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Workbench Progress…

Started by RoughboyModelworks, June 20, 2010, 07:11:32 PM

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In a previous thread I mentioned that I was rebuilding my model bench, which started life originally as my grandfather's watchmakers bench. I'm not certain of the age of the bench, but the main portion is at least 70 years old. It is built mostly from pine and plywood and not particularly well made. As I recall it was built in situe to fit a specific location in the back of his store. The bench came to me 30 years ago after having been in storage for the better part of my childhood. The original plywood top was badly worn and I replaced it at the time with a melamine top and back. That top served me well for the past 25-30 years but was in need of replacement. During our recent move the legs were badly damaged, so using that as the catalyst, I decided it was time to rebuild the bench, a task I'd been putting off for the past several years.

I replaced one set of legs with a more durable version made from some scrap maple stock. The other legs weren't as badly damaged so I just repaired and reinforced them. Because the floor in the shop is uneven concrete, I added leveling feet to the four main legs. I removed the melamine top and back and discarded the old top. I built a new top from some scrap birch ply (photo below). The melamine back will be refitted to the bench.

Unfortunately the piece of birch ply I had wasn't long enough, but it was wide enough to rip down the middle and join the two pieces together to form the new top. The bench surface is just under 80" long. Some scrap square maple stock was used for the central joint and both ends. Some leftover walnut stock was used to trim the front edge. The top was assembled using biscuit joints to attach all the trim pieces to the plywood. The end mitre joints and center joint (photos below) were all cut on the Preac saw. After scraping the top with cabinet scrapers and sanding, it was finished with three coats of penetrating oil, followed by a coat of bowling alley wax. This is the same finish I used on my main work bench and it stands up well to use and liquid spills. It can easily be rejuvenated by rubbing out the surface with some 4x0 steel wool followed by another coat of paste wax. The original compartmented drawers contain tools and fittings for the lathes and mill which mount to the top, plus a large selection of hand tools. The two seat locations each have a slide out drop tray to catch any errant parts that fall off the top before they hit the floor. The tray on the right has deep grooves worn by years of filing clock parts by my grandfather. I've consciously retained all the elements that show wear by his hand as it provides me with a tangible reminder and link to him.

Originally, the bench had a facing of thin beadboard plywood which I always disliked. I opted to replace it with some aluminum panels salvaged from one of my old trade-show displays. The panels are mounted to the front using 8-32 low-profile button-head allen screws fitted into threaded inserts. The switches and pushbuttons (photo below) control a throttle and 1:48n3 test track built into the back of the bench (yet to be reinstalled. It mounts into the rebate along the back edge of the top.) The power supply and throttle are built into the bench.

While working on the new top, I have also been rebuilding both lathes. They should both be finished by next weekend, then the machines will be mounted to the new top. I'll post another shot once everything is back in place.



Holy Shit Batman...........you been busy........... and that's cool that you have your grandpa's bench and using it  ;)Craig

Philip Smith

Almost to nice to use as a work bench!

can't wait to see the lathes


Ray Dunakin

Visit my website to see pics of the rugged and rocky In-ko-pah Railroad!

Ray Dunakin's World


  You are feeling at home, it looks like......

put brain in gear before putting mouth in action.
never underestimate the stupidity of idiots
I am what I remember.


I feel I have accomplished something when I dust a piece of furniture. You are restoring and improving one. What's wrong with this picture? -- Russ


Cool, its like a broken Model T rebuilt into a hot rod.   I've got a 8' kitchen counter from Home Depot.   :-[       



Cant wait to see it with the machines on it and 15 projects scattered in various stages!
Neat bench!


Way to go Paul. Better to fix up granpa's old stuff than throw good money at the junk you see in stores today. You won't see anyone fixing that stuff up in 70 years.


