Workbench for covered balcony - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 29 Old 09-16-2015, 03:56 PM Thread Starter
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Workbench for covered balcony

I'd like to build a workbench for my apartment balcony. I've been using a B&D Workmate, but it's time to step up to something sturdier and with storage capability.

The balcony is covered by a roof, so rain only gets in with wind blowing the rain sideways, and the balcony is sufficiently deep that I can place the bench far enough in that wind will rarely drive the rain in far enough to reach the bench, but of course I should plan on the bench getting some rain once in a while.

This will be a general purpose/DIY workbench, so it doesn't need to be built to woodworking bench standards. I'm also trying to keep costs down.

In terms of materials, I'm thinking 2x4's for the frame (doubled up 2x4's for legs) and doubled up 3/4" sheathing plywood and 1/4" sheet of tempered hardwood for the top. Maybe some 1x2 to act as banding around the top and cover the plywood edges.

The top will be used to secure tool platforms (going with tool platforms as opposed to permanently mounting tools so I can clear the bench top when I need the real estate) such as a vise, bench grinder, etc. It will also probably get dogholes at some point. And the top will overlap the frame so that I can clamp workpieces to the top.

Given the exposure to humidity, temperature cycling, and some possibility of rain, as well as the aforementioned uses for the top, would doubled up 3/4" MDF be a better choice for the top than doubled up 3/4" sheathing ply + 1/4" tempered hardwood?

What sorts of finishes for the bench would be best (and preferably inexpensive and easy to apply) to help resist the weather?
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post #2 of 29 Old 09-16-2015, 10:28 PM
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I understand your needs for the new workbench, but your plan to put a wooden workbench on a balcony is a going to be a bad call.
Unless you can work on the top of a picnic table, I advise against it.
Wait until you have a garage or a basement. Utilize another facility or a friend's garage. Wood and tools don't take moisture well.
If you make noise on your balcony, your neighbors will most likely complain.
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post #3 of 29 Old 09-16-2015, 10:54 PM Thread Starter
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If you make noise on your balcony, your neighbors will most likely complain.
This is for once in a while DIY, which I'm already doing on a workmate. If noise was going to be a problem, it probably already would have been.

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Wait until you have a garage or a basement. Utilize another facility or a friend's garage.
Noted. Let's assume there is no alternative in the foreseeable future.

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Wood and tools don't take moisture well.
As you noted, picnic tables exist. And they get rained on regularly. I'm pretty sure a workbench on a covered balcony can survive with proper treatment. Heck, I could cover it with a tarp if a big thunderstorm was rolling in. And even if it was ruined in a few years, no big deal. I can salvage the hardware and everything else is 2x4's and cheap sheetgoods, so it wouldn't be a huge expense to build another one.

Won't be storing tools out there, other than perhaps a shop vac, but that's a decision for later. And if I store power tools on a shelf under the bench, I could cover the front of the shelf with a tarp to keep any rain off. People keep power tools in non-climate controlled garages, right? No difference here - both setups prevent water from directly getting on the tools, and neither does anything about temperature or humidity.

Last edited by needmorecoffee; 09-16-2015 at 11:02 PM.
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post #4 of 29 Old 09-16-2015, 11:11 PM
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I've seen work tops that were made of laminated 2x4s. That might be even better. I know for sure that plywood will delaminate.

I've had good luck so far with spar urethane as an outdoor finish.

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post #5 of 29 Old 09-16-2015, 11:23 PM Thread Starter
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I've seen work tops that were made of laminated 2x4s. That might be even better. I know for sure that plywood will delaminate.

I've had good luck so far with spar urethane as an outdoor finish.
As cool as that would be, I don't have the ability to plane 2x4's into a bench top. Even if I did, even joining them is more work than I am looking to do. Trying to keep this simple.

What would make the plywood delaminate? Not humidity I assume as people keep plywood top workbenches in non-climate controlled garages.

Last edited by needmorecoffee; 09-16-2015 at 11:25 PM.
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post #6 of 29 Old 09-17-2015, 04:31 AM
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MDF will not work for exterior.
If you doubled to layers of exterior plywood, it will give you 1 1/2" top.
If you kept this tarped as you said above, it would last many years.
Build the whole workbench out of exterior plywood.
You could make a cabinet below the top to give you some storage.
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post #7 of 29 Old 09-17-2015, 07:42 AM
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Stay away from any wood/wood type materials for what you describe. Use treated 2x material. Or if you just do not want to use treated, then at least use common lumber 2x.

You do not have to plane of tool those 2x's. Use a thin masonite ocver on top. When it goes bad it is simple to replace. Joining them is certainly no problem.

You are over complicating the thought process of what you need to do.

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post #8 of 29 Old 09-17-2015, 09:03 AM Thread Starter
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Stay away from any wood/wood type materials for what you describe. Use treated 2x material. Or if you just do not want to use treated, then at least use common lumber 2x.
Good point, I hadn't thought about pressure treated lumber. I suppose that will stand up better to the elements than plywood.

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You do not have to plane of tool those 2x's. Use a thin masonite ocver on top. When it goes bad it is simple to replace.
From the youtube videos (I'm a newb to this sort of thing!) I've seen, guys making benchtops with 2x's are running them through planers, which I don't have access to. And it seemed like they'd be a lot of work to hand plane. Would a 3/16" masonite top be enough to mask any thickness variation/warping in the boards? If so, I really like this idea.

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Joining them is certainly no problem.
Glue and clamp, with the benchtop's 'up' side laid down on a flat surface? With good clamping, is there any point in using screws?

