Friday, May 22, 2020

Workshop 101: How to Make a Good-Enough Shop Table

If there's one thing my father always said about woodworking, it's that I'm a terrible carpenter.  Fortunately, he says lots of other things about it and along the way I've picked up a few bits.  One of the more significant ones is that you need a good surface to work from.  The ideal work surface should be sturdy enough to hold up to beating it with a hammer, tall enough to allow you to work without having to bend over uncomfortably, small enough that it gives you room to work around it, light enough that you can move it easily, and cheap enough that you won't get upset when it catches on fire (or, you know, if you spill something on it).

If you're looking for detailed plans to build the exact right workbench for your precise application, look elsewhere.  That's not really what I do.  If you're looking for a quick and dirty guide for how to wing it and end up with a table that will take a beating and not cost an arm and a leg, read on...

Step 1: Figure Out How Big Your Table Will Be.

This part's all up to you.  There are a lot of considerations.  If space is unlimited, you can save yourself a bit of trouble by making the tabletop the same size as a full sheet of plywood.  This will give you tons of work space without requiring you to cut down the sheet.  That said, unless you can set the table up so you can work on all four sides of it, chances are you won't want it to be more than about three feet wide.  Unless you're some sort of pituitary freak or NBA player or a particularly lanky Yogi, making the table wider than that means you'll have to do some awkward acrobatic stretching maneuvers to reach the far side when a vital tool or just-right part rolls beyond your reach and against the wall.

To illustrate this project, I'll be making a table that's three feet wide, four feet long, and about waist high.  I'll actually be making two of them so I can potentially set them together and have a table that's three by eight feet, or four by six feet as needed.  It opens up a world of feng shui options.

Step 2: Gather Your Materials.
  • 1 piece of 3/4" thick plywood - Anything thinner and you're making a pretty flimsy table.
  • 6 or 7 8-foot 2x4s  - This is what I needed for one of these tables.  If yours is bigger, you'll need more.
  • 1 box of 1-5/8" screws - a small box.  You'll have some left over.
  • 1 box of 3" screws - You'll have less of these left over.
  • 1 bottle of wood glue - I use Gorilla Glue because I like the sound of it.
  • cordless screwdriver - Ideally an impact driver, but I'm not going to tell you how to live.
  • saw- I used a table saw, chop saw, and a circular saw for this project, but go with what you've got.  If you plan on gritting through this project with a hand saw, skip the table tutorial and go back to working on the top of a somewhat flat rock, you neanderthal. 
Step 3: Clear Some Space to Work.

This should be easy since you don't already have a good-enough table in your way.  That said, working on the floor kinda sucks compared to working at waist height.  So this is why I tend to convert my trusty trashcan into a convenient workstation:
Work Area

Step 4: Cut Your Tabletop to Size.

If you buy your plywood from any kind of decent lumberyard or big box home improvement store, you should be able to get someone at the store to it cut to size on a panel saw.  However, if your luck is anything like mine, that tends to mean waiting around forever while the staff wanders around and tries to avoid you.  So when you get frustrated and take a full, uncut sheet home, you can try to wrestle it around on your table saw, or you can set it up on sawhorses, clamp a cutting guide in place, and make a perfectly straight cut with your circular saw.  Or you can do like me, park the truck on a bumpy hillside, slide most of the sheet out of the bed of the truck, prop one end up on a trash can, and cut it freehand because it's good enough:
Stable Table-Making Workspace

Now you've got yourself a tabletop, and that's pretty nifty:
A Table Top Alone Does Not a Table Make

Step 6: Reinforcement

Cool as it may seem, it's time to build the frame that will keep it all straight and sturdy.  Since your toes tend to stick out a bit in front of the rest of your body, you'll want the tabletop to be the widest and longest part of the table.  So in this case, we'll cut the frame parts to sit about an inch and a half away from the edge of the tabletop.  To make my life a little easier, I use my framing triangle to mark the line:
Marking the Frame Position

Since I started with a tabletop that was notionally 36" by 48," taking an inch and a half setback from either side makes for a rectangle that's 33" by 45".  When we cut our framing, we'll need a pair of pieces 33" long and another pair of pieces 42" long.  Why 42"?  Because the ends will be capped by the 33" pieces and they're each 1.5" thick.  42" plus two 1.5" widths gives us the 45" we were after.  Since your table will be a whatever size you were making, you'll have to do your own math here.  Your results may vary.

