Sometimes solving a problem leads to benefits you never expected. Last fall, to promote virus safety, we spread student workbenches farther apart by moving some into the adjacent drafting rooms. Teachers and students liked the new set up so well that we looked for ways to make it permanent. The problem with making it permanent? During the busy summer Workshop season, one-week classes were often held in the Workshop Building’s drafting room while a two-week class would simultaneously occupy the bench room. Those shorter workshops would have to be held somewhere else.
Fortunately, Assistant Facilities Director Matt McLaughlin came up with a plan: re-equip the Whittington Woodturning Studio so that it could accommodate other types of workshops when turning classes weren’t in session. In practice, this meant building custom-designed workbenches that could easily be exchanged with the lathes, so that when one set of equipment was needed the other could be moved and stored in the adjacent Mattina Proctor Finishing Studio.
This spring, modifying instructions in Popular Woodworking for a knockdown English workbench, Matt and fellow facilities staff designed a bench to suit CFC’s needs, then built a dozen in 2½ months. Facilities Assistant Chelsea Witt programmed the CNC to produce the tabletops and aprons efficiently.
A lot of thought went into the benches’ construction. They are are small enough to store out of the way, but big enough to work on effectively; they can be clamped together to make larger tables when needed; and each bench has a bottom shelf for storage, as well as a face vise and tail vise.
The MDF top is versatile enough for finishing, metalworking, and woodworking. It is easily cleaned, resists staining, and doesn’t harbor metal shavings that can damage wood projects. The finish is Osmo, which can easily be sanded down and reapplied, as needed. Best of all, these sturdy benches are simple to move on flat furniture dollies, and even break down completely to lay flat (approx. 24”x66”x10”) if necessary.
The new workbench system received its first real test this June, when we conducted sequential courses in finishing, metalworking, and joinery, and then exchanged them with lathes for “Learn to Turn.” So far, so good!