Making a kitchen table from a Workmate (knock-off) and a scrap of counter top

Recently I took on the challenge of repurposing a cheap folding workbench into a side table for our kitchen to give us a little more counter space.

Previously in Making a shelf from an off-cut of kitchen counter top, I tested part of the approach and the introduction from that build outlined the background and explained why I’m doing this strange bit of *upcycling:

We had several counter top and shelving off-cuts left over from when our kitchen was built …. The melamine is an off-white colour for the cabinets and has pseudo-walnut block-board for the counter…. At Christmas I attached the biggest counter top off-cut to a Lidl PowerFix portable workbench (think Black & Decker Workmate knock-off for a tenth of the price) as an extra work table for the kitchen and it has proved so useful that it’s still there six months later complete with exposed chipboard/particle board edges!

My plan is to edge band this as a more permanent fixture and make it a little more table-like in the process.

The test shelf was successful although I had trouble matching the contour of the milled chipboard beneath the curved edge banding applied to the melamine.

Thankfully the beech I have available is in keeping with the rest of the kitchen and has that “by design” appearance in place on the test shelf.

It’s time to bite the bullet and press on with the full table.

Counter top

The counter top had been cut on all sides for some reason and I still haven’t figured out why the contractor needed to do that since this piece was simply a straight offcut from a 4m counter blank. It wasn’t square and was heavily chipped out in several places so I had no choice but to address both of those problems.

I used the tracksaw to clean up one of the long edges and then used bench dogs at 90 degrees to the cleaned up edge along with the tracksaw guide rail to square it up. I still had significant trouble with chip out of the melamine surface and ended up taking multiple runs on two sides but managed to get it clean enough to use. I really struggled with this and was not as satisfied with the results as I had been with the test shelf where I used the table saw for this job.

I suspect the chip out was just due to my inexperience at cutting this material but since it has been sitting in the sun for a couple of years, as well as getting bumped and shoved around the place each time I’ve had to move it, it’s possible that the glue laminating the melamine to the chipboard has weakened along the edges where it is exposed — that’s a plausible factor too. Let’s blame that instead of the user! ;-)

EDGING (OR LIPPING)

I don’t need much edging for this so I cut a small section from one of my rougher beech boards in order to save the better stuff for bigger furniture. The section had a significant bark inclusion to work around, the edge of a burl and some figure.

The downside of using up one of my rough boards is that it has more ripples than a Viennetta and had to be planed down significantly. It also sprang out of square when it was rip cut along the grain. This is due to the release of inner tensions that have built up during the tree’s life as the wood grew and moved in reaction to its environment. It ended up at just 21mm thick after starting out with some sections being 35mm thick. The frustrating riving knife on my table saw really didn’t help here either. It’s a bad design and is difficult to keep it aligned with the blade. I ruined one of the long rip cuts as the riving knife pushed the timber away from the blade causing a slight curve. Luckily the plan is to fit these over sized and plane them down afterwards but it made it more difficult to position the mounting dowels.

joinery

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The edging is glued into position and biscuits provide alignment, has mitered corners and after fixture each corner is splined with a contrasting timber.

An additional challenge was dealing with the inaccuracy of the cheap Parkside mitre saw I was using for the cross cuts. I fitted a CMT blade (worth as much as the saw), which gives perfectly clean cuts in the hard beech but the saw kept drifting off 45 degrees - the angle detents and the thumb operated table clamping grub screw on the Parkside saw simply cannot be trusted. These saws are fine for rough stuff like framing and decking but not for anything requiring real accuracy. You get what you pay for.

I used the Axminster No. 1 jig to drill the dowel holes for my test shelf. It’s useful in that it lets you clamp and drill both workpieces simultaneously but is slightly inaccurate and has a fixed distance from the holes to the edge of the workpiece.

I have another dowel jig from Banggood.com. This one is self-centering and I planned on using this for this table but I changed my mind to used biscuits instead at the last minute.

This u-turn came about when I realised that it would be complicated to drill the dowel holes in the correct positions on both workpieces when I needed to cut each of the mitred corners in sequence, in conjunction with fitting the given piece. There’s loads of glue area so I have no concerns about the reduced strength of the biscuits versus dowels.

I started with one of the short sides, used masking tape to mark up the counter top and edging for the biscuit jointer (or biscuit “joiner” if you prefer), and then I cut size 20 biscuit holes in both faces. I put the biscuits in place, dry fitted the edging and marked up the mitre positions for both ends. I cut one mitre only, dry fit again to check the other position, before gradually sneaking up on the second mitre cut, shaving off a tiny amount of material at a time until it was right. Then I applied a generous and even layer of glue to both surfaces and within the biscuit mortises before clamping with parallel clamps. To complete the edging glue up, I worked my way around the entire table top repeating that process, taking extra care to ensure to choose the best looking top surface for each of the edging pieces.

SPLINES & Planing

Using a biscuit jointer to cut spline mortises is something that had not occurred to me before July 2019!

I stumbled across Jason Bent’s quick tip on the subject and immediately heard the sound of a donkey braying inside my head at overlooking something so obvious. I set the fence height of the biscuit jointer to about 50% of the height of my edging. Then I ran some masking tape on the melamine near each corner and used a square to mark a 45 degree line straight in from the corner. I set the biscuit jointer to “M” size to achieve the deepest cut possible, then lined up the fence with my 45 degree lines and made each cut. The results were great, the only improvement would be to use a blade with a flat raking tooth to avoid the slight “V” shape in the cut profile.

My Dad gave me a few short pieces of Burmese teak left over from building a yacht in the 1980s, and I cut a strip from one of these for the splines using my crosscut sled, leaving a snug fit that required a mallet tap or two to seat properly. I worked around the table from one corner to the next, gluing in the spline strip and cutting off the excess with a flush cut saw.

Next it was time to level off the edging flush to the melamine top. I had to be careful not to touch the melamine with a blade or sandpaper. Rather than planing, I covered the melamine near the edges with 60mm masking tape and used my random orbit sander from 80 through to 240 grit to bring the edges flush-ish. I lazed out a little and stopped short from getting it perfect because other chores were stacking up.

Finishing Up

I planed a small chamfer around all of the table edges and lightly rounded over the vertical seam of each mitred joint to mitigate the inevitable head bump further down the line. Then I applied four coats of worktop oil to the edging, denibbing with 240 grit sandpaper between each coat.

I remounted the table top on to the knockoff Parkside “Workmate” and it’s back in the kitchen and in use. It’s sits well in the kitchen and is sufficiently small to be unobtrusive in the space.

Follow up plans are to make legs for this little table reasonably promptly because I’m still undecided about the workbench base. I need to mount the test shelf either below the table as part of the new leg base or on one of the kitchen walls, and lastly I need to create another shelf from the last remaining scrap piece of counter top.


*Upcycling: the process whereby a hipster ruins an otherwise restorable piece of furniture and charges an exorbitant rate for the result. Only joking - as with all things, there’s a spectrum from that negative definition to those who not only rescue pieces by giving them a new lease of life but create something interesting and original in the process.