Now we'll start by placing one of the long ends.  Drawing that pencil line makes it pretty easy:

This whole thing is being fastened together with screws.  Screws are stronger than nails and I suppose they'll make the table easier to disassemble.  That said, we're also going to glue everything together for added strength and because, let's face it, you'll never get around to taking the table apart anyway.

NOTE: It's a little-known fact that Gorilla Glue is activated by moisture.  I say "little-known" because it's explicitly mentioned in the instructions on the side of the bottle and nobody ever reads the instructions on a bottle of glue.  To that end, I dab the surface with a damp rag (or the filthiest wet paper towel within reach) before laying down a bead of glue and screwing the pieces together.
Dirty Dirty Wet Rag

The water activated glue will actually foam up and expand a bit as it cures.  This is why you'll want to use fasteners to keep everything in place while it does it's thing.  If you put too much glue on the mating surfaces, it will splooge its way out of the edges as it cures.  If you put too little, you'll have no way to know.  So I tend to err on the side of caution and all of my glued joints look like this the next day:
Adequate Glue Spooge

Here's another neat trick: you'll notice that I'm doing this all upside-down.  In order to get the screws where I want them without any guesswork, I start by using them to poke guide holes through the tabletop:
Poking Holes

Then I set the frame parts in place and run the screws in from the bottom (which will become the top once it's all said and done).
My dog Tiki is not impressed.

All four sides go together pretty much the same way.  The corners get screwed together too.

The point of the framing is to reinforce the tabletop so that it isn't just a floppy piece of plywood tacked onto the top of some sticks, while still keeping it lighter than a four-inch thick slab of laminated wood.  So because lumber is cheap* and I want this thing sturdy enough that I don't have to think about it, we'll add a third rib lengthwise down the middle.  Since I have absolutely no confidence in the straightness of my lumber, the accuracy of my cuts, or the squareness of my layout, I just cut the piece to fit whatever measurement I ended up with when it was all slapped together:
Measuring for Middle Rib

Once that piece is cut, glued, and screwed in place, we now have a very sturdy tabletop that just needs something to hold it up at the right height.  Especially if I ever want to use that trashcan again.

Step 7: Get You Some Legs.

In this case, I wanted the tabletop be be just about as high as my waist.  That way I can stand and work comfortably at the table or I can sit on a shop stool and work comfortably.  I'm a little on the short side, so waist-high means about 36 inches (your own waist may vary).  Subtracting the 3/4" thickness of the tabletop, that means the legs will be 35-1/4" inches long.  We'll need four of them.

It's vital that the legs all be the same length.  If your good-enough table rocks back and forth while you're working, technically it's not good-enough.  Technically it's a piece of crap.  So be sure to follow the age-old maxim of all carpenters and measure once, cut five or six times, and pick the four legs that are closest to matching.

So yeah.  Four legs of whatever length you want as long as they're all the same length.  Now in order to attach them to the framing, we'll need a way to keep them from wobbling around.  Technically, the  wobbling will also make your table a piece of crap. 

To keep the legs straight, we'll cut four pairs of plywood triangles out of whatever scrap is close at hand.
Isosceles Triangles

Next we'll go ahead and attach each pair to the inside of the framing like so:
Corner Gussets

These triangular pieces, called "gussets" if your into that sort of thing, will help keep the legs stiff and straight when you attach them.  Then the legs are glued and screwed into place:
Leg Installation

When it comes to structural design, triangles are really strong.  Those gussets will do a good job of keeping the legs straight despite whatever jackassery you do with them:
Strength Testing Legs

Now, for the first time, the whole thing can be flipped over and start to do table stuff.  Still, in the interest of sturdy, stable, table-making, it's a good idea to do something to brace the bottom of the legs so they'll want to stay straight too.  

