Ten years ago, our family moved from the Minnesota to central Ohio. We had young kids, I was transitioning from a 9 to 5 publishing job to full-time freelancing and let’s just say, the budget was really strapped. I needed a workbench for cheap. I also didn’t have a lot of time to build it. So, I tabled those dreams of a fancy bench and drove to Lowe’s to buy my bench supplies. That amounted to a pile of 2x4s, two sheets of 3/4-in. MDF and a piece of subflooring. Oh, and some casters. I didn’t even have a clear plan for what the final bench would be, just a bigtime need.
$75 or thereabouts was a price I could handle. A bottle of glue and a box of deck screws later, I had a bench. As you can see, it’s nothing special to look at…long, wide and extremely heavy. But, it got my woodworking started again here in Ohio. I was grateful to have it.
Now, a decade has passed, and I still have the behemoth bench. In the amount of time it’s taken my oldest daughter to go from kindergarten through middle school, that bench has kept on giving. At first, it was my “everything” workstation, just as I hoped it would be. The double-thick MDF top has proven to be both durable and useful—partially because it’s so dense and knockabout. I just didn’t care if it got spilled on or banged up. It certainly has seen some abuse, and that hasn’t curbed its utility one bit.
Five years ago we moved again—this time into the country. The bench moved with us. It was never heavier than when I had to load and unload it. First from our rented moving truck into the garage. Then about a football field away into the shop. With the newer house I stepped up to a bigger shop and a “real” woodworking bench. It’s smaller and made of beech, with two proper vises. Trading up to a better bench was a good thing to do when the budget allowed it. But, honestly, I wish it were a little heavier and more sturdy…like my first bench is.
Once I had the fancy bench, I pulled the casters off of the old one and gave it a different lease on life. It became a miter saw station. And, while it’s worked in that capacity, the job change has never been ideal. It was deeper than a miter saw station should be, and there has always been a mess of offcuts underneath it. That explains why, in the current (June) issue of the Journal, I built a better miter saw station for myself.
But, once again I was left with a predicament: what to do with my “Lowe’s Special?”
In early March, I actually debated about tearing the old bench apart and getting rid of it. It seemed to have finally outlived its purpose. But, around the same time, Rob Johnstone called and gave me my next tool review assignment. While I can’t tell you more about that until the ink dries, I will say it requires a sturdy, wide, bulletproof bench to hold all of the test tools that I’ve rounded up for the story. In fact, my old MDF-and-2×4 battleship has turned out to be the perfect solution for the article. I even put the casters back on. Guess it’s on Lifetime #3 at this point.
Moral of my story: never underestimate a bench—no matter how rag-tag or “unwoodworking” it may seem. When it comes to shop furniture, you just never know when you might need an ugly duckling the most.
Catch you in the shop,
Chris Marshall, Field Editor