Thursday, March 13, 2014

Back to basics, the bench

Ok, today we're getting on to one of the topics I've wanted to talk about for a while but was waiting to finish, the new work bench. I'd been wanting an additional work bench (I have one that is fairly basic in the basement and a metal desk that makes a fairly decent bench in the shed, but can you ever have too much workbench? (for some readers that could be translated as work table/cutting table, easel, counter space, etc)). I also wanted something that is more specifically designed for doing jewelry/metal work operations, and something that I could easily move with me to shows, to work in my outside space, to upcoming family reunions, in a snow bank (it is Idaho), or other options as needed.

A basic jeweler's bench looks like this:
 Pretty solid, unfortunately not very mobile, oh and the basic model costs about $400 with shipping. Not ideal and costs more than I wanted to pay at this point. There is a portable version that costs $75 without shipping:
Unfortunately it needs to be on a table or a base (which costs extra) in order to be used (I have yet to develop telekinesis so levitating it is a non-option). The base puts the price over $100 and looks like this:
Huston we have a tv tray! nope not solid enough.

While we're at it, I don't really need the drawers. My projects tend to fluctuate between things and I find it much more efficient to use fishing tackle boxes or tool boxes (you can get some way cool and way solid ones at the surplus store for a decent price) so no drawers needed. And I'd like better options for clamping equipment to it.

I kicked the idea around for a while. I salvaged some 3/4 inch plywood from another project that would make a decent top, but still had one problem. I didn't have a decent design for legs, or other supports, until I ran into this
at a local steel fabricator. These are left over pieces after the fab shop made what ever they were making, aka drop. Drop steel like this costs $0.20-$0.40 cents per pound around here.  Still good steel just left overs.

I don't have my welder yet, so this was more of a screw together operation. Of course since I was already planning to screw/bolt the legs to the top (allowing it to knock down for portability, and not being nearly silly enough to think you can mig weld plywood!) it wasn't really a problem. It did require a lot of clamping,
including some interesting tactical maneuvers:

Note the smaller pieces of "scrap wood" those are actually shop made jewelers bench pins that I made for a previous project (You'll get to see a 'real' one set up the way it usually is later) they are wooden bench extensions designed to help you in drilling, sawing, filing, clamping, or what ever else you need on the bench. You can argue about whether they are a legitimate tool or a piece of scrap wood as you wish (they're both!).

Making sure the leg frames were square was a bit of a challenge (gee, if I could use the workbench to make the workbench it would be so much easier...). But we got there.

"Er, um, those legs are pointing the wrong way."

 Sure they are, after I got them on I decided that cross stabilization was a must so I flipped it back up so I could put a 2x4 stabilizer between the top brackets in the center of the top. A second one goes on the ground between the legs on the back (away from where I'm sitting). The top and bottom braces are 1 1/2 inches per side on the angle iron so they match the standard 2x4.

This lead to a new problem. I needed to bore pilot holes in the 2x4s. Yes, I can mark them, pull the parts and drill them, but the legs gave me enough headaches that I wanted to drill them in position so I was sure. Problem, if I drill them in place my normal drill won't fit. Solution, every metal worker or carver's friend the flex shaft. Problem, where am I supposed to hang the flex shaft? Solution
The holes I drilled for the bottom cross brace are just the same distance apart and hole size as my peg board's holes, so a peg board hook becomes a flex shaft hook. Pilot holes drilled no problem and the brace goes on easily.

What about the one on ground. You can't drill them with the legs up in the air and a peg board hook in one of the holes! (I know I know, the levitation thing (and the two objects can't occupy the same space thing...) Well...
Once it was right side up I screwed a hook into the bottom of the table top (technically in the part I'm going to cut out. Drill, screw, no problem. In this picture you can also see the 2x4 top brace. the top is two layers of 3/4 inch exterior grade plywood with a 2x4 down the center and two steel angle iron pieces, that are part of the leg sets, supporting it. Unless I do something massively silly that top isn't going anywhere.
Next we cut out the inside curve for the main work point.
Here it is with the cut out piece.

And here it is with my combination jeweler's anvil and bench pin and a clamp on pana-vise in place. I can clamp them anywhere on the bench, but that center arc is meant to be the main work point.

Why am I going with "non pretty" plywood? Because I'm cheap? Be cause it's strong? Because it's what I had on hand?

