Suggestions when you have no shop?

  • Advertise with us

« back to Focus on the Workspace forum

Forum topic by trainwreck posted 01-12-2011 08:44 PM 2029 views 0 times favorited 30 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View trainwreck's profile


43 posts in 3658 days

01-12-2011 08:44 PM

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?

30 replies so far

View DonH's profile


495 posts in 3784 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 3928 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 3658 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 3659 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


10917 posts in 4615 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 3658 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 4015 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 3784 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 3950 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 3847 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 3938 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 4664 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 3833 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 3833 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 3928 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.

showing 1 through 15 of 30 replies

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics