Multi-function worktable: build the ultimate work surface
Every workshop needs somewhere to machine joinery, sand workpieces and assemble the project. This workbench will do all of that and more.
When I moved into my mini-sized workshop a few years ago I built a pint-sized workbench. While I’m happy with the bench, I often end up using the top of the table saw as an extra work surface. It’s become my go-to work surface for sanding, assembly and finishing. Clearly I’ve been in need of an alternative.
A recent visit to a friend’s workshop convinced me that a multifunction worktable was the way to go – a worktable that serves a variety of functions, can be easily moved about the shop, and provides storage for the compressor, mini dust collector and power tools that I most regularly use.
Domino mortises and loose tenons secure the front rail to the top, while the holes in the front rail accommodate the bolts that secure the Kreg Clamp Trak to the rail. This view is of the back side of the front rail.
Though you can make your own base out of wood or metal, Duguay chose to purchase heavy-duty work bench components from Rockler to speed up his build. Notice the narrow storage area underneath the main shelf for thin items.
Drilling Dog Holes
Duguay used the UJK Parf Guide System to drill a series of 3-mm-diameter holes in his worktable top (above). He then drilled the dog holes in his worktable surface (below).
Clamp it Down
With the help of a wide range of hold-down devices you can secure just about anything to this worktable.
The front of the front rail has a groove to accept the Kreg Clamp Trak. Bolt heads sit proud of the bottom of the groove to hold the Clamp Trak in place.
Duguay uses the hold-down devices in many ways, including fixing large panels horizontally on the worktable’s surface, (above) and securing smaller panels to its front face (below).
Bolt heads, set at a precise depth from the bottom of the groove, hold the Kreg Clamp Trak in place.
Customizing your worktable is easy. Use your imagination to come up with the best solution for your situation. Here, a simple piece of plywood was added between legs, and two hooks were added to store hoses and cords.
You can build the base yourself from solid wood or sheet stock, or assemble one from a kit, as I did. Either way, begin by deciding on the height, width and length for your table, and whether it will be stationary or mobile. My work table is 37″ high and approximately 27″ wide by 61″ long.
To speed up construction, I opted to use heavy-duty work bench components from Rockler. At 1/8″ thick they’re very rigid. The components come in a variety of lengths and are pre-drilled for easy customization. Plus, all the nuts and bolts and a set of leveling feet are included.
My stand uses 32″ legs (#60749), 24″ stretchers (#60764) and 60″ rails (#53727). Because I wanted a mobile table, I replaced the leveling feet with a set of foot-activated locking casters (#47034). What I like about these casters is that they lock out both the rolling and swiveling action.
To gain an extra 1-3/8″ of storage space between the top and bottom shelf, I inverted the bottom stretchers and rails, which gave me 25-1/4″ of usable height. I also installed a sheet of 1/2″ ply at the very bottom of the legs over the casters to create a 3″ high storage space for clamps, cauls, levels, and the like.
I chose to incorporate a grid pattern of bench dog holes on the top and a clamp track in the front apron. This would enable me to use a variety of commercial and shop made bench clamping accessories. While I constructed my top from two layers – 1″ Baltic birch laminated to 3/4″ ply – you could also use a single layer of ply or construct a solid wood top – this is a better approach if you want to be able to replace the top. I also installed side and back aprons, though you could dispense with them.
To supplement the clamping options offered by the dog holes I also installed a T-slot track. I selected a Kreg Clamp Trak (#KKS2769) because it’s available in a 69″ and at just under 3/4″ thick and 2-1/4″ wide, is exceptionally rigid. You can mount the track either flush on the top, or vertically, housed in the front apron. For a vertical installation you’ll need to machine a 3/4″ × 2-1/4″ channel down the center of the apron to house the Kreg Clamp Trak. You’ll also need to drill holes though the apron for the Clamp Trak bolts. If you plan to drill dog holes into the front apron, make sure it’s at least 1-3/4″ thick to avoid drilling into the Clamp Trak bolts. The height of the apron isn’t crucial – mine is 4″. Note that once the front apron is glued in place the Clamp Trak will be permanently attached to the apron – you won’t be able to access the mounting screws on the back of the apron. If you want to be able to remove the Clamp Trak at a later date mount it flush on the table top.
I attached the aprons to the top using floating tenons milled with a Festool Domino. I find the Domino much quicker and more precise to use than a biscuit joiner or dowelling jig. It guarantees the top of the aprons will be exactly flush with table top – no fine tuning required. Once the top was complete I secured it to the base by driving screws up through the metal rails, into the top.
Not All Ply is the Same
I no longer use imported plywood, particularly from China, for a variety of reasons. The most important is that there is no guarantee it doesn’t contain formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogenic. And, on most of these products, the face veneer is so thin you can just about wipe it off with a swipe of your hand. Plus, I’ve yet to find a sheet that doesn’t have voids, particularly on 1/4″ stock. Over the past couple of years I’ve been using plywood from Columbia Forest Products. They offer a good selection of veneer, MDF, and combi-core plywood in thicknesses from 1/4″ to 1-1/4″. Home Depot carries some of their construction-grade ply. You can order cabinet-grade ply through your local wood specialty dealer.