I suppose I'd orient the boards to give me a 1.5" thick top (before layering 3/16" hardboard over it), rather than orient the boards vertically to make a 3.5" or 5.5" thick top. Speaking of, is there any reason to prefer 2x4 over 2x6 for the top? I'm thinking 2x6 will require fewer boards to make a 24-28" deep top, and thus less gluing.

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You are over complicating the thought process of what you need to do.
Well, that's a newb fer ya!
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post #9 of 29 Old 09-17-2015, 12:20 PM
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If you cover the top with Masonite, make sure you buy Tempered Masonite. It is much more durable.
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post #10 of 29 Old 09-17-2015, 01:50 PM
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You could save yourself a lot of trouble by buying a solid core door and paint it good to help keep moisture from ruining it. Habitat Restore has 'em cheep. I paid $8 for the one I bought. It was marked $10, but it was a discount day or something.
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post #11 of 29 Old 09-18-2015, 12:43 AM
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You could save yourself a lot of trouble by buying a solid core door and paint it good to help keep moisture from ruining it. Habitat Restore has 'em cheep. I paid $8 for the one I bought. It was marked $10, but it was a discount day or something.
This is what I'd do. I'd go with your plan of 2x4 frame and the solid core door. With a good paint job it'll last. Keep it covered when you can. When you really want to make something work you'll find a way. I don't think you're over complicating things, just thinking it through as you should. Good luck
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post #12 of 29 Old 09-18-2015, 01:05 PM
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I'd personally just treat this like any outdoor furniture. Slats instead of flats, no vertical mortises, avoid horizontal end grain. If you don't want to buck up for white oak or similar, I'd use treated #2 pine. It's not stable, so you won't really be able to expect it to be flat all the time, but it sounds like that's okay.
Something like this, though I'd probably try to cap the end grain you can see here:
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post #13 of 29 Old 09-18-2015, 04:33 PM
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I found my pics of the solid core door - before and after.

As you can see by the last picture, it gets used a lot - as an outfeed table for the saw, as an assembly table or clamping table for glue ups, or whatever I need to do. Solid and heavy.

Note that it is not even attached to the frame. I have some mdf pieces attached underneath all four sides so it sits on top of the frame cradle style.
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post #14 of 29 Old 09-18-2015, 05:13 PM
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I've got several Keter folding tables. Sams and WM had them as low as $39 last year. Easy to set up, sturdy, and easy to store.

http://www.amazon.com/Keter-17182239.../dp/B001CWX26Y
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post #15 of 29 Old 09-23-2015, 11:01 PM
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What kind of tools do you use? How sturdy of a Workbench do you require? What size? How Portable? Give us a bit more detail and I think we could come up with some plans to help you out. I KNOW I could!!!

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post #16 of 29 Old 09-24-2015, 01:55 PM Thread Starter
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You could save yourself a lot of trouble by buying a solid core door and paint it good to help keep moisture from ruining it. Habitat Restore has 'em cheep. I paid $8 for the one I bought. It was marked $10, but it was a discount day or something.
Seems prices have gone up. Solid core doors were ~$30 when I stopped by my local Habitat Restore.

And I don't have a good way of transporting something the size of a door. And HT does not cut anything for you.
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post #17 of 29 Old 09-24-2015, 02:02 PM Thread Starter
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What kind of tools do you use? How sturdy of a Workbench do you require? What size? How Portable? Give us a bit more detail and I think we could come up with some plans to help you out. I KNOW I could!!!
I actually ended up buying a used Gorilla Rack workbench on Craigslist at a very good price.


I think it will be sturdy enough for my needs. The particle board top has to go though, so I'm thinking of doubling up 3/4" plywood cut wider and deeper than the workbench frame to provide 2" of overhang on the front and sides to allow for clamping.

A solid top of glued up 2x6 boards would be nice, and some say this is easy, but can't find anyone recommending this without access to a jointer or planer or table saw. Plywood seems like the least amount of effort to get a sturdy, if not ideal, top.
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post #18 of 29 Old 09-24-2015, 05:48 PM
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MDO for the top would be very weather-resistant.

I threw together a work table out of used 2x4's - for the top I joined them from the underside with a bunch of pocket screws.
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post #19 of 29 Old 09-24-2015, 06:12 PM Thread Starter
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MDO for the top would be very weather-resistant.
MDO is pricey. I think ply or lumber with a topcoat would be sufficiently weather resistant for my purposes.

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I threw together a work table out of used 2x4's - for the top I joined them from the underside with a bunch of pocket screws.
Ha! So you joined them without glue? I hadn't thought of that, but screw joinery might be sufficiently strong for my needs - except perhaps the edges being used to clamp workpieces. Maybe if ran a bunch of screws into the those areas?

Would just need to know where the screws were in case I needed to sink dogholes or otherwise cut out portions of the top. And your method of using pocket holes as opposed to countersinking screws across the 2x4 makes it easy to remove a couple of screws if they're in the way of where you need a doghole.

Sounds like you didn't prep the boards with a jointer. Was the top fairly flat without obvious gaps?
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post #20 of 29 Old 09-24-2015, 11:45 PM
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It came out pretty flat, except for an area at one end where a couple boards had a little twist to them. It's 6' long, I just ran a line of screws at the center of each foot, alternating each set:



I didn't glue the joints since I hadn't planned on putting any real stress on it, I just wanted a heavy solid top. I didn't prep with a jointer and wouldn't have if I had one, I actually wanted the chamfered edges as part of the top to keep it rough and rustic looking.
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