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View trainwreck's profile

Suggestions when you have no shop?

by trainwreck
posted 01-12-2011 08:44 PM

30 replies so far

View DonH's profile


495 posts in 3829 days

#1 posted 01-12-2011 09:04 PM

Hi – you could make a torsion box with two pieces of 3/4 MDF and 2 by lumber. with some wedges to level it over the ground it would give you a great reference for level.

It will be heavy so you do need someplace to store it and a way to move it (and keep it dry). Lighter materials would probably work but I would investigate the MDF option first as the stuff is so inherently flat and stiff.

On one of my posts I presented a mobile fold up workstation that you might want to look at – it was designed for someone without a shop and could fit your bill for some things as well.

Good luck

-- DonH Orleans Ontario

View Knothead62's profile


2600 posts in 3973 days

#2 posted 01-12-2011 09:11 PM

Bad humor- I would have my wife get a second job so I could afford to build a shop. Then she could use the shop to make my casket.
DonH has a good idea. Make something portable. Jus thought, where do you store your stuff now?

View trainwreck's profile


43 posts in 3704 days

#3 posted 01-12-2011 09:37 PM

Well, I don’t have a lot of stuff, so it’s stored in my cramped shed (8×10), and I just haul out my tools when I want to build something. I have a tote thing that I use to hold my tape measure, screws, bits, glue, etc. The circular saw, jig saw, drill, and ROS just get hauled out one by one. I do have a picnic table that doubles as a sort of work bench. It works great for cutting—I just clamp the wood to it and then clamp a square to the wood, then cut, but it sucks to build anything on it because it isn’t a level surface which makes it nearly impossible to keep square.

I’m a single mom, so my budget is limited. There are many, many days that even though I don’t “play for that team,” a wife sounds pretty good! LOL

The torsion box sounds intriguing… to check that out!

View devann's profile


2257 posts in 3705 days

#4 posted 01-12-2011 09:39 PM

What to put on the ground: Try crushed granite, it’ll pack down to a pretty hard surface. It won’t be as hard or smooth as concrete but it’s cheaper if that’s a factor. For leveling freestanding shelves and some tools I make try T-nuts with carriage bolts,
Torsion box, Mitersaw wings: I sometimes have to load up and transport my mitersaw to a jobsite so I built 8’ fence extensions for the saw. First I should mention that my mitersaw is mounted to a storebought mitersaw stand with wheels. Attach a 2x to both ends of you mitersaw so you can attach/remove the extensions. I built my extensions from a “better” grade of plywood, you don’t have to use a cabinet grade but don’t use the “cheap stuff either. MDF, while straight and stable won’t take the abuse, chips easier, and if you’re cuaght out in the rain it’s toast. Attach an adjustable leg to the near the end of the fence extension with a door hinge. The adjustable leg is made out of a 2×4 with a dado groove running lengthwise and a peice of plywood riped to fit into the groove. The adjustment comes from a carriage bolt mounted to the 2x and a slot made onto the plywood. Get you a wingnut and washer and you’re in business. Cut a block and attach to bottem of the plywood portion of the leg to keep it from sinking into the ground. I used a screw through the leg to hold the leg in a closed position while transporting. Mine are going on 4-5 years old and are holding up quite well. Remember lots of glue and use screws. I have some pictures of my rig setup and will post them when I find them. And most important, have fun, be safe!

-- Darrell, making more sawdust than I know what to do with

View Loren's profile


11027 posts in 4660 days

#5 posted 01-12-2011 09:51 PM

Hollow-core doors are pretty flat – flat enough for an assembly surface.

A solid workbench is the most essential tool in most furnituremaking. Built
right, it can double as an assembly table for modest scale furniture pieces.

My old Workmate has leveling feet on it. I don’t know if newer models do.

I’ve worked on hellish ground myself, and eventually at that crazy cabin
I put in two patios with concrete pavers (about $1 a square foot) and
eventually built a wooden deck for my tablesaw. I made my living for
several years with an indoor-outdoor shop at that place.