What makes this worktable so versatile is the arrangement of dog holes drilled into its surface. This is the same concept as used on the Festool MFT/3 work table. If you plan to build a top like mine, which has 105 bench dog holes, then you’ll save yourself a lot of time and frustration by using a dedicated 20-mm hole drilling system.
I used the UJK Parf Guide System (#102278) available from Lee Valley. With it you can drill a precise arrangement of 20-mm holes spaced exactly 97-mm on center, for any size work table. The system is very easy to use, and the included 20-mm carbide tipped drill bit enables you to drill through a table top up to 2″ thick. It took me about 40 minutes to lay out the grid of holes and drill the first set of 3-mm registration holes. Drilling and chamfering the 20-mm holes took another hour or so. The drill bit has a sharp-pointed 3-mm guide pin that aligns perfectly with the registration holes, ensuring the holes are drilled dead-on. You can also use this system to add dog holes onto a conventional workbench.
To Finish or Not
Applying a finish to the top is a matter of personal choice. I eventually decided to lay down a thin coat of satin Varathane Professional Clear Finish, primarily to keep glue from adhering to the surface and make it easier to brush dust off of it. Once the top begins to look tired I’ll do a light sanding and then apply another thin coat.
I’ve been using a variety of accessories with my worktable. I’ve made a number of planing and work stops, and also rely on some commercial products. Bench dogs are, of course, indispensable. They’re available in brass, steel and reinforced nylon from Lee Valley, Kreg Tool and Axminster. Bench dogs are available with 3/4″ or 20-mm posts. The latter are referred to as Parf dogs and were originally designed by Peter Parfitt to use on Festool’s MFT/3 work tables.
Veritas Round Bench Pups (#05G04.03) and the longer Bench Dogs (#05G04.01) are designed for 3/4″ holes, though they work equally well in 20-mm holes – the metal side spring provides enough pressure to keep them from sliding down through the holes. They can be adjusted flush with the work surface. Lee Valley also has small (#05G49.02) and large (#05G49.06) 20-mm aluminum bench dogs, along with small (#05G49.50) and large (#05G49.55) 20-mm steel Parf Dogs, both of which have offset collars (so they can’t be installed flush with the work surface) that work very well.
The bench dog I particularly like is the 20-mm Axminster Parf Super Dog (#104302). It has a twist top that locks the dog securely in place with absolutely no lateral movement. The Super Dog comes with a flush collar that provides just over 2-5/16″ of projection; a chamfer collar that registers the dog precisely at 90° to the work surface; and a 25-mm offset collar so you can use the Super Dog with conventional Parf dogs. Plus, it can be inserted through the bottom of the work table for use as a low-profile dog.
There are three work stops I find particularly useful when I don’t want to clamp a work piece to the table top. They apply vertical clamping pressure and are low to the work surface so they don’t get in your way. The Veritas Bench Blade, available with a 3/4″ post (#05G22.10) or 20-mm post (#05G22.13), extends only 1/4″ above the bench surface and has a cam lever-activated sliding jaw with 1/4″ of travel. It’s ideal for use with all but the thinnest stock. For thicker stock, I use the Kreg In-Line Clamp (#KBCIC), which has a 1/2″ jaw and a convenient 4-3/4″ of travel. It’s super quick to adjust and delivers up to 250 pounds of clamping pressure – enough to hold anything immobile on the work table. While it’s only available with a 3/4″ post, it works well in 20-mm holes. The Festool Clamping Elements (#488030) are specifically designed for a 20-mm system. They have a slightly taller (3/4″) jaw than the Kreg and slightly longer (4-5/8″) travel. Unlike the Kreg, they can be used single handed. Clamping pressure isn’t specified, but they hold stock firmly in place.
For applying downward clamping pressure, I’ve been using Bessey in-line toggle clamps mounted on Lee Valley Clamp Plates (#50F01.13) and Kreg Bench Clamps (#KBC3 with a 3″ reach and #KBC6 with a 6″ reach). The Bessey clamp is mounted on a 3/4″ post. I do find it a bit sloppy in the 20-mm holes, though the long post cants enough to keep the clamp from moving upward too much. While Lee Valley does have a 20-mm mounting plate (#50F01.03), the post is only 11/16″ long, and it has to be secured from under the table – which isn’t an option for me. However, if you have a 3/4″-thick top it’s worth considering. The Kreg Bench Clamps install in the Kreg Clamp Trak and secure stock flush up against the front apron. The advantage of these clamps is that they self-adjust for stock thickness – just squeeze the handle to secure the material.
These are very convenient, and I make good use of them.
Carl Duguay - [email protected]
Carl is a Victoria-based furniture maker and the web editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.