Build a Portable Reloading Bench Using a Black & Decker Workmate
After years of using an old Black & Decker 425 Workmate as a steel frame for a 1 1/2 inch thick plywood top (two 3/4 pieces glued and screwed together) for my portable reloading bench, I decided it was time to build a new one. While the 425 model does a fine job supporting my Lee Classic Cast Single Stage press, I started building a new reloading bench since I have a new press – the Lyman All American 8 turret. This heavy duty turret press has to be one of the heaviest out there, so I’m going to use an old Black & Decker Workmate 550. While I built a nice reloading bench on the Black & Decker Workmate 425, the 550 is the sturdiest with a max weight of 550lbs and I can also address issues that came up with my first design. A Black & Decker Workmate is a great platform to build a nice reloading bench that’s portable – yet really sturdy. I’ll post pics as I go and describe whats going on. Here’s the B&D 550 that someone gave me in “as is” condition. Some light rust on the bottom but nothing a wire wheel can’t take care of!
Here I’ve stripped off all of the moving parts (except the springs that allow it to fold up) of the 550 down to the main frame. I took a wire wheel and standard drill to remove most of the rust and paint. I’ll give it another solid go over a few days before I repaint it –
Here I’ve flipped it over in order to place the 24in x 48in x 3/4in thick oak plywood top. I’ll use black magic marker to fill in all the points where I can bolt down the top –
Here I’m adjusting the top and will drill the main bolt holes. I used black magic marker to fill in any holes/cavities that will allow fastening, then what was the underside of the table becomes the top of the bench on the B&D 550 frame. I used 1/2 bolts at 4 in long. Once everything is adjusted and the single 3/4 top is tested for the right placement of components, all other bolt holes will be drilled. Then I will use the single piece of plywood as a template for the other three existing pieces of 3/4in oak plywood I have and drill all fastening holes. I bought one piece of 4′ x 8′ x 3/4 oak plywood and had Home Depot cut it into four 24in x 48in pieces. All four pieces once drilled for bolt holes will be temporarily bolted together in order to screw and glue all pieces together making a 24in x 48in x 3in thick oak bench top. This is a very solid bench top. Then that gets mounted to the 550 frame which is why I went with 1/2 x 4in bolts
One of the problems I wanted to address with the first bench I made was some type of quick change system to mount and dismount my powder dispenser and brass trimmer. Both were mounted to a piece of wood which was then C-clamped to the table, and while it worked, it was cumbersome. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I took the Lee benchplate mount off the old table and mounted it to the left side of the new bench top. Using the wood bench inserts that came with the bench plate system, I mounted my Forster Trimmer and on the other my Lee Perfect Powder Measure. Mounted to the steel plate is the Lee classic cast single stage which I’ll use mainly for depriming, or anything else it may be needed for. Here its mounted with the trimmer –
Here I’ve cut a piece of 3/4 oak plywood and installed it to make the bottom shelf, but more importantly adds a substantial amount of added stability to the workmate. If you measure the bottom space where I have the plywood, it’s 24in x 15in that sits nicely on the 1/2 steel lip built into the workmate. But when you cut it exactly, you can’t get it to fit in over the lip of the side supports, so I cut off 3/16 at a time (twice) to get as exact a fit as possible. The tighter this piece fits in, the more stability you’ll have. After I paint the workmate, I’ll then put in this piece again and using liquid nails it will be permanent. Once the piece is installed permanently, underneath it I’ll make a slide-out ‘shallow drawer’ to hold common large tools like an inertia bullet puller, and tools needed to adjust the press or Lee Bench mount. –
Here I’ve drilled and fitted all 4 pieces of 3/4 oak plywood and mounted them to the workmate. I chose the nicest top piece in the lot which does have some nice grain. I used the worst piece for the template piece shown in earlier pics as the top as I knew that piece might take some hits along the way and didn’t want to mar up the nice top piece before it had a protective finish. I tried two different setups with the presses mounted and all hardware tightened. One was 3 pieces of plywood (2 1/4 thick) and the other was 4 pieces (at 3 inches thick), and it was obvious that 4 pieces is definitely the solid support that the Lyman American 8 turret calls for. The Lyman press weighs in at 23lbs, the Lee Classic Cast single stage weighs in a 14lb, and at times both presses will be on the bench. You can see the 1/2 bolt layout I used to maximize connection to the workmate. Finishing touches I’ll add to the top towards the end as I’m finishing is to counter sink the 1/2 bolt and washers flush to the top, and then fill in the cavities with clear epoxy for a smooth work surface. Then I’ll add several coats of oil based urethane and finally smooth the finish with 000 steel wool
Okay, now that all four pieces of plywood are aligned, and all components can mount easily with the holes drilled, and the bench top easily mounts to the workmate with the holes as drilled too, now its time to permanently bond all four pieces of plywood together to make one solid 3 in piece of oak plywood. I took the bench top off the workmate while the four plywood pieces were clamped to keep them in place. I’ve numbered the pieces of plywood as in my experience keeping them in the exact order as were drilled through makes it very easy to re align the bolts so they fit freely in order to glue it all together. It’s amazing how if you mix the pieces in a different order than drilled through, the bolts don’t always go through as easily in the order they were drilled in.
