Design and construction - other

The PHD swift nest box

This is a new design, a swift nest box which is installed  outside a window but from within the building, without the need to climb a ladder and work at a height to attach a nest box to its support: a procedure which is much safer and much easier. I include two videos which show just how easy it is.

External nest boxes which do require climbing a ladder and working at a height to install them, the usual kind, can never make a contribution to arresting the decline in swift numbers on anything like the scale which is necessary, I believe, and I give my reasons in detail.

This design, a double box with two entrance holes, is very easy to construct and very easy to install. A box with one entrance hole is even easier to construct. The double box can be constructed in less than an hour and installed in not much more than a minute, as the two very short videos I include make clear.

The  woodworking skills needed to construct the box are very simple ones - the ability to saw along a line, to drill a hole and to remove a small quantity of wood by cutting with a knife. Very few tools are needed. The wooden base is sawn to length, and, if need be, to width, and the entrance holes, or hole, are made by drilling and a little cutting. After that, the main compartment - a plastic planter, easily obtainable and sold by garden centres - is secured to the base by strong webbing straps. There are no woodworking joints to be made, no plans or patterns to be followed of the least complexity.

The danger of swifts (or other birds) colliding with the window is avoided by the use of polycarbonate sheets, installed at the same time as the box. There are many other anti-reflective techniques which can be used to avoid the danger of collisions with windows.

Below, the swift nest box, viewed from outside the house. The appearance of the box can be altered very easily to reflect aesthetic preferences. In this respect, as in others, the design has great flexibility.

The material in this section is wide-ranging. It includes the practicalities of constructing a swift nesting box, including the materials, the tools and the costs, and my gratitude for the exhilarating, deeply satisfying experience of watching, and hearing, these magnificent birds.

I live in an area of Sheffield where swifts are plentiful, for the time being. My own small terraced house doesn't offer any entrance holes for swifts. I designed this nest box to make it much easier to help these visitors to maintain their numbers, to increase their numbers - and to continue to bring to people like me inexhaustible joy when we watch their rising and falling,  soaring and swooping, their graceful turns and their very sharp turns, their exciting, thrilling chases over the rooftops and below the rooftops, and their serene sailing high in the sky - all of it, of course, achieved in a way which has no parallel in nature, as part of a lifetime of constant flight, except for the time when they were reared in the nest and the time when they are nesting adults.

The entrance holes of the nest box now installed outside a window of my house are a little more than 5 metres above the ground, the recommended minimum height for installation of swift nesting boxes. Instead of climbing a ladder and working at a height to attach a nest box underneath the gutter, I  open the window wide, attach two clamps to the window frame, pass the swift box from the room to the outside, and, holding the box in one hand (the box is light), use the other hand to push the fixings attached to the red webbing straps onto the handles of the clamps. The box is held securely in place.  Another clamp is placed on the window frame. A bracket is placed underneath the wooden base of the box and the bracket is attached to the clamp. As I explain later, the clamp and bracket form an independent support system to ensure that the box can't fall even if both webbing straps fail -  a very remote possibility.

The actual procedure is marginally more involved than this, but perfectly simple and straightforward. After opening the window, I pass through the window opening a sheet of twin-wall polycarbonate and use two  clamps to hold the polycarbonate sheet in place. The fixings are then pushed onto the handles of the clamps. Then I pass through the window opening a second, smaller piece of polycarbonate sheeting, securing it with a second pair of clamps, the prominent red, white and orange clamps in the photo above (the lower parts of the first set of clamps are also visible.)

The polycarbonate sheets are to protect swifts (and other birds) from injury or worse by collision with the glass of the window. Polycarbonate is a much softer and more yielding surface than glass and polycarbonate, unlike glass, doesn't give reflections or the illusion that a free flight path is available to the bird through the window. Polycarbonate has high light transmission and inside the building, there's still a view to be had, although obviously a more diffuse one. There are various other methods of protecting birds which don't involve the use of these sheets.

