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So I'm a newbie woodworker building furniture from dimensional lumber. I don't have a garage, so I haul my tools outside to build. Not a huge deal when making cuts or sanding or finishing, but it's a monstrous pain in my backside to put this stuff together and get it square. The ground is not level, so I basically end up carting everything to my neighbor's patio since it's concrete and level. Thankfully, they don't mind and quite enjoy the entertainment. My question is is there something I can do or put down on the ground or my picnic table to make this easier?
 

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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
 

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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?
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
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…..off to check that out!
 

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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!
 

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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.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
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.
 

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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.

Don
 

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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
 

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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.
 

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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.
 

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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.
 

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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.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
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!
 

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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!
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
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.
 

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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. http://www.amazon.com/Skil-3100-12-X-Bench-Workstation/dp/B0010ODQ1U/ref=reghu-rdadd1dp_T2
 
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