Designing A Worktable

It's time to give up whatever illusions I might have had about using my standard desk as a worktable for bookmaking, and spring for a proper table. After an afternoon of cutting paper for signatures, and/or folding, and/or gluing covers, my lower back is begging for mercy. I've tracked down the name of the carpenter who constructed the tables for BookWorks. After speaking with him and hearing that "it wouldn't be fair to quote me a price until he had a better idea of what I needed" (no doubt true, but always anxiety-inducing), I made some notes and a drawing and faxed them off to him yesterday.

I'd invited a friend to come by to help me think through my needs and how best to configure the space in my small studio (approximateloy 14 x 11 1/2 feet). It was time well spent. We agreed that the best place for the table would be against a wall that has glass doors, which I never use, to our back deck. At right angles to the worktable will be my old desk, raised to approximately the same height as the table. Thirty-eight inches seems to be the optimum height for me (I'm about 5' 5" tall). We decided the table should be 6 feet long and 3 feet wide, which will give me enough room for separate cutting and gluing stations. Like the tables at BookWorks, it will have a Formica top, which makes for a tough and an easy-clean surface. There will be two shelves below the surface that I can use for paper storage and to store some supplies (I have a cabinet with deep, wide shelves that already houses some of my decorative and text papers).

To start the process -- once I have an idea, I like to get going as soon as possible -- I headed to my local Lowe's (North Carolina-based -- as opposed to Home Depot -- for those to whom such things matter) to check out their Formica and learned that white Formica is pretty much always in stock, but other colors have to be special ordered, which drives up the cost. I would have preferred 'Mission White,' a creamy off-white that would match my desk, but white it is. I also picked up some large pavers. I needed them to be either eight inches, since my desk is 30" high. I couldn't find bricks or anything similar of that height, so I ended up with 4"-high pavers, which I'll stack, 2 under each leg of the desk. I'm actually thinking of covering them in felt or canvas or some other strong rough fabric, which should be a fairly painless task. With 8 of those babies in the trunk of my small two-seater, I felt as low to the ground as I've ever felt in that car.

Bill, the man who's going to make my table (I hope), had some questions and suggestions. Although I'll usually be standing at the table, I may sit from time to time, so he suggested that we make the table surface larger than the table base. Six inches is the standard overhang for that purpose, so the table surface will now be 42". Since it will be against the wall, he will put supports on the back, which will keep him from having to include legs in the center. Also because of the table's position, the overhang will be only on the front of the table (rather than on all four sides, as would be the case if, for example, several people would be sitting around it). The table will have casters, so that I can move it fairly easily if needed, and he tells me that the locks on the casters will keep the table immobile when I want it to be. The 38" height will, of course, include the casters. I won't need the metal devices that the BookWorks tables have to adjust their height, because mine will stay permanently at 38".

He tells me that the tabletop will be very heavy. This is not because of the Formica, which is fairly light, but because of the substrate (?) to which the Formica is affixed: two layes of MDF. Bill says that I will have lots of material left over for shelving, should I need it, since the construction for the table is, I think he said, "inherently inefficient" (gee, that's encouraging). He did a great job of answering my questions and walking me through what's entailed. He obviously knows what he's doing, and has been a pleasure to deal with. My sense is that I'll be happy working with him and he'll deliver a quality product on time. Nevertheless, my heart sank a bit when he closed our conversation by saying: "I hope you won't have sticker shock when I call you with the quote."

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