Step 8: Frame the Bottom of the Legs

We'll start by cutting some 2x4 to connect them together.  

When you put these piece on, it's important to leave enough space underneath so your toes to bump into them when you're leaning across the table.  You may also want to consider leaving enough clearance for a broom to clean underneath (or a Roomba if you're one of those people).  To make your life easier, find a box or a block of something that's about as tall as the largest thing you won't mind losing under the table and use that to set the height of the lower rails:
Setting Height For Lower Frame

Once those get glued and screwed in place, you add a couple more rails lengthwise to the inside of the legs at the same height:
Table Done Enough

At this point I figure the table is stable and sturdy and definitely good enough to fulfill all of the vital functions integral to tables around the world.  So it seems like as good a time as any to mark it in such a way as to show it's mine:
Table Marked to Denote Ownership

A table it is, sure, but there's this big chunk of useless space underneath it.  This is a good place to take a couple more scraps of plywood and build in some reasonably heavy shelves, or a box to put useful things in, or a cup holder.  Whatever you need.  Your table(s) can be festooned with all manner of bells and whistles and painted in whatever flamboyant colors you prefer.  I'm not here to judge.  For me, a simple lower shelf was all I needed:
Finished Table

As I alluded to in the beginning of the article, I maked more than one of these tables.  Two.  I maked two.  That way I can combine their powers like Voltron to make one super table:
Two Tables


So it's not exactly rocket surgery, but if you've got a couple of nickels and an afternoon to kill, you too can have a good-enough table that you can spill paint on, drill holes in, beat with a hammer, and not care about at all.  Which is nice.

Before anybody asks me about that Boba Fett helmet in most of the photos, no, I didn't make it.  It's the surprisingly well done Black Series helmet from Hasbro.  A great deal for the price.  You can get you one here: LINK.

*Lumber is cheap.  It literally grows on trees.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Building the Morita Assault Rifles from Starship Troopers

For quite some time now I've had a prototype of this rifle kicking around my shop and getting in the way:
Morita Body Prototype in Progress

It was made from a digital model by my friend Michelle Sleeper.  You can see more of her work here: LINK.  She started with an original screen-used Morita prop and decided that it was going to take too much work to make it presentable.  Instead, she took painstaking measurements off of it and produced a nice, clean, straight, damage-free digital model which I was able to bring into the real world with my collection of CNC machines and 3D printers.  Once it was sanded smooth and painted up to be nice and shiny, it immediately got set aside so I could focus on other frivolous projects.

Then months passed.

When I finally found time to mold it, it just needed to be dusted off prior to building a mold box around it.  Then I built up a clay bed and set the rifle into the box like so:

Then the clay bed was covered with more clay to make a watertight mold wall around the rifle along its centerline.  Because I have no regard for those of you reading along at home, I neglected to take any photos of that process before I filled the mold box with silicone rubber.  Freddy helped:

When that cured, we screwed a lid down on top of it, flipped the whole arrangement over, and removed the bottom of the box.  With the clay removed, it looked like so:
Note the big lump of clay still in the mold on the far end.  That's going to form the plug for the magazine well.  It'll all make sense soon.

