The Murphy Workbench

Viewer Project - By Duncan
Added on June 9, 2010

Duncan has submitted a Viewer Project that is a very cool idea! It’s a great way to conserve space, while avoiding the standard “wimpy workbench” problems most designs like this suffer from. Let’s check it out:

Half of my 2-car garage is available for woodworking, with that space shared either by a car or a F450 pickup when one is pulled in for servicing. A sheet of plywood on sawhorses just wasn’t tolerable any longer. Taking a cue from a long-ago city apartment, I built a Murphy bench with end vise, which stores vertically in an open box frame and pivots down for use. Not counting the end vise, the materials were less than $100 and the project only ate one weekend.

The top is a 4×8 ft sheet of 3/4 inch plywood siding ripped in half lengthwise, strips glued together with a good side up, trimmed to remove tongue and groove, then rabbeted into a 2×4 frame. Corners are mitered, doweled, screwed, and glued for strength and some semblance of workman-like appearance. Finished top dimensions are 25 x 74 inches. Since the top had to pivot and store fully within in a frame of 2×6 stock, an end vise was the only practical choice. The largest possible was a Rockler 12″ quick-release model. I made 6 x 25 inch jaws from a remnant of 2″oak. The jaws got a wiped-on Maloof-style oil finish; the bench top just a coat of clear shellac for some minimal dirt protection. While the top was sanded for cleanup of lumberyard footprints before shellacking, the final fir plywood finish is still sufficiently fuzzy that objects don’t slip around unless there’s lots of sawdust. The front bench legs are 2×4 stock fixed in position. All joints are doweled, screwed and glued and their attachment to the top is reinforced with plywood scraps. The bracing is needed not only for normal use but because the legs skid a couple of inches across the concrete in a rocking motion as the far end of the bench is raised and lowered. Ready for use, the top is 32″ above the floor, which for my height is a fair compromise for cabinet assembly and general tool use.

The storage frame, roughly 28 x 100 inches externally, is anchored to the garage floor with heavy Tapcon cement screws in holes drilled all the way through the pad to avoid bottoming. The top is screwed to the ceiling joists. Joints are screwed and reinforced with plywood. Since the finished ceiling height was another constraint, the frame end of the bench needed to ride in vertical slots so it could be lowered and the bench pivoted up into storage position while clearing shop lights and garage door opener. Slots were sized for a 36″ length of 3/4 inch black iron pipe used as an axle. The pipe goes through the sides of the bench top at the end, centered on the 2×4 edge dimension and just clearing the inside of the frame end. The length allows use as a handle on each side to help raise the bench. Slot construction was basic–a series of 7/8″ holes in line on center of the 2×6, roughed out via Sawzall and cleaned up with a router and pattern bit using tacked-on strips of scrap plywood as a guide. Two 18″ lengths of 1 1/4 steel angle iron edge and reinforce each slot, constraining the pipe to minimize any bench hang-ups (in spite of wobbles or bobbles in the slots) while raising and lowering. The steel also allows use of 1/2 inch trailer hitch pins in match-drilled holes to hold the bench end in the fully raised position. One of the pins is also used to secure the bench safely in the stored position via a hole drilled through frame and edge of bench at a convenient height. Slot length was determined by ceiling height, bench length, leg position as dictated by end vise clearance, and need for 80″ under the ends of the legs to clear a big pickup truck cab.

Since adequate mass is a key feature of a good bench and I’m a certified gray-haired geezer, a 2:1 ratio block and tackle (easily changed to 5:1 with just new pulleys) can be looped over the vise handle and ensures that I can raise and lower the bench easily. A power strip switched with shop lights is mounted on one side of the frame. The usual holes will be drilled in the top for bench dogs or other form of surface clamp as upcoming projects dictate. If bench dogs, additional 2×4 stock will be added under the top at the dog holes to allow standard length dogs. In any case the underside will remain free of drawers and the like, not only because of bench pivoting but to allow free use of clamps along both edges to secure materials and projects.


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