Below, the view from within the room, a north facing one, the nest box just outside the window, held in place by two of the clamps, which also support one of the polycarbonate sheets, and the view of the motor body repair shop across the road.

I could achieve a clear view of the motor body repair shop by using a different method of protecting swifts and other birds from colliding with the window. I prefer to use these polycarbonate sheets. They can obviously be removed at the end of the swift season. I value the work of the motor body repair shop opposite but I don't find it essential to have a clear view of the premises. (In the downstairs front room, the view is also restricted, from the lower half of the window, in this case by net curtains.) Apart from the importance of its useful work, its primary function, the motor body repair shop does make an important contribution to the aesthetics of the area, even if the view here shows none of it. The massed display of the workshop's Clematis montana in spring is outstanding, as is their very large Elder tree later in the season, when the foliage and blossom have great impact. My own house has great usefulness, for me but no aesthetic merit whatsoever, although I do think that the swift nest box improves it. The box has visual interest and visual impact, I think, seen from outside.

Ease of construction is another advantage. The box consists of a plastic planter, black in this case, available from suppliers of gardening equipment, together with a base, made of timber board in this case. I did varnish the base, which obviously adds to the construction time, but this isn't essential. Planters come in a variety of sizes, including ones suitable for smaller, single nest boxes. The planter here has a width of 20cm and a length of 100 cm. The timberboard as bought has a width of 20 cm. All that has to be done is to saw it to the right length - a metre, in this case. I used a jigsaw to round off the corners. A jigsaw isn't an essential tool, though. A rounded corner can be approximated by making cuts at the corner with a saw.

The only tools which are essential to construct the box are these:

A saw (handsaw or power saw) to cut the wooden base to length and to cut the corners of the base if a jigsaw isn't used. (The base may also need to be cut to width.) I used a handsaw - one manufactured in Sheffield. The jigsaw comes from a company based in Sheffield although, sadly, the jigsaw isn't manufactured here.

A drill, mains or battery-powered - or a hand drill -  to make two holes close together in the base for each entrance hole. The space between the two holes is then cut away. This is very easily done.  I used a battery-powered saw. A suitable drill bit is quite substantial but not expensive. The diameter needed is 28 mm. I used a 28 mm auger drill bit of length 210 mm, making it suitable for other projects as well, although, to me, none of them would be as important as this. The point of the auger drill bit allows the centre of each circle to be placed precisely.

A chisel or knife - I used a craft knife - is used to trim away excess wood, in this diagram the light area between the two shaded circular holes. This gives an entrance hole of the right shape and a suitable size, in this case 28 mm x 65 mm. The centres of the circles are 37 mm apart.

Wire cutters.

A workbench equipped with a vice isn't in the least necessary to secure the wood for the base and to saw it. I've a very substantial, very fine vice (manufactured in Sheffield, but not any longer) but I didn't use it for this projects.

 I've a workbench, the one discussed on this page - the general workbench, not the sheet metal workbench - and used it for sawing, but if a workbench isn't available, then the wood can be secured very easily. 

Clamps are needed to make the nest box. These clamps can also be used to secure the wood to a suitable surface for sawing. It may be that a suitable surface can be found or made which isn't at the ideal height. One example from many, a pallet which is placed on the ground. The wood is secured to the pallet with the clamps. Sawing can be carried out safely whilst kneeling, if necessary, rather than standing. Kneeling is only necessary for a very short time. Light structures such as the pallet can be given greater mass so that they don't move when work is carried out, by using plastic containers filled with water.

I describe another use of water in containers in my account of the construction of my allotment pond, on the page Gardening/construction: introduction, with photographs, in the section on the year 2017. I used plastic bottles filled with water to weigh down the pond liner - much more convenient than finding and lifting and carrying rocks.

