Build Your Own Workspace

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Written by Joe Vermillion Start your next construction project on a level surface Feature As seen in the October 2019 issue of Model Aviation.
build your own workspace

One question I am frequently asked is, "How do I set up my building table?" Here is an easy and inexpensive way to set up your building table that will last you for years and help produce models that are perfectly straight with no surface warping.

The most important thing to know before we move on is that your building surface must be completely flat. A building surface that is not perfectly flat will result in models that have warped surfaces, which will, in turn, result in poorly flying airframes. Nobody wants that. The list of things you will need is readily available from your local hardware or "big box" retail center and will not hurt your wallet too much.

a hollow core door was purchased at the author local big box store
01. A hollow-core door was purchased at the author’s local big box store.
laid out the foot bracing on the bottom
02. This shows that the author laid out the 1 × 6-foot bracing on the bottom.

To start, when you are selecting the hollow-core door, take a close look at it in the store to ensure that it is the straightest one you can get from the rack. Many of these doors will have some warping, and you want to make sure you start with a good base for your build surface.

The drywall is simply a typical sheet of 4 × 8-foot drywall and doesn’t need to be anything fancy. After all, we will just fill it full of holes. Make sure that you don’t accidentally purchase cement board. This material will be too hard for you to get your building pins into after you start your build.

When choosing the 1 × 6-foot boards, again try to find the straightest ones you can. This can be quite a challenge at most stores, but take your time and select two that are the best. Again, these don’t need to be the most expensive boards on the rack.

For the wood glue, clamps, weight, optional contact adhesive, and optional duct tape, simply use whatever you have or are used to working with.

The next most important piece is going to be a good metal straightedge. Use this to make sure that after you have everything put together, it is perfectly level. This step is critical, so if you must spend a little more money to purchase a good straightedge, I would suggest doing so. As you move forward into building more airframes, this is a tool you will use often, so don’t be afraid to spend a little more on this item.

you can use the leftover pieces to help evenly space the bracing
03. You can use the leftover pieces to help evenly space the bracing.
spread the glue evenly for a solid base
04. Spread the glue evenly for a solid base.
clamp and weight down
05. Clamp and weight down the 1 × 6 wood and allow plenty of time for the glue to set.
solid machine blocks work great for weighing down
06. Solid machine blocks work great for weighing down the wood for setting.
improvised sand bags made from sandwich bags
07. Improvised sand bags made from sandwich bags and play sand also make great weights.
make sure you use a solid straightedge to check the flatness
08. Make sure you use a solid straightedge to check the flatness of your building surface. This is the most critical step!
the author needed to make some shims
09. The author needed to make some shims to shore up the entire build surface and ensure that it was perfectly flat.
set the drywall in place and tape the edges if desired
10. Set the drywall in place and tape the edges if desired. This is an optional step but it will make the edges last longer.

Let’s get started on setting this bad boy up! You want to start by cutting your drywall down to the same size as your door. In my case, I grabbed a door that was 28 × 80 inches, so I needed to cut my drywall to that size. If you have never worked with drywall, it’s simple to cut. Just make your marks and use your metal straightedge to score the drywall with a typical razor knife.

After you have scored it, snap it at the score lines and cut the paper on the other side of the line. It’s slightly messy from all of the drywall dust, but very easy to make the cuts on.

One of the items on the materials list was optional duct tape. It comes in handy to use the tape to seal the edges of the drywall after you have made your cuts. This decreases the mess in the shop and protects the edges of the drywall from getting broken throughout years of use. This step is optional, but I feel that the benefits outweigh the time needed to perform this step.

Next, cut the 1 × 6-foot boards to the width of the door you chose. I cut them to the 28-inch width of my door. Quick tip: save your scrap pieces for placement. After you have them all cut (I was able to get six pieces), you want to lay them out on the back of your door. These will help strengthen the door and keep it from warping in the future.

the building board is set and ready for your first project
The building board is set and ready for your first project!

