Space is a premium in small workshops and there are many ways to overcome the limitation space has on tool sizing. One way to fit big tools like my drill press in my garage work space is to make them mobile so they’re available when needed and can be stored when they’re not.
This project has been in the back of my mind for quite a while. You see, I have a small bench-mounted drill press that is very useful and, for some projects, necessary. The problem with it is that in my garage workshop, I don’t have a bench to mount my bench-mounted drill press to. So, every time I use it, I have to pick it up off the ground and set it up on a small portable bench, then tear it all down again when I’m done. Even if I just built a bench for it, I don’t have any wall-space left, so the bench would have to sit in the middle of the workshop taking up valuable floor space that I will probably need for something else. It’s also to my advantage to design my workspace so it’s reconfigurable since my projects range from small-scale electronics and widgets smaller than a credit card to furniture-sized constructions. What that means for a drill press is that sometimes, I may only need to have the working space of the table (that’s the suspended platform below the spindle and chuck) and other times, I’ll need several feet of space on either side. The key to make all of these things possible without turning my garage into a logistical nightmare is to make the drill press bench mobile.
I’ve made a few workbenches before and the easiest and most economical materials I know are 2x4s and plywood. As long as you have some basic dimensions in mind, 2x4s and plywood make building a bench so easy I feel like it practically builds itself. In fact, this build was made even easier because it’s based on the plans for a drill press bench I had built previously. If you have the skills, I suggest you make a sketch of the final version of anything you build because you never know when you will want to rebuild it or use the design for something else. As for the mobility portion of this design, I knew the bench would have to lock into place when I went to use it. In the planning stages, I decided against using locking casters since there is quite a bit of movement you can get out of them even if they are locked. Instead, I opted to have wheels on one side so I could tilt the bench to wheel it into place, then tilt it upright to set it down. The original plan was to put a steel rod through some of the 2x4s, hold it in with cotter pins and buy some harbor freight wheels and hold them on with washers and more cotter pins. This plan didn’t pan out because to buy the materials for that idea would only be slightly less expensive to build it myself than to buy a dolly on sale. Honestly, buying the dolly feels a little like cheating, but in spite of what you might think while reading my blog, sometimes it’s just better to let someone else do the work.
One of the big parts of designing this table is that the drill press is top-heavy and so I can’t make the table too narrow otherwise it’s at risk of falling over. To overcome this risk, I performed a tilt analysis as part of my design. Using geometry, you make some educated guesses about where the center of gravity of the table plus drill press is, then make some more educated guesses about how far the table should tilt before it falls over, then make a footprint that matches those two conditions. Because this table is designed to tilt to move, I used a scant 10 degrees as the maximum tilt angle and assumed the CG was pretty high, justifying the 24″ base.
The build process is fairly straightforward. Measure and cut the 2x4s and plywood, then make like the Avengers and assemble. I used a circular saw to make the cuts, but a chop saw would work, too if you have one. One trick when cutting lengths of material down is to cut the pieces in order from longest to shortest. In this way, if you make a mistake, you can cut the mistaken piece into the smaller pieces and still minimize waste. During assembly, I try to predrill as much as is practical. In this case, the 3″ drywall screws work best when you predrill the lumber nearest the head of the screw with an 1/8″ hole. The pilot hole allows the screw to go through at the angle exactly how you want it to and the two boards will squeeze in tight as the screws are tightened to make a solid structure. Rather than constantly swap the 1/8″ drill bit for the phillips screw attachment in my cordless drill, I had my 120V corded drill set up with the screw attachment and the cordless set up with the drill bit. It went way faster that way, but the corded drill was severely overpowered and it made the bit skip in the screw head. In retrospect, I probably should have had those two reversed so the right tool was used for the right job. Primitive Pete strikes again!
I made a lot of missteps on this build. I started with the plan to build the square top and the shelf borders first, then secure them to each other with the legs and finish with the plywood tops. As I built, I changed my mind and decided that it would be best to try to build the whole table from one side to the other starting with two legs and one quarter of the square top and shelf borders. The idea was that when the top and shelf were 3/4 built, the plywood could be put in and clamped in place with the last quarter of the platform. Instead of being the elegant solution I thought it would be, it was a disaster. Finally, I reverted back to the original plan which ended up working much much better.
I finished the table with some gray paint that I randomly chose at the hardware store. I wanted to use a neutral color that wouldn’t be overly dark or light so marks would show. I didn’t go to the store with a plan and decided while there that the middle gray color the store had chosen for their display bases was just right. All the way home from the hardware store, I wondered if I had made the right choice, but the color has worked out pretty well, so far. If I find I don’t like it as time goes on, I can always repaint it. I also used some chrome corner caps to keep from bashing knees because the top of the table is at the perfect knee-bashing height.
I’ve mounted the drill press and I’m letting the table settle into the garage space, but I don’t think it is a huge success. I think I misjudged how large the top of the table needed to be and so it takes up a considerable amount of room. Much more room than I expected. I’m seriously considering cutting it down to be much closer to just the footprint of the drill press.
Since the original posting, I’ve reduced the size of this table from the original 27″ x 27″ to a much more modest 14″ x 19″. At that size, the dolly is just the right width and there’s just enough room underneath for my toolbox. I’ve used it a couple of times so far and I’m really happy with the height and how easy it is to move around.
That was my project day!
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