The plastic compartment of the nest box is held to the base by two narrow  webbing straps which can be put into place in very little time. In the top photograph above and in the two videos, these straps, narrow and red in colour, are easily visible. These webbing straps are very strong. I use webbing straps (of greater width) in the design of hydraulic equipment, for bending sheet metal and pressing apples to produce apple juice.

The box is secured to the handles of clamps fixed to the window frame using these webbing straps. Two very small clamps prevent twisting of two of the fixings, so that the straps hang flat at the point where they go through the fixings rather than becoming twisted themselves.

Obviously, taking the box back into the room and dismantling it, perhaps for cleaning at the end of the season, is a very quick and easy matter too.

I do own a very good ladder, easily able to reach the gutter and the eaves of the house, and find no difficulties in working at a height, but working at a height obviously isn't something to be undertaken lightly, in view of the risk of an accident, even if an accident is unlikely if the proper precautions are taken. If it's possible to avoid working at a height, then the opportunity should surely be taken. Anyone using a ladder should use it with a full appreciation of the risks and a full knowledge of the safety rules which should be adhered to. Some of the rules are more difficult to apply than others. Securely fastening a ladder to an upper support is one of the more difficult ones.

My ladder is stored at one of my allotments, where it can be used for its primary purpose. I thought it would be useful too for a secondary purpose and it has proved to be very, very useful, as well as enhancing the appearance of the allotment. This is as a framework for a boardwalk. It's been installed on the area which leads from the gate of the allotment to the buildings at the back of the allotment, an area which has been so deep in mud as a result of winter rains that it was a trial to walk on.

The ladder is shown in its new role, with boards to cover it, on the page Gardening/construction: introduction, with photographs, the year 2018. I'm confident that the ladder is so strong that it can easily withstand the load, which is from a direction different from the one when it's used conventionally but I don't recommend that anyone should do likewise. People with enough knowledge of structural engineering to do the calculations can go ahead, though, if the calculations have a favourable result. I'm not a structural engineer but I've a strong interest in the subject.

Installing (and removing) this nest box is a much less hazardous activity than installing or removing an external nesting box of the usual kind, one which is higher, perhaps beneath a gutter, whilst working on a ladder, but there are possible hazards to passers by. These hazards are easily avoided. Two people are needed to place or remove this nesting box, one inside the room, at the window, and one at street level, who can warn the person inside the room if people are approaching and who can request that they keep away from the area underneath the window. This is a light piece of equipment and not at a substantial height, but obviously, hitting a passer by has to be avoided at all costs.

I don't know of any deaths or injuries caused by a falling swift nest box, but obviously, this is a possibility, even if a remote one. Fixings can fail, wood can and does rot, and a box could land on the head of a passer by. This box should be very much safer than any of the boxes of an established design, which are installed higher, fastened to the wall by fixings which it isn't in the least easy to monitor and replace if necessary.

Visual checks are so much easier in the case of this new design. They can be carried out at any time. The condition of the webbing straps can easily be monitored. From inside the building, the sections of the straps on the upper surface and one side can easily be seen. From the outside, the condition of the straps on the lower surface and the other side can easily be seen. Then, corrective action can easily be carried out, if necessary, although it's very unlikely to be necessary. The straps may be made of fabric but have been stringently tested for strength. 

If one clamp or strap did fail, which is very unlikely, the box can be held in place by the other clamp and strap. The box is unaffected by strong winds but hasn't been tested in gale-force winds, which would cause widespread damage, not only damage to this nest box. 

An annual inspection should be carried out on external swift boxes of established design, to see if there are any safety-related issues, but carrying out the inspection - and making any necessary repairs - is far more difficult when a ladder has to be used, and of course, a fault may develop before the inspection or after it. Legal liability for accidents is an issue which has to be taken into account.