I place the bottom piece of plywood (#4) on the workmate loosely and with a paint brush soak down the plywood with hot water to let it soak in a bit, then wipe the excess with a towel. Then I applied a generous amount of Titebond original wood glue and then a small amount of hot water to cut the glue a little and help it spread freely. Then I placed on top of piece #4 piece #3, and I immediately set the bolts through the top to align the pieces. Then, using my hands and a piece of wood as a straight edge, I’m aligning the facing front edge to be even and allow the back and sides to be uneven while I place all bolts through loosely. I wait about 30 seconds, then repeat the same process with pieces #2 and #1 until I have it all together with the front edge flush. At this point I attach all the nuts to the bolts and hand tighten them. Then again, aligning the front facing edge to be flush allowing back and sides uneven, I tighten the bolts snug with a socket wrench. At this point I put on the Lee bench plate and mount that to help align further. Basically, every drilled hole is bolted to keep it aligned best as possible. All of this is mainly to hold it in place while I screw 2 1/2in deck screws from the bottom piece. No real screw pattern, but I wanted to get the edges and corners, as the corners are the trickiest part to get to pull in, so I used a few screws there. Woodworking is probably my weakest skill, and the point here is sturdy, functional and built to last – so I used a whole 1lb box of screws on the back and called it good. Now, I’ve used wood putty and wood glue all along the sides after soaking the sides with a little warm water. Now I have a very solid, completely joined 3in piece of oak plywood bench top that can easily bolt or unbolt to a B&D 550 Workmate. Next step after it cures, I’ll be sanding the edges and top piece, and finishing the top and sides with an oil based urethane. Same goes for the workmate frame – a final wire wheeling and sanding, then a paint job with black Rustoleum. Last on the frame install the urethane finished bottom shelf and liquid nails it to the bottom….not much left to do now before it will be finished!
I gave the Workmate 550 another go over with the drill and wire wheel, then primed it with some cheap black primer, then another can of black gloss Rustoleum. It will get another spray can of Rustoleum, then some more from a quart can and brush to get a heavier more durable coat….and I didn’t paint it in my kitchen!
Where the two pencils are I will lay a bead of epoxy to bind the front piece to the top side pieces of the workmate. This front bar and the fact that the 550 can hold 550 lbs is the only difference between this and the workmate 425. Using epoxy to bind these pieces together will further increase rigidity while still allowing the workmate to be folded up.
Here I’ve applied epoxy at the only real weak point for side to side movement. Its painted over with a 3rd can of black gloss paint, and while this part will never be seen, this thing is really solid as a rock now –
Here you can kind of see the lip (black paint makes it tricky) of the workmate that the bottom shelf of plywood sits on. After finishing the bottom shelf with oil based urethane (Varathane Spar Urethane) , I’ll lay a bead of liquid nails to the lip on the Workmate and set the shelf in.