After spraying on a judicious coat of mold release, we filled the second half of the mold with silicone rubber:

After the second half cured, we removed the box and took out the lump of clay for the magazine well plug.  The resulting hole was sprayed with more mold release and then filled with another batch of silicone:

After that cured, the mold parts were peeled apart:

Then the molds were dusted with talcum powder:

In order to keep the weight down and to add a bit more rigidity to the resin cast, a length of PVC pipe was capped on both ends and placed into the mold:
PVC Pipe Insert Placed

Finally, everything was clamped back together and ready for casting:

Once the first cast was out of the mold, I couldn't resist the urge to cast a second rifle.  Here's the first two next to the prototype:

Here's my young friend Briar trying one on for size:

At this point I still had to mold the rest of the details and add-ons:
Bitty bits to Mold

They were all simple block molds for the most part.  Once the castings started coming out, it was time to begin assembly:
Morita Current Kit Parts Cast

Michelle even made a model of the Ruger Mini-14 action to fit into the opening at the rear of the stock:

The last piece I molded was the muzzle assembly.  It consisted of an actual M-60 flash suppressor and a magazine tube cap off of a 12-gauge shotgun fitted to a 3D printed bracket:
Muzzle Prototype Progress

So far so good:

The final parts were a piece of tubing to simulate the shotgun barrel and a hand-sculpted bracket to tie it all together:
Morita Muzzle Prototype Upright

Morita Muzzle Prototype Horizontal

Once it was all done drying, I made up another mold box and filled it with rubber:
Muzzle mold

The castings came out perfectly:

With the muzzle cast, I now had the full set of parts:
Complete Set of Morita Parts

The whole set of parts worked out to a total weight of under six and a half pounds:

Now that all of the molds were made, it was time to make more parts:
Morita Muzzle Casts

If one rifle prototype was in the way, this stack was going to become a problem:
Raw casts being prepped


Sanding off the seam lines and applying a quick bit of spot putty took no time at all:
Filling in progress

Meanwhile, I trimmed the excess resin off of all of the other parts too:
Morita Detail parts Drying

After a quick wash with warm soapy water, the parts were rinsed clean and primed.  Then they were ready for...


The receivers, buttplates, muzzles, and little details for the magazines were painted flat black to start:
Morita Painting Progress 004

The shotgun grips were given several coats of textured truck bed coating:
Morita Pump Action Grips

The main bodies of the rifles were given a couple coats of greay sealing primer:
Morita Painting Progress 003

Then they were basecoated with Flat Medium Green from Model Masters:
Painting base green

The triggers, shotgun barrel section, and the recess in the side of the butt where the receiver goes were picked out by hand with flat black paint.  Then the rest of the pieces could be glued into place:
Base paint done.

The muzzle assembly was masked off and the flash suppressor was painted in a gunmetal metallic:
Morita Assembled

At this stage, the base green was way too light.  Fortunately, the flat sheen did a great job of soaking up the blackwash.  This helped pop out the details and brought the color down to something much more screen accurate:

After a bit of silver was drybrushed onto the shotgun barrel, muzzle, and receiver, the whole thing was given a coat of matte clear for protection.

The last touch was adding...


Making a sling sounds simple enough until you take a closer look at the odd contraption that was custom-made for these rifles in the film.  I guess it's called a "safari style" sling with some garnish to make it look a little more complicated.  Here's the ingredients:
Sling Makings

Since I couldn't find flat metal sliders and tiny little carabiners in the correct black finish, I had to settle for painting them myself.  So here's step one:
Morita Sling Progress 005

The slider on the sling was this doubled-up pair of paired plastic slide loops:
Morita Sling Progress 006

The carabiner was slipped onto a piece of 3/4" nylon webbing which was then sewn onto the end of the 1-1/2" webbing the rest of the sling was made of.  There was also this weird little vestige of 1" webbing with a slide trapped on the end of it for no reason I can think of:
Morita Sling Progress 008

I ended up quitting after I'd made seven of them:
Morita Slings

With the sling attached, this project was basically finished:
Moritas Done

Moritas Done

Moritas Finished Outdoors

Most of them went to friends, but I ended up keeping two handy so I can take cool photos like this one at the Scum and Villainy Cantina in Hollywood:
Harley trooper

Otherwise, they just hang on the recently finished projects rack:
Display Rack Clutter
That's cool and all, but I've also got these other things lying around the shop, just begging for me to replicate them:
MI Armor and Helmet

I may make the carbine version of the Morita too.  Who knows?

Stay tuned for more...