After completing my modular storage cabinets and DIY router table build, the next workshop project on my to-do list was to build a Multi-Function Table, or MFT.
In this new series I’ll walk you through the design process and build of my latest project.
What is a Multi-Function Table (MFT)?
A multi-function table, or assembly table, is a large workbench that is typically the center piece of a workshop. As the name implies, such a table serves many purposes, including sanding, cutting, assembly, staining, and other such tasks that might go into a typical woodworking project.
The phrase multi-functional table, or MFT, was made popular by Festool, with their latest version, the MFT/3, currently priced at $720 with accessories.
At a minimum, an MFT is essentially a large working area mounted on top of a stable platform. More advanced tables will feature a top with bench dog holes and/or T-tracks allowing the use of clamps and other tools.
The Festool table features a hole pattern called 2096, which is a 20mm hole spaced 96mm apart, center to center. This 96mm measure is commonly used in Europe for cabinet design. For example, shelf pins are typically spaced 32mm apart.
Apparently after World War 2 they needed a standard for mass producing all the kitchen cabinets needed as part of rebuilding efforts. As they built up the factories, the most readily available commercial helical gears had shafts on 32mm centers. This led to the standard we have today.
My Workshop Goals
When I started down my journey to an organized workshop, I set myself a bunch of goals, which over time I’ve refined:
See Also: All of Ben’s Workshop Organizational Builds and Posts
Consistent Design – I wanted a consistent look for the entire workshop. My struggle to find a perfect off-the-shelf solution came to a dead end because there’s really no company with a broad-enough range of products that met all my needs.
You can’t buy storage cabinets, a router table, a CNC cabinet, a miter table, and an MFT from a single company. All of my workshop benches and workstations are made with aluminum extrusion and a combination of birch plywood, MDF, and Formica. It’s a look that I really love, and adaptable to new or changing needs.
Maximum use of space – I don’t have a ton of space. My shop is 12′ x 15′ and whilst I can spill into my two car garage when I’m working, I can’t afford any dead space in the shop. Most tool cabinets I found were 20″ deep, and that means you either have a shallow 20″ top, or have a 30″ top with wasted space behind the cabinet. I wanted cabinets that utlize every last inch of space.
Modular – I set out to always build using a common set of building blocks. This essentially comes down to using 25″ as my base measure, whether that be height, depth or width, or used in multiples for width or height. When a 25″ piece of 1515 aluminum is connected at either end, it results in a 28″ box, which is a nice depth for a benchtop and for the height of a bench when mounted on casters. This also leads to a standard drawer design of 24″ x 24″ to fit inside my 25″ cube with space for drawer hardware.
Re-usability – Similar to my modular goals, by sticking to consistent design I wanted to ensure I had as much re-usability of all the pieces. This also influenced how I thought about assembly.
All my 25″ pieces have anchor fasteners at both ends, and they are incredibly quick and easy to use. I rarely have to machine any pieces to complete my builds, which gives me the re-usability I wanted. The vast majority of the wood I have used is slotted into the T-slot of the aluminum, rather than fastened together, ensuring these can also be re-purposed as needed.
Loosening those Goals!
Having built a couple of tables based on these principals, I immediately started making an MFT, and I stuck to my standard dimensions and building blocks.
However, I soon realized that rules need to be broken when they are not working. I built a table that was 51.5″ by 28″, but that proved to be just too small for a lot of tasks. For example, I found it to be cumbersome to break down a 4′ x 8′ sheet of plywood on a table this size.
I soon dismantled this table and went back to the drawing board.
This, however, is a validation of my goals, specifically re-usability. My decision to use aluminum extrusion with wood slotted into the frame and standard 24″ x 24″ drawer dimensions meant that I have been able to re-use 90% of the materials for another build. I waste a couple of hours, but didn’t really waste any materials.
Back to the Drawing Board
Having liberated myself from my restrictive dimensions, I went back to the drawing board.
Starting with the overall dimensions – I regularly start projects by breaking down a 4 x 8 sheet and need to be able to do that comfortably. But when not in use, my plan is to push it against the wall between my workshop door and my HVAC room. When it’s against the wall I need to be able to access the shelves on that wall.
I’d like to be able to store all my layout tools (squares, rulers, etc.) and the Systainers related to using the table, such as the Festool TS55 Tracksaw, OF1400 Router, Domino 500, and their various accessories.
For the top, I wanted to make use of the large variety of bench dog tools and jigs you can buy. In order to to this, I would need to be able to access the underside of the table top, as there are different jigs can be used that screw in from underneath.
Of course, I still planned to make sure my design fits with the rest of my system, with the table to be made from Faztek aluminum extrusion, birch plywood, MDF, and Formica.