Thanks guys. Yes Craig, it has been a busy time. All the pita tasks associated with the move, the repairs and rebuilding projects are cutting into my drinking on the deck time, but all the efforts are paying off as we're getting more and more settled in. We are definitely feeling at home here Jacq... I'll just be glad when all this work is done and I can back to the modelling and bike projects at hand. I agree Marty, I want to see it again as a working bench the way it's supposed to be. I like the analogy Dave of turning a Model T into a hot rod... hadn't thought of it like that. I suppose this is what you would call "pimping my bench."  ;) And Russ, I am surprised by your comment. I was lead to believe that you had thong-clad cuties to do all your dusting for you... ;) ;D

I'm undecided about the back at the moment. There's nothing particularly wrong with it and it's a functional asset to the bench providing more tool storage plus the test track, but being white melamine, I'm not sure I'm going to like the way it looks. It's going to take some more thought and rummaging through my stock pile. At this point I'm working to finish refurbishing the lathes. My grandfather's Boley jeweler's lathe is complete and ready to mount to the bench. There's still some work to do on the Unimat. Unfortunately the coming weekend is shot finishing up the old house before turning it over to the new owners at the end of the month so it will be another week or so before I can make any more significant progress.



Paul -
I love the way the bench is going, but what is that metal (aluminium?) panel along the front?
The one with switches in it. Did you just add that? What is it's purpose?


Thanks Carlo... The use of the aluminum panels and the purpose of the switches is explained in the second-to-last paragraph of the original post, between the final two photos.



Well I've finally finished rebuilding the back of the workbench. After making the new top, I wasn't happy anymore with the previous melamine back so I scratched around through my wood pile and came up with some oak L-girders (salvaged from an old layout project). I ripped the L-girders apart with the exception of one, jointed them and glued them up into a panel  using biscuit joints. The one remaining L-girder became the shelf midway up the back which will shortly be drilled to accommodate various hand tools. I then planed, scraped, sanded and finished the back with the same process I used on the top. Old stringer screw holes in the shelf portion were filled with copper plugs. To attach the back to the top I machined five aluminum brackets from angle stock which were set into corresponding rebates routed into both the top and back. This was by far the most time consuming part of the whole process. I first machined an aluminum template for the router guide in order to repeatedly cut rebates exactly the same size and square to the edges of the top and back. The rebates were cut first in the top, then the locations carefully transferred to the back. As it turned out, the alignment was perfect, not an easy task over a 6 1/2' long joint. Photo below shows the back in place on the bench. (And yes Marc and Russ, if you look closely you can just see a bit of my Colnago hanging in the background, rotted tires and all.)

Second photo more clearly shows the brackets in place.

Photo below is a detail shot of one of the brackets, which are all held in place with button head cap screws let into the brackets. In the upper left you can just see one of the copper plus used to fill the old stringer screw holes.

Electrical cords laying across the bench drive me nuts, so I recessed a couple of brass cable hatches into the top to accommodate the power cords to the machines, soldering irons and so on.

Today I mounted the machines onto the left half of the bench. The rebuilt Unimat is on the left, the Boley jeweler's lathe in the middle and the Sherline mill on the right. The remaining space on the right half of the bench is the hand-work and assembly area.

This is a closeup of my grandfather's Boley lathe, which I believe is now about 70 years old. When it was in my grandfather's shop it was powered by a foot treadle, much like the old Singer sewing machines. There was an idle shaft and flywheel apparatus between the treadle and the lathe to smooth out the rotation.

Last is the Sherline with granite surface plate in the background.

The only piece left to install on the back is the 1:48n3 test track shelf that attaches along the top edge of the back. The track was somewhat damaged during the move, so I may wait for a time to install it, at least until I'm inspired to do some trackwork. The bench has never looked this clean and I don't expect it will ever look this clean again. Now it's finally time to clutter it up with the tools and projects that have been packed since before our move three months ago.



So, like, you're really gonna use that piece of fine furniture for..machine work!? :-\

No, I'm not jealous.

John Palecki


Hey Paul,     The Work Bench Looks Great.....what can i say I'm jealous ::)            Craig