Workbench design question

I have checked google groups, and now own a copy of The Workbench Book, but I can't find exactly the answer I'm looking for. I will have the chance this summer (finally) to renovate my shop, which is a 12'x12' space with about 7' celings. One of my plans is to install a real bench, to replace the 9/16" piece of melamine covered particle board sitting on rickety sawhorses that I am currently using.
What I would like to do is build a run of plywood cabinets, just like you would use in a kitchen. I am planning to set them a few inches off the floor to make a toe-kick area. My idea is to have about five feet of 24" deep cabinets on the left and three feet of 36" deep cabinets on the right. The top will thus give me an L-shaped work surface. For a top, I had been thinking two pieces of 1" plywood one on top of the other, but some reading on the group has convinced me that a solid core door might be an easier idea.
I want to do this because it will kill several birds with one stone. I will get a decent bench out of it. I will also get lots of under-bench storage space, which is at a premium in my 12'x12' shop. I will also get practice in building plywood cabinets, which is good since items on my Real Soon Now list include a new vanity for our bathroom and a new island for our kitchen.
Okay, so the question is will this work? My gut is telling me that if I build the cabinets in a modular way, from 3/4" plywood with 16" wide modules and screw them together, loads on the top will see 1.5" of wood every 16", which is roughly the same support structure as a 2x4 wall. If I also screw them into a cleat on the wall, I think the structure won't be likely to move. My gut tells me surely this will be strong enough to use as a workbench, but every bench I see in books includes massive 4x4 posts and gigantic mortise and tenon joints.
I expect to use the bench for joint making, assembly and finishing. I expect the most rigourous things it will have to stand up to are chopping hand-cut dovetails and planing nearly-finished stock (I have a jointer and thicknesser for the rough stuff).
One final question... Assuming I do this, and use a solid core door as the top, I will also want to put a 2x4 skirt around the top so I will have a place to install a vise. Do I then need a solid wood door, so I'll have something to fix the skirt to? I think if the door is particle board or plywood on the inside, once I do my L-shaped cut out, the inside of the door won't hold screws, or glue, or anything.
Ken
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I think that you are overthinking this a little Ken.
I have built many benches with plywood tops. Many of them were built onto metal or two by four frames. I always built a solid framework of two by fours to put the top on. This was simply the straightest two by fours that were arranged in an overlapping grid pattern with lap joints.
Anything that is screwed (and/or glued) to this platform is solid. I also like to put some hardboard over it so it can be swapped out when it gets damaged.
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Ken: In a small shop you'll need to preserve as much floorspace as practical. That involves making use of the walls as much as floors. Have you considered a folding bench that allows bench space; or freed-up floor space when needed. I built a folding bench a couple of years ago that incorporated a home made end vice for clamping large stock. I use this in conjunction with a framed plywood panel that I can place on sawhorses for assembly work. When I don't need as much (or any) bench space both can disappear onto the wall.
I'll post a pic on abpw for your info.
RonB

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The 4-by M&T benches I think you're referring to were probably all meant to be free standing benches, were they not? In addition to strength the beefy timbers give the unanchored bench mass and weight with which to resist planing, etc. So I think you may safely discount all of that for your wall mounted cabinet-benches.
Plywood boxes with tops made of plywood, a door, or MDF/hardboard sandwiches will bear far more load than you'll ever place on them. And when you anchor it to a wall it'll never move.
The minute you cut that solid core door into an L shape you're going to be sorry. I would instead use multiple layers of 3/4 plywood for the top. Since you're only looking at 2'x 3' and 2'x 5' tops anyway you should have no trouble at all making them flat and your cabinets level.
J.
Ken McIsaac wrote:

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You already have some good advice. Here's my additional:
16" wide cabinets is too small, that will barely fit a circular saw and will use a ton of plywood. Make them wider.
You can probably get by with 1/2" ply for the sides and maybe even the floor of the cabinets if you built a little frame. I would build the frame slightly shallower than the cabinets and you have your toe-kick. Do you have a moisture issue that is making you want to keep them off the floor?
For the size tops you are going for another option is a butcher block style kitchen table. I just picked up a used oak top for $40 that was 36x60x1, I couldn't even buy plywood for that price. I'm sure you could get one cheaper since you have some time to scrounge around.
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RayV wrote:

Thanks to everybody who responded. It is great that this newsgroup exists!
The idea of a wall-mounted bench is a neat one, but unfortunately I don't have much wall. The east wall is mostly window, and there are doors in the middle of the north and south walls. The west wall I need for lumber racks. Someday I will have a bigger shop, I hope. :)

I would love to build them wider. As you say, 16" is not much storage space. Do you have a sense of how wide I can expect to make each span before I have to worry about buckling? If I go with, say, 32" cavities, would I need some sort of internal bracing in the box? I would rather err on the side of over-design than have the thing flex if I push on it or hit it with a mallet
I would build the

I don't think I have a moisture problem. In any case I'm also planning to build a little subfloor so I can level the bumpy concrete pad I currently have. (I think it is out by about 2" from east to west. My tools need awfully big shims before they stop rocking.) I wanted the toe kick because I thought it would make a more comfortable place to stand, that's all.

That's a great suggestion. I will look around and see what I can find.
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Ken McIsaac wrote:

Hinge the narrow end like a drop-down ironing board?
Bill
--
http://nmwoodworks.com/cube


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The bench pic I posted in abpw really isn't that big. It is about 20" wide x 60" long. Folded, it only sticks out about 8" from the wall. I have also seen similar bench's that hinge down on the long side. You pull them up and then drop the legs.
Remember, if you stare at someting long enough you can figure it out.
RonB

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DAGS for Sagulator, a program that answers the 'how,wide? "question.
wrote:

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I recently built a platform for my lathe over an uneven surface. I used 1.5" subflooring from Home Depot which cost me about $45 for a 4x8 sheet. That supports a 500 lb. lathe quite well.

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