Lay them out on the back of the door and mark their locations on the door so that when you glue them down you have a reference line. If you lay out the end, then use the scrap pieces you had left over, you can make sure that the scrap is the same length and use those for spacing between your baseboards.

After you have all of your boards cut and set up the way you like, it’s time to glue them down with some regular wood glue. Spread the glue out evenly on the boards and place them using your reference lines. Clamp these in place and weigh them down against the door to make sure you don’t create any warping. I used some sandbags that I made from regular sandwich bags and play sand. Any weight you can find to distribute evenly across the boards works fine.

At this point, I leave it alone for 24 hours so that the glue has a chance to set properly. When the glue is set up and ready to go, the next step is to flip your door over and prepare to set your top surface.

Set the drywall in place. It’s critical to ensure that the surface is perfectly level. Use your metal straightedge to sight the top to ensure that it is level. Lay the straightedge on its side along the top of the build surface and look for any gaps between the straightedge and building surface.

Make sure to check the entire surface all the way across, as well as front to back. If any gaps are visible, you can shim these areas up until they are perfectly level. I had some old 1/32-inch sheeting that was getting too brittle to use for building, so I used that to shim the drywall. You can also use old magazine pages.

The key is to make sure that there are no visible gaps between the straightedge and the build surface. Any gaps you see will transfer right into your builds and that is not a good thing. Again, this is the most critical step of this entire project.

Now that you have your build surface set up, spray a little contact adhesive on the surfaces between the drywall and door panel. This is optional, but it will keep the drywall on your door as you start building. Don’t go crazy with too much glue because at some point, several builds down the road, the drywall will need to be replaced because you have too many pinholes in it.

That’s it! Your build surface is ready for its first project! This simple, inexpensive surface will give you many years of enjoyment in your shop, knowing that your projects will be built square with zero warping.

Enjoy and happy building!

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It's probably not that important, except to those who might be physically challenged, but what thickness of drywall did you use on your table; 1/4, 3/8, 1/2, etc? Thanks, Bob

Nice article, looks like a very good build / work table. I have been using a heavy desk 3x5 ft., and it works great. Put a 3x6 ft. ½ inch piece of ply wood on it. but I was always pulling a plane off it to fix something, or there would be a second item for the build for a plane and I would need the table for the extra work on a plane It was to the point , I would not get back to the first plane I was working on. It was a bother trying to get something going again. I decided to put in a second table. I had to down size some of the junk that collected in the basement. I did that and redid the whole area to make room. I was ready to build a second build / repair table, and found a super heavy duty desk in a second hand store 3x6 ft. for $5, took it apart and put it back together in my basement. The whole story is , I really like having two building tables. If I have to fix something I don’t have to take a plane off the table to fix it, a plane, wife's thing , etc. It really is great having a second work station in my man cave.

An alternative to drywall would be Homasote. It’s much cleaner than drywall and pins go in and out easily. It’s available in 4 X 8 X1/2” sheets as well as 2 X 4 ceiling tiles. It’s also used as roadbed on model railroads.

There was no mention of how to support the door/work table. Apparently assuming builders already have a work bench. If you do not, or want more work area, one idea already mentioned is 2nd hand stores. Often old heavy duty tables are there cheap. Another method is saw horses. Most hardware/home stores have good sturdy saw horses for a reasonable price. Usually at several different heights so you can pick what works for you. Good idea is to get some construction shims when you are buying the drywall and other materials. Many floors, certainly concrete garages and basements, are not level or even. Shimming the table, sawhorses or whatever holds your bench up will make working better. Things will not roll off as easily and many measurements require a level surface. Also I prefer the green face drywall. It seems to be more durable than the regular type and cost is only a little more. MDF for the bench may be less $$ than a door.

I don't know why but I've never thought about doing this, but now I kinda want to. The way you can use wood and drywall to build a workspace, it's awesome. Thanks for sharing!

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