In this article we advise on how to go about making a portable workspace for your model building.
I suspect that most modellers dream of having a purpose built room we can go to so we can pursue our hobby in peace and quiet whenever the time allows. For most of us, this remains nothing but a dream, in fact I have met people who never do any modelling for lack of somewhere to set up.
For a long time I was in a similar situation. I did do some modelling, but much less than I would have liked because of the lack of a suitable area to do it. The only practical place was the dining table and that limited me to the time between meals. To do any modelling I had to put a cover over the table and make half a dozen trips from my bedroom wardrobe to bring out my current model, tools, lamp etc. If I needed to do any painting then I would have to bring out paints, brushes, bottles, fill up jam jars with water, grab kitchen towel and so on.
At the end of an evening, the table would be strewn with tools and bits of models that would all have to be carefully put away, or risk the chance that some small piece would never be seen again. Sometimes it seemed that I spent more time getting ready and packing up than I spent modelling.
I decided the solution was to build a portable modelling workstation. My primary aim was to end up with something that would allow me to start and stop modelling within a few minutes anywhere around the house. Cost was also an issue and I planned to try to keep the cost to a minimum by using scrap wood and other left over items that were already in the garage.
The Basic Design
The result of the project can be seen in Photo 1. Essentially it is a sheet of thin chipboard that has a narrow strip of wood around three edges to stop parts rolling off and a thick strip of wood along the back that holds tools and a magnifying lamp by means of holes drilled into it. It is quite simple and like many successful ideas I wonder why I did not think of it earlier. Nevertheless, although I would regard the workstation as a success, there are things that I would do differently if I were starting again from scratch. Indeed, I have made some modifications to my original design, so read on if you wish to learn from my mistakes.
The Design In Detail
The workstation is based on 9mm thick chipboard cut to dimensions of 85cm by 52cm. Both of these dimensions are important – the width is limited by the maximum width that would fit into my wardrobe top box and the depth is limited by the maximum width that would pass through a doorway. Remember that your workstation has to be able to be moved from room to room and put away somewhere! If I were repeating the exercise I would use MDF, or plywood that could be thinner and therefore would weigh less.
Around the edge I glued and screwed strips of 28 X 18 mm soft wood. This serves two purposes. The first is to give the work surface rigidity, the second is to stop tools and parts from rolling off the surface when it is being moved. However, I have found that the strip along the front does get in the way at times, especially when using my cutting mat and I would advise you to make this smaller, say 10 mm high at the most.
At the rear of the working surface I glued and screwed a length of 75mm X 75 mm soft wood. In fact it was a piece of left over fence post and so cost nothing. This is the key to the workstation. I have drilled almost 50 holes of various depths and diameters into this to hold the tools that I normally use (Photos 2 and 3). I initially drilled far fewer holes, but have added more as time has passed and find that I now have so many on the workstation that I rarely have to open my toolbox. The disadvantage is that now the workstation has so many tools I can barely lift it, so you will need to find the right compromise between having the tools you need to hand and keeping the weight of the workstation reasonable. The most important hole is the one in the centre that I made the right size to hold my magnifying lamp.
Speaking of the lamp, I found that the cord was too short and that most places that I wanted to model were not near enough to a power socket forcing me to get out an extension lead each time I modelled. In the end I decided to grab the bull by the horns and I replaced the cord with a much longer one that will now stretch to a power socket wherever I model. This was well worth the effort, but you should only attempt it yourself if you are confident with electrics, otherwise consult an electrician. If you do decide to do this yourself make sure the new cord is rated the same or better than your existing cord.
One of the last additions to the workstation was the fitting of two carrying handles. In fact I rarely use these because they are two small to comfortably get all my fingers through, so this is also something to learn from.
The final touches included adding self-adhesive felt feet that allow me to put the workstation down on any surface or table without the need for a protective cloth. I also put two large nails at each end of the fence post in order to wrap the electric cord of my lamp around for convenient storage (Photo 4).
The Work Station In Use
Most of the time when I want to do some modelling I simply take the workstation out of my wardrobe top box where it is kept (Photo 5) and put it down on the nearest convenient work surface. Usually this will be the dining table, but if this is unavailable then I can set up in several different areas and have even used my bed or an ironing board on a couple of occasions.
You can see in the photo at the top of this article how the workstation looks with everything packed away ready for transport. It is the work of a couple of moments to put the modelling lamp in its socket, plug it in and I am ready for action.
From experience, I have learned which tools I use the most often and have these available on the workstation. In fact, one of the most useful features is knowing exactly where I can find any tool without having to root through a tool box. Tools used infrequently are kept together in a fishing tackle box.
My system works best when everything is kept tidy and organised. All my paints and painting equipment have been put in a single storage box that can also be brought out of the wardrobe in a matter of seconds (Photo 7).
On the workstation itself I make a point of keeping everything tidy by keeping all small parts together in small containers, jam jar lids that would otherwise have been thown away. One of the great things about the workstation is that there is a place for every tool and object so I try to follow the maxim “Don’t put down, put away instead”. Although the workstation is good there is limited space to work so it needs to be used carefully.
Making A Modelling Workstation
Making my workstation took around a day and was well worth the effort. Even if I have only an hour to spare I can still get out my workstation and do some useful modelling. If you are short of space and cannot have a permanent set up, then I would recommend you try it yourself. However, you don’t have to follow my plans that were guided by my needs and the resources that I had available to hand. Think about what YOU need for to solve YOUR problems.
If you are considering making your own workstation then spend a little time planning ahead. Make a note of what tools you use regularly and which therefore need to be on your workstation. Remember that you need to be able to carry your workstation about, so you need to keep the total weight to a minimum. If you need several journeys back and forth to set up your modelling then one of the big advantages of the workstation is lost. Work out where you will do your modelling and the requirements of light and power.
I would suggest that you know the answers to the following questions before you start any building.
- What are the objectives of building your workstation?
- How much can you afford to spend?
- How much time am you willing to invest in building?
- What tools and materials will you need to build it?
- Where will you store the workstation (this may limit the size)?
- How much can you comfortably carry (this may limit the weight and contents)?
- Where are the places you are likely to model?
- How will you hold the workstation when you are carrying it?
- What tools do you need to have regularly to hand?
What lighting and magnification do you need?
If you have the answers to all of the above then you are well on the way to having your own workstation and modelling heaven is within your grasp. Good luck.