Building the Ultimate Workbench

Some years ago (12 to be exact!) we ran an article on a workbench which our R&D Manager, Chris Nowlan, had built in his home garage to facilitate working on his car. We have been requested on several occasions to repeat the article for the benefit of newer readers, and as your wish is sometimes our command—here it it!

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to visit with many sports car enthusiasts in their garages (usually with attached homes) and have found most garages to be poorly equipped to handle serious mechanical rebuild or restoration projects.

I’ve also restored my share of cars, and, in the process, have graduated from the bucket of gasoline, bag of old tools school of automobile mechanics. I’ve also found that working on old sports cars is far more enjoyable when carried out in a well-lit, clean, and efficiently organized work area.

A good rugged workbench and an efficient parts washer are perhaps the two most important elements in any well-equipped hobby shop. Having priced professional parts washing equipment and a range of rugged workbenches, I realized that, short of taking out a second mortgage, I needed to develop a more economical alternative.

The workbench/parts washing combination described below has served me well for a considerable number of years. The key design elements of the parts washer were “borrowed” from production parts washers then on the market, while the bench is typical of designs found in home handyman books. The beauty of this particular combination is that when the parts washer is not in use, it is truly out of the way, and the flush-fitting cover allows for full use of the work bench top.

When in use, there is ample room to park both washed and unwashed components. Incidentally, I’ve found that my wife’s shallow baking trays are great for drying parts and prevent excess solvent from soaking into the bench top. (However, once returned to the kitchen, they tend to impart a mild repair shop aroma to her Christmas cookies!)

The sturdiness of the bench itself might appear to be overkill, but I’ve found it provides the necessary rigidity for working on heavy items, or when putting my oversized bench vice through exciting maneuvers. This particular bench is also freestanding and is now in its second home. The backsplash has made my day, on more than one occasion, in keeping all those little balls and springs, etc., from rolling down the back side! I finished off the plywood top with tempered masonite, which is smooth, relatively durable, and easy to keep clean. While the masonite itself is glued in place, the oak edge is attached with screws to allow for removal and easy replacement of the cemented masonite. The edge trim screws, by the way, are chrome plated TD dashboard screws and provide a nice finishing touch!

The parts washing aspect of the design is simple, yet highly effective. The water filtration system couldn’t be more efficient, as all solids and heavy greases settle to the bottom of the tank while the clean solvent floats to the surface of the water, where it is recycled. The water truly does stay put and doesn’t mix with the solvent. I’ve used my washer extensively and have never had to change the solvent or clean the tank. Since there is no filter in the conventional sense, pressure is never reduced or restricted.

The solvent reservoir is made from a cut-down 55 gallon drum. I selected one with a removable top secured by a band clamp. By removing the midsection, and rewelding with continuous bead, the resized tank can be made airtight to eliminate solvent evaporation and fumes. However, since the bottom six inches or so is filled with water, rust could become a problem. I eliminated the potential for this by finding a 55 gallon polypropylene tank liner which is easily trimmed down. These heavy plastic tank liners are used for corrosive chemicals and can be obtained from the same source as the used 55 gallon drum. A good heavy coating of Moss fuel tank slushing compound (#220-450) on the inside of the bare tank would probably also minimize the chance of rust.

The submersible pump I use was purchased as a solvent pump from an industrial supply house. Apparently, ordinary water type submersible pumps work fine—such as the type used for garden water fountains. The pump, incidentally, should deliver around 150 gallons in one hour to a height of three feet.

The sink is a basic stainless steel kitchen sink and is large enough to hold a four cylinder engine block. (How are you going to get a six cylinder L-Type engine in there, Chris?—Ed.) All drain fittings and the handheld spray washer are normal kitchen hardware, while the main solvent gooseneck and control valve were obtained from the local industrial supply house. I also wired the grounded power cord to a switch box on the front of the bench.

I had originally envisaged finishing off the base of the bench with paneled sides and framed doors. This was the main reason for leaving all the support rails flush with the bench legs. Drawers could also have been added, but the top cross rail would have to be reduced in height, which would, to a minor extent, compromise the strength of the bench.

The whole setup took a few evenings and the better part of a weekend to complete, and as I recall, the cost of lumber and parts was ultimately a fair bit more than I had originally estimated, but still far less than the cost of a separate production parts washer and bench.

All in all, this has proved to he a highly serviceable piece of equipment, has enhanced my enjoyment of working on little British cars, and was fun to build!

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