View trainwreck's profile


43 posts in 3704 days

#6 posted 01-12-2011 10:07 PM

Yeah…I think in a couple years when I have a garage, one of my first things will be to build a torsion box work bench. I’m almost wondering if I could get by with just a sheet of MDF clamped to my picnic table. My issues are all with assembly and not having a flat surface to work on. I may just try that, and if it doesn’t work, that sheet of MDF can become part of the torsion box.

My dad had an old Workmate. I wonder if that’s still in his garage. I may just have to play the “daddy’s little girl” card (never mind that I’m 40! It still works!) and bring it home with me! LOL

Would it work to make a torsion box with folding legs? (like a card table). I could put some of those leveling thingies like for a washer or dryer on the legs to level it out.

View b2rtch's profile


4921 posts in 4060 days

#7 posted 01-12-2011 10:19 PM

move into your neighbor’s garage
Seriously , make some kind of assembly table, it does not needtbe pretty but to be large and stout.

-- Bert

View DonH's profile


495 posts in 3829 days

#8 posted 01-12-2011 10:27 PM

A torsion box with folded legs would work fine. On the other hand as per Loren’s suggestion, a door is good as a first step and a lot lighter. I have often used a 32 inch door on a pair of saw horses as a work bench outdoors for really dirty jobs and that works fine. Just shim the saw horses to level. Upon reflection my suggestion of the torsion box may be overkill. Try the door and go from there.


-- DonH Orleans Ontario

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 3996 days

#9 posted 01-12-2011 10:29 PM

Your best bet may be to attach a fold down workbench to the side of your shed. Easy to put away and get out and would only need 2 legs to keep it level. Maybe even attach a lean to type roof off of the side of the shed to keep the sun from beating down on you while your working.
As for the daddy’s little girl card use it, its good for life. LOL

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View Dan's profile


3653 posts in 3892 days

#10 posted 01-12-2011 10:37 PM

I have a shop but due to the cold weather and no heat in the shop I have had to move a lot of my work inside my house. I will do my gluing, clamping and other bench work like that on my kitchen table. I have a sheet of MDF that I put over the table to protect it. Can be a little messy but it works.

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 3983 days

#11 posted 01-12-2011 10:57 PM

I see you’re in MN so outdoors is a challenge this time of year. The hollow core door on saw horses is a dandy way to start. I made a couple of those when I built my house 30 years ago and still use them. You can sometimes pick up one those doors at salvage places for almost nothing; especially when they get a ding or hole poked in them. You only need one good side to use as a work surface.

It’s also a good idea to cover the working surface of the door with 1/4” or 3/8” MDF to make it more durable. 3/4” MDF will work for sure, but it is very, very heavy. I like to seal the MDF with a couple of coats of BLO (boiled linseed oil) and varnish or polyurethane so it won’t soak up moisture and swell up. The BLO mixture is better in my opinion as it’s not too slick.

View GMman's profile


3902 posts in 4710 days

#12 posted 01-12-2011 10:57 PM

Get one of those canvas car garage they are cheap and very easy to put up.
You my have to level the ground 1st.

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3879 days

#13 posted 01-12-2011 11:29 PM

Pour you a concrete pad that you could work on. In the mean time work on that. Next step put up some posts and a roof to keep the sun and rain off. Work under that for a while. Then put three walls on it and work in that for while. Finally, finish the fourth side with walk through and roll up door. After that your all most there. You could do it over three or four years and always be moving towards a finished shop.

I worked in my carport (which is now my shop), my driveway, and in the back yard for a good many years. I’m 60 now. It was only six maybe seven years ago that I finally closed in my carport. There was an old two door wardrobe under the carport that I kept my tools in. You do what you have to do.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3879 days

#14 posted 01-12-2011 11:45 PM

Like Dan said, my wife would occasionally let me do some work in the kitchen when it was really cold outside.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Knothead62's profile


2600 posts in 3973 days

#15 posted 01-12-2011 11:49 PM

Single mom???? OK, forget my bad attempt at humor! With all the folks here on LJs, we’ll come up with a bunch of solutions. Just pick the one that fits the need. Let us know how things work out.
FWIW, I read somewhere many years ago that Howard Hughes made his first million selling oilfield equipment from the back of his Model A Ford.

