Tips (Part 2)

by admin on December 10, 2017

Here’s one that you probably haven’t seen on an electronics site. 

Workbench

In the this posting I assume you’re going to build your work surface.  If you plan on buying one pre-made, then read this for ideas and consideration to think about as you get ready to place your order. 

How Tall?


When you build your workbench, build it at a height that is comfortable to work at when standing.  The height depends on you.  Most work benches are the same height as a dining room table which is about 28 inches tall.  I prefer to make it taller.  A good idea of where to start is to stand at your kitchen counter.  How does that feel?  Set something down on it one time and then pick it up, set it down, turn it over move it etc. for 10- 15 minutes.  Do you still feel ok or do you notice that your arms or neck, lower back etc. feel a bit funny?  My kitchen counters are 36” tall.  That’s not tall enough for me.  I made my workbench 41” tall.  If you put your hands on your hips, you can feel the bony parts that stick out in front (I’m told that the correct name is the iliac spine).  My bench at 41” is a little shorter than the height of those parts that stick out. You may ask, what if I want to sit at a chair? Will it be too low?.  You’re absolutely correct.  Use a bar stool!  I had two from when our house had an eat-at bar.  When we left that house, I kept the stools, and now they get used at my work bench.  Get the kind with the rotating top or not.  Purely, your preference.  Mine spin, but only because that’s what I had.  I’d probably buy one without the spinning top as it seems more stable to me. 

How deep to make it? 

That depends.  Let me give you some options to think about.  Will the workbench be a multi-purpose one or is it one in your shop that you will only do electronics work at?  If it is the former, I highly recommend putting pegboard behind it and adding tool holders for all of your screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches etc.  If it’s to be an electronics only one, then that may not make sense.  In the former case, I’d make it deep enough to keep the tools out of your work area, but not so deep that you can’t reach your tools.  Mine is a multi-purpose one and is 32 inches deep.  That’s probably about 1-2 inches too deep.  I can reach everything, but often have to stand on a shelf under the bench to get the farthest things.  So if I were doing it again, I’d make it 30” deep.  Also consider the fact that you’ll need to have power outlets available.  I put a shelf above my bench that has all my test equipment on it.

Surface: 

Mine is ¾” plywood.  I put the “nice” side up.  I chose plywood as it is inexpensive, very strong and again, I’m multipurpose.  If it was an electronics only bench, I’d want melamine, linoleum or some other plastic type of surface.  I would use a non-glare white.  NO surface texture (if you’re reusing floor linoleum you could argue for it.  Just remember that the texture will tend to catch things and make it easy to slide things around.  Also the pattern will tend to camouflage small parts and such.

How long? 

As long as you want.  I would try for at least four feet, and at least 6 if it will be multi-purpose. 

When you build the frame I recommend that there be about 4” of overhang from the frame to the edge fo the work surface.  This allows you to clamp things to the work surface more easily.  If you use thinner plywood, you will need to reduce the free area.  I used 2×4’s for the framing.  I used bolts and attached the horizontal members to the studs in the wall.  The front legs were bolted to the horizontal members too.  This allowed me to get the frame perfectly level.  While my measuring technique is excellent I sometimes rush the cut or don’t proceed as carefully as I should.  The front horizontal member is lag bolted to the ends of the 2×4’s that come out of the wall.  I built a similar ring around the bottom and the darn thing is very sturdy.  To allow storage of really heavy items on the floor, I made ½ of the brace removable so that I could take it out to slide things under the bench if required…The other side of the bench has a shelf on top of the lower cross bracing.  The shelf is discontinuous so that I can store the circular saw with the shrouded blade hanging below the surface of the shelf. 

Countersink all screws so that the surface is as flat as possible. 

Test equipment? 

What I did on my workbench was install a shelf above the workbench that is a bit shallower than the bench proper.  In the case of my 32” deep bench I made my shelf 30” deep.  In retrospect, it should probably be more like 26 or 28 inches deep.  It is attached to the wall behind the bench with a piano hinge.  This allows me to change the height of the front edge.  I wanted and suggest that you angle the bench downwards.  That’s part of the reason for the hinge.  I didn’t know what the “perfect” ngle would be, only that I wanted it angled.  I installed two hooks in the ceiling above the corners of the bench.  One hook was well positioned and I got it into a floor joist for the second floor above.  The other was just two far away.  What I did was cut a 2×6 and nail it using big nails into the joists on either side of where the hook was to go.  I then put the hook in the 2×6.  Chain is attached from the hooks in the ceiling to the screw eyes in the corners of the shelf.  I reinforced the front edge on top with a piece of 1×2 hardwood it also keeps things from sliding off.  In hindsight, I should have added some additional strength in the form of a small U or L bracket underneath.  I have a similar 1×2 under the shelf in the middle which also serves as an anchor point for the lights.  Think of these as ribs running lengthwise.

On the front edge of the shelf, I installed a power strip.  It provides switched power for the lights and test equipment that doesn’t need to be powered up all the time.  For example the oscilloscope and signal generators.  My 10MHz frequency standard and my frequency counter both have ovenized oscillators and need to be powered up continuously (ovens) to ensure good stability.  They are powered on a different circuit, in fact the frequency standard which is stabilized by a GPS receiver, is connected to a custom built UPS that can supply power to it for 4 days.  Believe it or not, that wasn’t sufficient two summers ago to keep it powered up.  I also plug in my soldering station or anything else as required. 

Thankfully, PG&E replaced the transformer that supplies our neighborhood late last summer so we shouldn’t have that long of an outage again anytime soon.  I do have a generator that can supply the vital loads in the house.  Basically some lights, the two refrigerators and a microwave but not much else.

Lighting: 

As mentioned before I have a simple 2 florescent tube fixture mounted to the underside of the shelf.  It is powered from the power strip on top of the shelf.  I used the supplied chains to mount it as close as possible to the shelf.  Additionally, I have a wooden shim under the front edge to angle the light back slightly so it isn’t shining in my eyes.

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