My DIY MFT Workbench Design
As usual, I started on paper, writing down the main dimensions, sketching out a few layouts. Once I had the rough dimensions figured out, I switched to SketchUp. I find this to be an important step in my process because it avoids silly mistakes and ensures I only buy the aluminum I need.
I settled on a cabinet that was 43″ x 59.25″, a somewhat random measurement that was based on sound logic. The height would be 33″ so it could line up with the rest of my cabinets.
On the back side of the table the width is based on having three sets of drawer columns for my Systainer tool boxes. Each Systainer is 15.75″ wide, with 1″ required on either side for the drawer, and 1.5″ between each drawer column, plus 3″ for the outside frame. These dimensions determined the overall width of 59.25″.
On the other side of the cabinet I contemplated making 56.25″ width drawers to use all the space but this broke my re-usability goal and would have been a pretty inefficient use of material. I decided to stick to my 24″ and 51.5″ width drawers. This left me with a random 3.25″ gap (shown in the bottom right of the picture) that I wasn’t entirely clear how I would use. I figured I would solve this during the build.
The depth of the cabinet uses a similar calculation: 24″ for my standard drawer depth, 1.5″ for extrusion between the drawers, 14″ for the Systainer drawers, and 3″ for the outside frame. This rounds up to 43″ in total.
I will admit that I do often build things and not leave myself any tolerance. However in this case, using aluminum does allow you to be very precise, especially when you order pieces cut to size. If I added even 1/4″ to these measurements it would have required me to change the measurements of some other part of the build. This accuracy is important, especially when it comes to the drawer sliders, as even 1/8″ would make them too tight or not close enough to engage correctly.
When it came to the benchtop, I didn’t want to go deeper than 43″, as that depth is already a bit too much to reach over. I tested it out against a wall and was able to grab items from the front of the shelves above the table but not the back. I keep Systainers on these shelves though, so that wasn’t a problem because they sit 12″ from the wall.
For the width I decided to add a slight over hang, which is helpful for using clamps and certain accessories, so I settled on 63″.
The top would be mounted on 1530 aluminum extrusion, which would ensure the top wouldn’t sag when loaded up. This means the extrusion is 1.5″ in one dimension, and 3.0″ in the other, with 6 slots all around.
Finally, I left 4″ of vertical space beneath the framing for the top, to allow access to the bottom of the top. This is a little tight, but increasing this gap would reduce the amount of space I had for shelving. If I gave myself greater clearance, I wouldn’t be able to fit all the Systainers without making my MFT table taller than the rest of my shop cabinets, and that’s something I really did not want to do.
Building the Frame
With my design locked in, I checked through all my spare pieces of aluminum and decided to make use of what I could to reduce the cost of my parts order.
My design called for a lot of internal structure to support all the drawers. I’m all for consistent design but this required a lot of material that wouldn’t be seen, and if removed, wouldn’t impact the stability of the cabinets. As a result I decided to use small ~4″ pieces under each draw side, rather than full-length pieces.
I also thought the cabinet for the drawers would provide enough support for the shelf so I didn’t need to also support it on all four sides with extrusions. So I decided to only order pieces for the front and back and not the left and right. This didn’t save me a ton of money, but it was still a worthwhile exercise.
I ended up with an order for $420 worth of extrusion, which I placed with Faztek and received about 10 days later. I estimate I used another $100 of spare pieces I already had.
It then only took me about 15 minutes to assemble the base of the frame, then another hour to cut down and machine the few pieces I already had. Yes it’s cheaper to use end fasteners, but it would have taken several hours to drill and tap all these holes. Anchor fasteners cost more, but are quicker to install and easier to reuse.
As my build progressed you can see I also had to add additional material to support the MFT top, and we’ll dig into these changes in a future post.
With my frame built I could move on to building the interior of my MFT, which is where I will pick things up in my next post.
Materials and Tools Used
- Faztek Products on Amazon
- 4-Pack Swivel Casters via Amazon
- Faztek Website
- Faztek Applications Gallery
- Sketchup 3D Modeling (Free Download)
- Introduction to T-slot Hardware and Fasteners
- My Modular Cabinets
- My DIY Router Table with Drawers and Dust Collection, from Start to Finish
Please let me know if you have any questions!
Very nice. Cabinets seem a bit expensive for your average Joe. But if they last the rest of your life and look that good I say totally worth it. A few times I have rushed projects fit and finish suffered or cheaped out on materials and I end up regretting it. Its good that if your needs change you can rebuild and reuse much of the material. Well done!
Very true, I did my take on the Polk workbench and used a lot of scrap and I am not happy with it but I see it also as a learning experience.
