The Wired Workbench

In a modern shop, a lot of work gets done with power tools such as routers, biscuit joiners, and random-orbit sanders. But most of us use them on benches designed around handplaning, which means everything from the height to the mass to the vises and benchdogs is geared toward handtool use.

So the editors at Fine Woodworking decided to build a bench designed for power tools. They posted a blog on www. FineWoodworking.com, asking readers what they thought a “wired workbench” should be. A lot of great suggestions came in, and being a veteran of the shop and an inveterate inventor, I was given the task of distilling readers’ ideas into a user-friendly whole. Power tools need electricity to run and they make dust by the fistful. So most people agreed that the first thing this bench needed was a built-in source of electricity and dust collection. I kept things simple by attaching a commercially available automated vacuum outlet, the iVAC switch box, that turns on the dust collection when you power up the tool. And I made room in the base for both a shop vacuum and an Oneida Dust Deputy, a miniature cyclone that has proven its value trapping the fine dust (and all of the chips) before it gets to the vacuum and clogs the filter.

 

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Build the base first
Rather than fill the interior with drawers, we designed it to hide and muffle a shop vacuum and hold a dust separator. Construction is simple and solid: 3⁄4-in. plywood and drywall screws.

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This wired workbench also is taller (38 in. total) than traditional benches, moving the tool and the workpiece up to a height where you have better vision and control. It’s wider, too, but not as long. I got rid of the traditional front and tail vises, opting for a simple but effective clamping system made from two pipe clamps.

The benchdogs have soft heads that hold workpieces firmly, but won’t dent or mar them. And there are locking casters underneath to make the bench mobile. Finally, the wired workbench is much easier to make than a big, heavy traditional bench. Because it won’t take the forces ahand-tool bench does, the entire bench is made from plywood. And there is no complicated joinery, just butt joints held together by screws. Where they show, I’ve used stainlesssteel deck screws and finish washers for a clean, modern look.

 

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Get a third hand for assembly. White used a simple plywood corner block to hold parts still and square to one another while he drove in screws.

 

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Add aprons for stiffness. Screw through the face into the cleats. On the cyclone end, predrill holes for the vacuum hose and power cords with a circle cutter.

 

Mini-cyclone drops dust into a bin
A mini-cyclone separates chips and dust out of the vacuum’s
airfl ow, dropping them into an easy-to-empty dust bin below.

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My Woodworking Guru – The base is a dust collector

It’s not too difficult to cut accurate parts from plywood. I put the vacuum and the mini-cyclone in the base for two reasons: First, enclosing the vacuum muffles it. Second, it makes the bench a self-contained unit. There’s no vacuum trailing behind it like a baby elephant behind its mother. Start assembling the base with the bottom panel, predrilling holes for the casters. Then attach the front panel to the bottom. Screw the interior divider to the base and then to the front panel.

Next, attach the back panel to the base and divider, but before you do, drill the ventilation hole (the power cord for the iVAC switch also passes through this hole). An apron runs across the top of the door opening at both ends of the base. Each apron is screwed to plywood cleats. The top cleat attaches the top assembly. The side cleats serve as door stops. After assembling the aprons and cleats, screw them between the front and back panels.

Then turn over the base and bolt the casters to it. Flip the cabinet back over and install the doors. Attach the lower door stops to the sides of the cabinet and to the bottom panel. Then screw the pivoting door “locks” to the apron.

Weatherstripping makes an airtight seal. Miter the corners with a chisel after you apply the stripping, and glue the corners together with cyanoacrylate glue.

Put the Deputy on the case. To create an airtight seal, apply a bead of acrylic caulk to the mini-cyclone’s flange before putting it on the bin.

Connect the vacuum to the mini-cyclone. A 90° elbow makes the tight turn under the bench’s top without restricting airflow like a crimped hose would.

Layered top has room for clamps
This plywood top assembly has a clamping system built into it. The layered construction makes it easy to create tongued channels for the sliding benchdog blocks and a cavity for the pipe clamps.

Collect the dust in an airtight box
The Dust Deputy is a plastic cyclone typically attached to the lid of a 5-gallon bucket, which collects the chips and dust when they fall out of the cyclone. But such an assembly is too tall to fit inside the base cabinet, so I came up with another way to collect the debris. Of course, that meant overcoming a big challenge, because for the cyclone to work properly, the box needs to be airtight. Fortunately, I found an easy way to do that, because—and this is the cool part—you don’t need any special tools or materials to make it.

The cyclone sits on top of a box, and inside the box is a removable drawer that catches the dust and chips. When it is full, you just open the box, pull out the drawer, dump it in a trash can, and put it back in. The butt joints in the box are tight enough to prevent airflow, and the door can be used to create a tight seal around the opening. Just apply foam gasket—the kind used for weatherstripping on entry doors—around the opening for the door, mitering the corners and gluing them together using cyanoacrylate glue.

When the door closes against the gasket, it creates an airtight seal. To fine-tune how much the door compresses the gasket, I drove two drywall screws into the back of the outer dust bin. Adjusting the screws in and out moves the box farther from and closer to the door and compresses the gasket less or more.

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