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:
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!