How I Managed Without a Workbench: Part 1

It was years before I put together and used something that could be considered a workbench.

I’ve been wood working with various levels of seriousness since I was 5th grade.  The first workbench I used was my grandpa’s, a wall length counter-top with cabinets underneath.  The only vise was a metal working vise, but I learned how to use it to hold wooden work pieces without marring them.

Between then and now I’ve used various items as a workbench:

  • The floor
  • Any available table with a piece of cardboard under my project
  • My lap – depending on the task at hand could get a little dangerous
  • A trash can with a piece of plywood over the top
  • The handrail to my front steps – worked great for clamping long pieces to cut
  • Saw horses – usually with a piece of plywood across them

Each of these allowed me to get some work completed, but as you can imagine, for the most part they were “workbenches” of convenience (the best or only item available to me at the time).

I-Beams 1

The end of one of the I-Beams I used with my saw horses.

The saw horses were the first items I built something for in order to make them a more functional work bench.  I don’t even remember where I got the idea anymore, but I assembled a set of four I-Beams to lay across my saw horses.They are easy to assemble using three 8’x1″x2″s with glue and nails.  The picture here shows how they look.  The I-Beam configuration is stronger than just a 1″x2″ by itself and keeps a heavy workpiece from bowing the support.  Two or more of the I-Beams creates a solid foundation for a piece of plywood or MDF, giving me a work surface of nearly any size. With four saw horses and four I-Beams, I can arrange them in many combinations to accommodate a project.

For example, in the picture below, I have a small piece of plywood at one end of the I-beams for a work table to hold my staining supplies while the rest of the length holds the parts being stained.

Using to I-Beams to support some trim being stained.

Using to I-Beams to support some trim being stained.

I’ll be the first to admit that this is not a particularly complicated system. It does have its limitations.  There is not much weight in the set-up, so using them to, say, plane a board is difficult (but I have done it).

On the plus side, I can stack several pieces of MDF on them without a problem. They are great support for assembling large boxes or cabinets. I’ve used them as a stand for bench-top size machines. When the saw horses are folded up, the I-Beams store in a rack I have attached to the ceiling, taking virtually none of my limited shop space.

This was just a first step for me.  Basically, I was making the saw horses I already owned more functional by building sturdy I-Beams. With minimal investment in time and materials, I was able to expand my woodworking ability.

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