It’s definitely an investment but the key for me is the ability to rebuild\reuse as my needs change. It would be a much hard decision to justify if it was all single use.
I’m certain I will get years of use, and then reuse 🙂
True. But metal cabinets are pricey. I have some metal cabinets myself, but also 8020/Faztek-style aluminum extrusions.
I built a shelving rack in my garage, but it wasn’t working out so I reconfigured it. It’s still not working out well, and so I’ll reuse the components for a different project or needs.
The investment ends up being worth it over time, at least if you have needs that aren’t well met by cookie-cutter store-bought solutions or pure plywood or lumber shop-built constructions.
I’ve read the previous posts about the building process- I’d love to see some more pictures (and videos?) of a shop tour. Space looks incredible!
Yes that’s something that’s on my list! I was planning to empty out my shop on a sunny day and do a tour of each of the cabinets. Then maybe the same for the walls.
I do post a lot on Instagram (@Dusty.Tools) so in the mean time you could check that out.
Excellent start Ben! I’ve loved all of your other extruded AL projects! I’ve got a stack of extrusion in the shop at the moment and this might be the project to push me over the edge to build it.
I’m curious if you engineered if for all of the factory MFT accessories (cross cut, angle stop, etc.) to work with it, or do you have your own setup for that. Can’t wait for the rest of the build!
In part 3 of the series I’m going to go through my top design. Cross cut was my primary use case and I’m pretty happy with my solution for that.
I use a worktop modeled on the mft as a finish carpenter. The main modification is some larger holes along the perimeter to make using a regular f-clamp or quick grip quick and easy. Just something you may want to consider.
Here’s a link to a JLC article and and a cad file for the top.
I have definitely thought about adding slots into the top, they would come in really handy. I thought I’d practice on a top that didn’t take me so long to make before I take the plunge 🙂
Doing those ~160 holes was hard enough!
I figured I could built a template that plugs into the surrounding holes and then just use the existing holes as a starting point to create the slots.
is that sketchup by any chance?
Yes, I can share them if you’d like?
Sure. I wouldnt mind.
count me in for plans as well 🙂
and likewise, I would very much like a copy also.
Thanks, yes I’ll share them shortly!
Would love the Sketchup plans too please. Just followed you on Instagram😉
Michael J Fox
This is really well done.
Could I please get a copy of the file as well?
Can I get it too please? 🙂
I use a home-made MFT at the moment. I made the top myself using an Axminster Parf Guide. It’s still a lot of holes to drill, but it is dead easy and dead accurate. Repetitive, but easy. There’s plenty of web-wisdom and videos to show you what it’s about – have a google – but my experience has been great. I bought a sheet of high-density fiberboard (rather than MDF) and got three tops out of it. Basically, I can knock out new tops in an evening, anytime I want, so they are almost disposable. The accuracy is impressive too. I’ve used dogs and a rail to make right-angle cuts probably a hundred times now, and I’ve not been able to detect a difference from 90° in any of them. The cost is such that once I’m on my second top, it’s cheaper than buying one. Also, I can put holes where I want for different purpose tops. Track clamps fit through the holes too, so it’s easy enough to clamp anywhere (so long as you use 18mm/¾” board and not 25mm/1″).
For me, the option to use the Parf Guide system was what made it OK for me to take the plunge into MFT world, because it made it cheap enough as a long-term good idea. I haven’t regretted it one bit.
I do look forward to reading how you made your holes, and whether they are close enough to tolerance for you to get true right angles/45° cuts wherever you put the dogs.
Thanks for a great article, Ben.
Yes I used the Parf Guide as well, I played around with a bunch of different systems and liked this the best. The rest all require you to repeat batches of holes and to me this means any error will be repeated over and over again. The Parf Guide allows you to set the layout for the entire table.
I’m going to dig into this more in part 3 of the series 🙂
Ooh! I look forward to reading this. I did a four/five-cut test and found an angular error of less than 0.1°. Obviously, I didn’t check every combination of holes, but I do know that I am able to trust the table top to give me square cuts wherever I cut. It genuinely has changed the way I work, and for the better. I’m keen to find out how it went for you, and how well it turned out.
Coincidentally, last night I was working on a project and got to thinking that it’s about time I replaced the top. It’s the first replacement top for this table. When I made the first top, I cut all the holes, because I didn’t know what I’d want. I kept a second top with no holes for glue-ups, etc (they are removable). I hoped I’d find out that not all the holes were necessary, and I could shortcut making the next top, but experience has shown me that I use dogs in all kinds of random places, so the next one is going to have all the holes in too.
