MTI-workbench, a mobile, versatile workbench

By | June 17, 2016

So after doing a couple of DIY projects, I noticed I could do with a bigger, more efficient workbench. So I designed this… the MTI-workbench.

Before I get further into the design and creation of it, I’d like to mention that I made a webstore on a subdomain where I uploaded the plans needed to construct your own version of this workbench. You can check it out here at store.thelowlander.org.

All right, that’s mentioned, now let’s get to it!

Finished design for the MTI-workbench

Finished design for the MTI-workbench

After looking around on the internet for a bit for ideas the first things that came to mind were those heavy, butcher block and/or 2×4 style workbenches, all of which were nice, but too bulky and not completely what I was looking for. One of the issues of my current mobile workbench is that it is too small to begin with. Not enough room for some work pieces and the top quickly gets littered with tools. So I needed a way to store tools while still having access to them. Another issue was stability. Can’t use a hand planer on it without the table rocking around. The answer came from something I actually remembered from my childhood.

Finished design for the MTI-workbench, viewed from the back

Finished design for the MTI-workbench, viewed from the back

My dad used to collect pallets. Throwaway pallets and broken pallets. We would either fix them up, or take them apart and use the wood for various things to fix around the house. Something I didn’t realize at the time, was that we basically made a workbench out of a pile of pallets that was high enough for us to work comfortable on. We also stored our hand tools between the pallets, so our worktop never got cluttered. We may have lost a tool or two that way though…

When I was collecting wood from throwaway pallets a while ago I started using the same work-flow, and didn’t realize I was doing that until I started working on projects with the wood I reclaimed from those pallets.

Starting from a single sheet of plywood, 244*122*18mm, cut in 3 pieces.

Starting from a single sheet of plywood, 2440*1220*18mm, cut in 3 pieces.

A standard EUR pallet was a good size for my worktop, so I started to come up with ideas. First it was just a closed pallet, then I came up with the idea of using a pallet upside down with a plywood top, then a whole plywood structure, then came the idea to use reclaimed wood and combine it with some sort of butcher block for extra mass, then I drew a metal workbench, and finally went back to a much simpler, lighter plywood version. I gave it bench dog holes because I wanted the ability to clamp anywhere on the table, and one modular space/slot that I could use with power tools such as a miter saw, router or a planer.

Measuring and cutting the girders.

Measuring and cutting the girders.

All girders cut and smoothed.

All girders cut and smoothed.

By keeping the dimensions for the length and breadth the same as a EUR pallet, it became very mobile. All you need to work anywhere are some saw horses or a pile of pallets. Because my original idea was to make the whole thing out of reclaimed wood (pallets) I wanted it to at least be really cheap AND sturdy. So I designed the whole MTI-workbench to fit into a single 2440*1220*18 mm sheet of plywood. Keep in mind, this is without extra modules. I had some scraps lying around I used for that.

Drilling holes for the bench dogs in the worktop.

Drilling holes for the bench dogs in the worktop.

I started by designing the thing in blender (I actually drew the metal version first, but scrapped it early on). Sticking close to the dimensions of a regular pallet. Then I started to rotate all the pieces and put them on a single plane. I made sure this plane was 2440*1220*18 mm in dimensions. This is a default size for a plywood sheet, and it’s all the wood you need for the entire MTI-workbench.

Clamping and connecting the frame.

Clamping and connecting the frame.

I then made a construction document out of that, went to the store and got a sheet of plywood. The first thing I did was to cut both the top and bottom out of it so that I could store everything in my already crowded tool shed.

Fastening all the girders.

Fastening all the girders.

I measured all the elements I needed to cut and holes I needed to drill. For the frame I basically measured and drew one piece at a time. Lets call these pieces girders. If I measured and drew all the girders at the same time, then maybe I would have ran into problems later down the line when my saw blade ate away a bit too much wood. Instead I drew one piece, drilled all the holes in it first, ran a router on those holes to make them smooth, and THEN cut the strip of to complete the girder. I repeated this process for all the other girders.

Finished MTI-Workbench!

Finished MTI-Workbench!

When all the girders were made, I started with the worktop. The worktop for the MTI-workbench was going to have bench dogs, so I measured and drew lines where all the holes would be. I didn’t have any fancy way to make sure everything would be exactly straight and square, so I had to do this from sight. I did have a drill press stand I borrowed from my dad for this. At least the holes are pretty straight. I put a piece of cardboard underneath the top to prevent tear out from drilling he holes. I then cut out the area in the center where I wanted to have a modular space. I later made another module with the plywood I cut out from there.

MTI-Workbench with a bench dog holes module.

MTI-Workbench with a bench dog holes module.

MTI-workbench with a miter saw module.

MTI-workbench with a miter saw module.

Making some bench dogs.

Making some bench dogs.

MTI-workbench in use at a home renovation.

MTI-workbench in use at a home renovation.

When I designed it I imagined I would build this from the bottom up. However, I found it easier to build this upside down, with the worktop at down. By doing this I could align the center girders with the cut-out space for the worktop, if I had put the bottom down I would have had to measure everything first. Then I put the frame on top and clamped everything down. I started by fastening the outer frame, and then worked my way inwards, starting with the longitudinal girder/spine, then the solid girders, and finally the short hollow girders. For all girders I could put a screw though from the other girder it was joined to. Just for the short hollow girders I had to drill one side from the inside. I countersunk the screw off course, so no big deal. Then I put the bottom on. I put screws in all the corners, X and T sections, one for each board (so a corner = 2 screws, T = 3 and X = 4 screws) After the bottom I did the same for the top.

My general work-flow for anything that needs to connect is basically:

  1. Clamp workpieces together
  2. Drill pilot holes
  3. Drill screws just enough so they protrude enough to “slot” in the pilot hole on the other workpiece
  4. Remove clamps
  5. Add glue to connected surfaces
  6. Connect workpieces again (screws “slot” in pilot holes)
  7. Clamp and tighten screws
  8. Let glue dry
  9. Sand and finish

So after everything was connected and glued up I sanded everything smooth, put a coat of oil on it, and my own custom MTI-workbench was done! Once again, if you liked this and would like to build your own, you can find the plans here at store.thelowlander.org

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