Answer all of the above and because 'pretty' isn't really a feature I'm worried about here. This work bench is meant to be pounded on, drilled on, solder/braze/welded on, ground and filed on. A lot of the damage will be done on the bench pin which is by definition a sacrificial surface but on this model I can use the whole top as a sacrificial surface. So if I decide to add a post for my flex shaft (in the works...) no problem, screw it on. If I want to clamp on or even screw into the to support a sculpture or other larger project, I am much more willing to do that with this bench than a $300 dollar bench who's top I can't change out. This one, when the top is worn out I just get a new one.

Why cut in for the main work spot? First, it gives me a place to brace my arms on the sides when I want to. second it allows me to work over the final key component of any good jeweler's bench, the catch drawer.
Actually it's more of a catch sling as you can see. And, yes that would be denim from an old pair of jeans. Other options would be canvas or leather but the jeans were what I had on hand and I really didn't want to spend a lot of money on something that I hadn't really worked out the design for. I'm still not completely sold but I'm not modifying it any more until I've worked with it for a while. The point of this feature is to catch falling objects. Small tools, work pieces and especially small stones have an annoying tendency to disappear and/or get to the most illogical places when they fall off the bench. The catch sling intercepts them before they can hit the floor. It also catches metal dust/shavings which can be sent to a refiner and converted to cash; with copper scrap over $3.00 a pound (and other metals much higher!) this is not a resource to pass up, no matter what metals you're working in.

Yes, it has a bit of wobble, but I've tuned, adjusted and shimmed to the point that more of the wobble issues are from the uneven cement floor in the basement than a flaw in my design. It's still not 'rock' solid, but I've hit the point of diminishing returns for a portable item. I've done some sawing and pounding on it and it is quite stable enough to work on particularly if you are using the sides of the arc as arm rests.

Depending on how much 'whack' you're putting on the subject with a hammer you might want to work over one of the leg braces but it is definitely solid enough for bench hammering (I set the grommets for the sling with a three pound engineers hammer). For heavier hammering, well, that's what my small but growing collection of anvils, stand vise and other 'heavy ordinance' is for!

So the bench is solid enough to work on, light enough to pack around and adaptable enough to do what I want with. So project successfully completed and on it's way to helping me complete other projects. Am I completely satisfied... yes and no. It serves my needs; I will definitely be using it; and I learned a lot in the process. Truth be told the Mark II was already in the design phase before this one was finished (I have more plywood, and extra steel for the top and bottom braces, so why not).  With two shop spaces and plans to do shows and farmers markets a second one couldn't hurt. And I can use my lessons learned from this one to make the next one even better.
I am also looking at adding accessories. For one I'm planning on adding a hook for a flex shaft, but that's actually going to wait until I make some more decisions on my new flex shaft (1/6 hp, 1/3 hp, two motors?). I'm also considering a bolt on power strip, mounting a light and so on.

A couple of last thoughts

This picture from last post
This happened when using my Dremel to cut a piece of old saw blade that I'm shaping to make a knife. The mandrel failed leaving the disk embedded in the stock. The bench didn't shift or shake but steel did fly. Moral, have a good bench and wear your safety goggles/glasses.

Also, more about bench pins:
Here are two of the older ones complete with holes saw marks, abrasions and other mess. the one in the center is the brand new one. It is hard wood instead of pine and doesn't even have it's center cut yet (yes that V is in there on purpose it helps for holding, sawing and so on). By this time next year it won't be nearly so pretty (even if I haven't set fire to it yet!)

For now mission accomplished.
For next time cookie biscuits!
For the future: stamps, molds, and corned beef and cabbage (Monday is Saint Patricks day (Patrick Sean Kidder, part Irish, member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. You work it out.)
For those headed to the Layne family reunion in a couple of months...

These are from one of the batches of gravel similar to the ones we've talked about bringing. They are smokey quartz. Smokey quartz is the national gem of Scotland (ok boys and girls you're supposed to be doing your family history so again figure it out...)

For those of you who are going to be in So Cal for Christmas this year (Lisa and I are talking about coming down)
It's jasper, it's gem quality, it comes in sizes from thumb to head sized, and it is in an area where running around with dune buggies and/or four wheelers is a distinct option. 'Nuff said?

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