Thank you for publishing your builds and design principles behind them. I have been wrestling with all of the same design issues and thoughts over the last couple of years but they were somewhat nebulous, wispy and oft prone to change. It wasn’t until I read your article, in which you so clearly articulated your own thoughts, principles, and design ethos that mine solidified instantly with a most satisfying, mental clunk and gigantic sigh of relief.
I am following in much the same footsteps as yourself. My first and next step will be to build a router table similar in design and based on your principles, followed closely by a MFT build. Where I anticipate I will likely deviate from your design is that I will use the Systainer shelf width as my basic unit of size and build drawers in multiples of that. I have the Festool LR32, so I was planning on incorporating that into the cabinet walls to allow for maximum adjustability and flexibility of re-use down the road. Lastly, I am 6’1″ and have found that I much prefer 38″ kitchen countertops over 36″ tops for a working height and so I was considering also building my workshop cabinets to a 38″ height. The only thing that causes me to pause on that is that your builds are ~4″ shorter. Do you have any advice or thoughts on that?
I was also wondering about your top. Until I saw both your’s and Ryan’s BF/MFT build on Youtube and the Festool forum, I was considering either a torsion box top or a modified Paulk to ensure the top was adequately supported and would remain dead flat. Can you share more on how you designed support for your top to ensure it does not sag in any way?
Lastly, I also have a Shapeoko XXL instead of the XL, and a Prusa 3D printer and would be really interested in your enclosure builds for both of those.
Thanks for the feedback, it’s great to hear that it helped others formulate their own design!
In regard to height, I maybe mentioned this in a previous post but in my workshop I have four IKEA Gerton butcher block tops that are attached to the wall. I needed my tool cabinet, CNC router cabinet and router table to fit to fit under these tops. I stuck to using this height when I built the MFT, despite the fact I didn’t plan to store it below these fixed benches.
You made me wonder if this is something I should have changed, but I can’t say the height has been an issue…. 2-3″ extra height on this table would have actually been quite useful when it comes to storage!
For the top, I’m going to cover that in post #3 of this series. But the short answer is I used 1530 around the edge, and a series of 15-series supports under the top. I definitely noticed a sag when it was unsupported. I think you need some support every ~2 foot.
And yes, I’m working on a Shapeoko cabinet post, hopefully in the next few weeks!
Holy crap! I think it’s bitchin!!
Would you share the sketch up file?
How do you support the top surface ?
How do you use the separation between two top surfaces ?
Hey Ben, thanks for the write up, I love the table!
I’m having Faztek draw up a table for me and they put a 1.5″ rail between the front/rear 3″ top rail. I didn’t mentioned I wanted one but thought it might be good to have underneath the kerf area as I’m considering some dado for replaceable zero clearance inserts.
That said, I’m interested how you fastened the top, if you mounted it as a single panel, drilled it, and then routed the replaceable insert area, and if you feel the kerf area resting on the triangle brackets is sufficient enough or if a solid 1.5″ piece across would be a better choice? FWIW – My table will be 36″ x 72″ to match my table saw when pushed up to the wall.
I’d love to replace my assembly table with something like the unit pictured at the top. I’ve spent a few days trying to plan my design (very similar). Where things get frustrating is my desire to work in a heavy pattern maker’s vise that I own. I don’t have a workbench, having converted to a home made assembly table with the dog hole matrix similar to MFT. I want it larger, with drawers and more accurate for MFT operations.
Question … could you envision a 55 lb vise mounted to that, ignoring the required engineering for mounting itself. Is the assembly too light for hand planing, sawing, jerking operations in a vice?
Not to answer for Ben V, but if you really want to wail on the vise, you could potentially use thicker vertical framing and/or use angled reinforcement channels at the corners. You could also reinforce the surface for vise attachment.
Btw, post build… my bench is insanely sturdy and heavy! Zero issue with any of the three vises. Built in twin screw and two MFT mountable metal vises. I can hand plane. So much mass!
Where do we find parts 2 and 3?
Hi Ben, are you still amenable to sharing your plans for this MFT table? I love the concept and would like to give it a try 🙂 Thank you
I could share mine if interest. I designed it for twelve drawers and had it cut and bored by Faznet
That would be really nice. Thank you!
Ditto, on that. I would like a copy as well
Todd, I would like a copy of your’s also
I just posted my table project on lumberjocks. The Faztek plan and my sketchup are at the bottom.
Thank you Todd!
Thanks Todd! I’ve been a little distracted, as you know from IG 🙂
Todd, THANK YOU!
It’s difficult to see in the photos; what is your sacrificial strip made of? Is that t track or just a dado?
Thanks for sharing this awesome project.
Hi Dillon, it’s a ‘cheap’ plastic particle board, I forget the name of it but I got it from Tapp Plastic.