View trainwreck's profile


43 posts in 3704 days

#16 posted 01-13-2011 12:09 AM

The bad humor is all good. I grew up with a father who owned a gas station/shop. I can talk locker room with the best of them!

I like lots of the ideas given! I’ll start with freecycling a door and go from there! (Always start with the cheapest fix!)

Thanks, guys!

View Furnitude's profile


380 posts in 4519 days

#17 posted 01-13-2011 12:27 AM

Hi trainwreck,
I would first ask what you plan to build. If you are building smaller things, then you don’t necessarily need huge tools. You also don’t need every tool in the book—just the ones you will use. I would also ask about your proficiency and interest in hand tools. If those are strong, then you can do a lot with just a workbench. I was in a similar situation once. Living in a 600 sq ft apartment in NYC, I made several pieces of furniture and smaller items. When I had to make noise—hammering chisels to chop mortises—I actually went out to Central Park, clamped the wood to a park bench and went at it. I got quite an audience! I’m also intrigued by this 8X10 shed. If you take absolutely everything out of it that you don’t need and take out everything there just for storage, how much room does that leave you? I’ll bet if you got creative with storage—even using the ceiling—you might just be able to have enough usable space to make some stuff. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Good luck to you!

-- Mitch, Also blog at

View trainwreck's profile


43 posts in 3704 days

#18 posted 01-13-2011 01:38 AM

No room in the shed for sure. And yeah… I know I don’t need fancy tools to do what I want. My to build list includes a media cabinet, an armoire, a train table for a friend’s son, and a coffee table. There aren’t any tools I truly need-I have the basics. I mean, a finish nailer would be nice, as would a miter saw and a router, but anything else I’m better off borrowing.

I pretty much stick with simple designs, but I’m comfortable with power tools and not afraid to alter plans or make my own. I made a spacesaver for over my son’s toilet with no plans, and I’ll post pics as soon as I’m in front of my computer again. I also only build when the weather is nice, thought I’ve been tempted to pick up a painter’s cloth so I could take over my living room.

View Russ's profile


357 posts in 4089 days

#19 posted 01-13-2011 06:14 AM

I would go with the hollow core door idea and a couple of good wood saw horses. As others have said they can be gotten cheap like at Habitat Restore (if you have one near by). Solid core also make a great work bench but is much heavier. If you find yourself in the position Skil has their X-Bench that can be leveled and provides alot of versatility and folds up nicely.

-- Russ

View William's profile


9950 posts in 3854 days

#20 posted 01-13-2011 06:27 AM

Don’t feel bad that you don’t have a shop. I have a huge shop, but still have to assembly everything on an assembly table. My concrete floor has more waves in it than the ocean. So just because you have a shop doesn’t always mean you have a level, flat floor to work on. If I understand your situation correctly, a set of sawhoreses with a door on it sound like your best bet. It not only give you a flat surface to work on, but can be easily transported back into the garage, basement, or wherever you decide to store it at when not being used. My only thing to add to that is that, if you are working on something very heavy, make sure that you either have sturdy lumber between the door and saw horses for support, or that the horses are under both sides of the actual project. If not, then if it has enough heft, the project can bow the door between the saw horses and compound your problems to no better than working on an unlevel ground.


View ChrisCarr's profile


196 posts in 3911 days

#21 posted 01-13-2011 06:41 AM

If you don’t have shop you can still do great things, just look at job-site carpenters! :P

View Robinson's profile


52 posts in 3705 days

#22 posted 01-13-2011 06:43 AM

I have a couple of shops. One is my woodshop (currently about 1400 sq. ft.) and the other is my farm/ mechanics/Metalworking shop (36’ x 50’). Still, I have long wanted a maintenance / wood shop built in an enclosed trailer. I have 20 structures here on this farm and a couple in the next county. I have gotten rid of a couple of rentals which was what originally made me want a trailer shop but I still feel one would be extremely useful for me. I would pull it to the place I want to work and park it until that project was done. I am considering gutting an old 24’ travel trailer we have and building a shop in it. In my case it would be more of a carpentry and repair shop but it could just as easily be a furniture making shop if well planned. I would make a larger door in it (4’ minimum) and maybe a fold up/down deck for working outside of it in decent weather. The deck would match the trailer floor.
An old travel trailer with a rough interior but looking decent on the outside can often be bought for a couple of hundred dollars. Some communities that might fuss about a shed will often ignore a “decent” looking travel trailer parked on the lot. If you rent, just move it when you move… Years ago I had an old 48 passenger school bus I used for that kind of stuff a little.