Here on the right side inner piece, I drilled the second hole (3/8) towards the back through the metal frame of the workmate. The 3 inch thick bench top will align with this hole, and this is the center hole that bolts the Lyman Press to the bench and workmate. This was the plan from the beginning for the most stable design possible, and everything else was designed around this idea.
Now that the bench top is glued and screwed, I left all the bolts in place overnight in case any swelling or movement of the wood occurs from being wet from the glue and hot water. You could tell the wood was still a bit damp 24 hours later – which is good. A slow dry equals a good cure.
Next was to rough sand all the edges down to somewhat smooth finish with a palm sander and 60 grit paper. Next will be to sand the edges to a smoother 150 grit and take off the remaining edges and small amount of numbering left from the black magic marker. Then finally, sand the top with 150grit, then final top sanding with 220 grit and its ready from the first coat of oil based urethane. I’ll probably go at least 5-6 coats but probably more. The first few coats will soak deeply into the wood and it takes some coats to get a nice work surface.
With the first coat of Spar Urethane applied very generously to allow a deep soak in on the first coat, 6 hours later its still tacky. It really makes the Red Oak grain come out. Tomorrow night it gets a second coat-
My new reloading bench is nearly finished as I’ve bought 1/2 x 1/2 x 1/16 thick angle aluminum for the trim, and bought three 12 inch rails and assorted sizes of Uline/Akro-Mils plastic storage bins from Inline Fabrication. I’ll mount one 12″ rail in front of the Lee Bench Plate, one rail directly in front of me to the left of the Lyman Turret, and the last one on the corner left side of the bench so when I mount a single stage press for depriming, I’ll have my brass to the left in larger bins, and processed brass to the right of the press. Before these can be mounted to finish the bench, I’ve been applying coats of oil based urethane to the bench top, but it takes a bit of time to cure in between coats, and it takes longer in high humidity and lower temperatures. The Central Cali Coast has had a long spring and seemingly a good rain every week – like today. So I’m doing everything I can think of since I can’t apply more coats to finish it. I ran into an issue mounting the Lee Bench Plate as two of the bolts were running right into the steel frame of the Workmate 550. I didn’t want to try to drill though the metal on this one as it would not have centered and been off to the side, thus just boring a part of the frame away and possibly weakening the frame…what to do?…It seems if you look around Home Depot long enough you’ll find a solution, and they are called ‘Tee Nuts’. These threaded spiked flat nuts pull flush into the wood. Some 3 inch bolts, plus the thickness of a washer and the Lee Bench plate made it a perfect fit!
Here I’ve cut all the pieces needed to make the two slide out drawers. They lie assembled but unglued next to my original slide out drawer from my first bench to the far right for comparison. The original drawer from the first table is 9 inches wide and built on a 16 inch nylon wheel sliding rails. It is simply built, extremely sturdy, but after years of use, I wish I made it bigger and maybe had two drawers on the bench instead of one. So the new bench has two drawers, one 12 inches wide, and the bottom one at 14 inches wide, both on 18 inch standard nylon wheel sliding rails. One drawer will slide out front and center between the Lyman Turret press to the right, and the Lee Bench mount plate to the left. The second larger slide out drawer will go under the bottom shelf for larger tools, such as inertia bullet puller, the large screwdriver for Lee bench plate, and wrenches needed for press/die adjustment. I labeled and laid out all the wood pieces for the drawer, then wet the plywood down and put down a bead of wood glue. Then all the pieces are glued lightly in place. Once the glue is dried, the drawers will get several coats of oil based polyurethane over several days. When that dries, the drawers will be extremely sturdy with no need for nails, screws or other method to re enforce the integrity drawers. While the drawers are drying, I made a set of mounts for the 18 inch rails for each drawer which will be screwed to the underside of the table. I used scrap plywood and 1 1/2 x 3/4 pine and various Simpson tie/ L brackets to create the right distance for the drawer from the bottom of the table. I basically copied the mounting rails from my old workmate bench I designed, since it worked so well and after years of use its still solid as a rock. Once the rail mounts are in place, the drawer can easily be removed from the rails if the table needs to be broken down or moved.