Nearly every kit aircraft will require a large, flat worktable for some part of its construction. Large and flat are the important qualities that are challenging to achieve. And by saying “large,” a more accurate description is that the table needs to be long enough to accommodate some rather long aircraft assemblies.
With the need for a worktable, a new builder is presented with their first stressful challenge of the aircraft project. Buy or build a suitable workbench? Where do you get plans for such a custom table? Are carpentry tools and skills needed for such a unique work area? And what if the worktable isn’t very flat—will that hurt the quality of the finished aircraft? So many important questions shared by many homebuilders. Let’s look at a simple, effective solution for creating a custom worktable suitable for most aircraft kit projects. Our goals are that it must be fast to set up, flat as can be and use simple materials. You be the judge of how well we achieve these goals.
Just three components are needed for your table: sawhorses, I-joists and plywood. This limited shopping list achieves the goal of simple. At least two high-quality sawhorses are needed. The stronger and more stable, the better. A couple sheets of plywood (your choice of grade and thickness) will provide a surface spanning 8×16 feet. This should be adequate for most kit projects.
Now for the magic. You need to purchase two I-joists from your local builder’s supply. They may not have them in stock as they are usually fabricated by request for you in just a few days. You need to specify a length (16 feet will be just right for a 16-foot plywood surface). They will also need to know what height you want. Choosing that dimension is not critical. Go with the least expensive, which will be about 10 inches.
So, what the heck is an I-joist? These are considered “engineered lumber” products as they are created from wood in a factory where quality control and high-tech machinery ensure that your beam is as flat and straight as you can imagine—for the whole 16 feet (or any length you choose). They are intended to replace conventional floor joists in residential housing construction. This means they are really strong, straight and ready to use as delivered.
Back to our worktable. To construct, you simply space your sawhorses about 12 feet apart. Lift your I-joists (they are about 40 pounds) and set them on top of the sawhorses, keeping them parallel. Last, lay your plywood sheets end to end on top of the I-joists. No tools required! That fulfills our promise of fast!
For the deluxe installation I recommend attaching four C-clamps to hold the I-joist flanges to the sawhorses, which provides more stability. Also, it does not hurt to screw down the plywood to the top of the I-joists (just like a real floor!) for even more rigidity. That’s it!
You will be amazed at the strength of this long table. Assuming you are using ¾-inch plywood or better, walking or sitting on it is not an issue. The most impressive quality you will notice is that it is incredibly flat. Because of the factory engineered I-joist design, all the tedious measuring work we usually think of when building a large work-table is no longer needed. One could not build such a large structure this flat by hand (not meant to be a challenge to our master carpenters!).
Another favorite quality of this design: When you are through with your project (or want to move it) this large worktable comes apart even faster than it went up. And all you are left with is two sawhorses, two plywood panels, and two I-beams that store nicely along the floor of your shop. Until you need a large worktable next time. Plane and simple!