-- Francis Robinson, Central Indiana, USA - - Shopsmith fanatic

View Alongiron's profile


654 posts in 3705 days

#23 posted 01-13-2011 06:48 AM

Do you have basemenrt? If not I had a friend of mine that rented a storage unit in town until he built his shop. It had electricity in it and it worked out great. It was about 16 foot square and cost him about $75 a month. My shop costs me about $70 per month for heat and electricity. Something to think about. Good Luck

-- Measure twice and cut once.....sneak up on it! Steve Lien

View trainwreck's profile


43 posts in 3704 days

#24 posted 01-13-2011 02:53 PM

SO many awesome ideas! I have a couple of old metal folding saw horses, so finding an old hollow core door to use as an assembly table should be easy to do, and would store nicely in my shed when I’m done. The door would also be easy enough for me to carry by myself. I know this because I’ve taken my son’s bedroom door off the hinges enough times because he’s slammed it! (You aren’t allowed to slam doors in MY house LOL. Slam it, and you lose the privilege of having it!)

Off to look for pics of my completed projects so far…....I’ve made a spacesaver for over my son’s toilet and a bench for my entry to store shoes and have a place to sit down to put them on.

View racerglen's profile


3112 posts in 3793 days

#25 posted 01-13-2011 03:12 PM

Dad’s Workmate’s probably the quickest and easiest start as you move away from the neighbour’s patio.. That’s all I had for about ten years and a lot of the time it was set up in the kitchen !
somewhere I have a photo of the first son, in his Osh Kosh overalls, with a hammer, happily playing inside the thing while mom made dinner. Then make your way through the great ideas posted above..After all IT’S WINTER !


-- Glen, B.C. Canada

View rance's profile


4277 posts in 4173 days

#26 posted 01-13-2011 03:13 PM

Uneven ground? Build yourself a three-legged table, or bench and it will NEVER rock. BTW, I like your parenting techniques. :) Stand firm.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View moosewoodworking's profile


1 post in 3704 days

#27 posted 01-13-2011 03:33 PM

to get a level area-why not level the ground off and use maybe patio blocks or paver blocks down so that you have a flat service to start with-you could even go with a little concrete pad. Either way-you will have a flat surface to start with. Good luck!

View Knothead62's profile


2600 posts in 3973 days

#28 posted 01-13-2011 04:04 PM

Trainwreck, write down all the ideas on pieces of paper and draw one from a wastebasket. So many great ideas from so many great people.

View OleGrump's profile


579 posts in 1357 days

#29 posted 08-06-2017 03:02 PM

My very first workbench was of the fold-down variety, and it worked very well. There are a LOT of good ideas here on LJ as well as on YouTube. Take a look at some of these, and decide what design works for you. Yes, some folks get quite knotted about vises, but don’t sweat about them just vet. You will be surprised at what you can do with bench dogs, bench stops, some holes and a couple of wedges. Seriously. These are not techniques for “Ye olde Work Shoppe” , they are quick and practical solutions to holding material. (again, search here and on YouTube) Best of all, you can make them out of scrap pieces, so your only investment is a little bit of time when you have it. Then you can use your horses and hollow core door as an assembly table for your pieces. I hope you’ll let us know how you get on with your woodworking. Kudos to you for doing wood projects on top of being a single mom !!!

-- OleGrump

View Planeman40's profile


1536 posts in 3773 days

#30 posted 08-06-2017 03:35 PM

Take heart in a number of Lumberjocks like you who have limited space and see what they have and what they accomplish. It is talent and ability more than space and machines.

-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

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