the tape isn't going to slip. I set a thick book on top of the template/acrylic sandwich to let the tape set.

Clamp the sandwich to the workbench. Using the Harbor Freight 1/4" trim router with a 1/2" laminate trimming bit (and matching bearing) I duplicated the template in the acrylic.

When aligning the bit, make it so the bit ends and the bearing begins both within the thickness of the template. This ensures that your router is cutting through the entire depth of the acrylic, but still allows the bearing to ride on the template to guide the cut.

The cut made in acrylic by a router is nice and smooth. I debated flaming the edges of the acrylic to smooth it up, but the cut was already nice, so I didn't need to do anything else. I may decide to flame the edges on the final version though.

This is the end of Part 1. Part 2 will include putting
the pin holes in, cutting the bit opening, and
mounting the base to the router.

Your First Project - A Workbench

The bench I built here was quick, dirty, cheap, and quick.

Did I mention quick?

I just got tired of working on my garage floor, both working on things for my VW Bus and my growing interest in "real" woodworking (as opposed to just cutting crap with a jigsaw).

I really didn't know what I wanted or needed from a bench, so I didn't bother using a plan set, or getting serious with joinery. The requirements were:
  • Sturdy and stable
  • Inexpensive
  • Easily customized
  • Tough to withstand being moved around. Lots.
I saw a plan online somewhere (I forget where now) that showed a screw-together bench similar to what I ended up doing. L-shaped legs with wraparound stretchers. The plan showed a substantial joined 4" thick top. But I had no face joining skills so I went with some scrap fiberboard I had.

The legs and stretchers are simply cheap pine 2x4's from Lowe's. They had a sale, $1.49 each for 2x4x8's. I bought a stack and a pound of 2" deck screws to put it together.

I cut everything with a WalMart circular saw (that works REALLY well, a nice bonus in a $25 saw). The legs are 48" and the bench is 6 ft long by 2 feet deep. I made it a bit taller than most benches because I didn't/don't plan on using it as an assembly table, but instead want to be able to sit on my stool and work comfortably.

The legs are joined with 4 screws for each pair, then the stringers are attached with 2 or 3 screws at each joint, at least one screw into the short stretcher, and one into the paired legs.

I lined up the top stretchers flush with the top of the legs to give support for the benchtop. This gives enough support to my 3/8" fiberboard that it doesn't flex except under extreme conditions.

Putting a complete 2.0l VW engine on it flexed it a bit.

I used screws without glue because I figured at some point I would want to change it or design a new bench altogether. Using screws gives me the option of tearing the bench down and recovering the wood for other projects.

It currently has no shelf on the bottom. I had intended to get a sheet of MDF or something to make the bottom shelf, but decided to leave it open. Because I work in a one car garage attached to my apartment, space is at a premium. I'm able to store lots of boxes and cases for crap inside the bench, and still put my 8" Black & Decker table saw in there when it's not being used.

I recently scavenged some drawers from a waterbed frame. These I mounted under the bench top using some scrap 1x2's. It's nice having a place to put things like goggles and manuals that won't get covered in sawdust!

I still haven't decided on what I *really* need in a bench. There are many options, but until I do more work I won't know which options I'll use and which just look pretty. So this bench will get quite a bit more use before I give up on it.

UPDATE 9/24/07: Here's a pic of the bench in my garage/shop. You can see the drawers I added and all the crap underneath.