If external swift boxes were very common, the kind fixed very near to the roof, then I think it's likely that there would be a small but significant number of incidents involving falling boxes, possibly leading to injury, falls due to lack of inspection and maintenance and failure to put right any faults which are found. But of course, external swift boxes of this kind can never become very common. Even if awareness of the plight of swifts became very very widespread, together with the wish to take action to help swifts, most people would be unwilling to go up a ladder themselves to install a box, even if they owned a ladder, or to pay a professional to do the work for them. A great increase in the number of external swift boxes is needed, but the difficulties of many designs make it impossible to achieve that at the moment.

This material, in italics, on the subject of freak accidents caused by falling objects, isn't completely irrelevant. It reinforces an important distinction, between risks which are so unlikely as to be unimportant and risks which are unlikely but should be taken very seriously, with a view to eliminating them or drastically reducing them. Whereas the risks of injury (or worse) from falling tortoises, pieces of NASA satellites and falling meteorites can safely be disregarded, by everyone, the risks from a falling swift nest box can't be disregarded, or the risks involved in installing a nest box. These risks  aren't substantial but aren't a minor consideration in the least.

It's related (by Valerius Maximus) that Aeschylus, the great tragedian of ancient Greece, was killed by a falling tortoise. In Greece, some birds of prey drop tortoises onto rocks to split the shell and get at the flesh. The bird of prey in this case, either an eagle or vulture, mistook the bald head of Aeschylus for a rock.

Modern, very unlikely hazards include objects falling from space, such as NASA satellites, or pieces of NASA satellites, for example NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), projected to fall to Earth, with the possibility of landing somewhere in the United States.

Liability for damage caused by objects falling from space is regulated by the 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects

In this case, 'damage' is defined as loss of life, personal injury or other impairment of health as well as damage to property.

Injuries from falling meteorites have been recorded.

The box has been observed closely in strong winds but not in gale force winds. I'm completely confident that it will not only withstand gale force winds but hardly move at all in gale force winds. The box is sheltered within the window recess. Hardly any of the box projects beyond the recess. The system holds the box tightly and securely against the lower window and its polycarbonate cover so that the nest box isn't free to move. The bracket-clamp system provides support for the nest box which is independent of the support provided by the webbing straps. If both webbing straps did fail, which is overwhelmingly unlikely, the box wouldn't fall. I've done everything possible to ensure that  the system itself, like the installation of the system, is as safe as it possibly can be.

I think that this new design is a far easier way of installing an external box  but of course, the box can't be installed outside all windows. The window has to have an opening, although the opening method doesn't have to be at all similar to the one in my house. Simple modifications of the design and the installation method can be made.

Two videos of the box being installed. (These show an earlier version of the nest box and its supports. The current version includes, to provide even more security, an additional clamp, the one in the centre in the two photographs above, the bracket and the piece of wire. These form an additional method of support, independent of the support which incorporates webbing straps. If these ever did fail, both of them, then the box would be held in place by the additional method of support.)

The first video shows installation of components below the window opening - click on this link to download the video and then click on the box at bottom left of the screen to see the video. Download time is rather long for such short films. I'll work on ways to reduce the time. Until that has been achieved, I think that patience will be rewarded.


The second video, only a few seconds long, shows installation of the components above the window opening (the piece of polycarbonate used was shown at the end of the first video):


Total running time of the two videos, showing actual installation of the swift nesting box - only 1 minute 33 seconds. The box can be installed in even less time.

The cost of the nest box is low. These are the current costs for the components I use, rounding off the figures to the nearest pound. The system is flexible - for example, anyone who would like anything other than a plain black  compartment and in a different size from the one I used can have one, within reason, with, obviously, a change in the costs. The nest box can be ornate rather than simple, and made of materials other than plain plastic.

The main compartment. I used a plain plastic 'terrace trough.' 11

The base. I used timberboard, sawn to length. The excess can be used for other projects. I used this because I already had a suitable piece.  9. This is a cost which can very easily be reduced, by using scrap wood.

Two webbing straps. Only short lengths are needed. After the straps have been cut to length, the excess can be used for other projects. 8.

7 clamps. 5 of the clamps, 2 large, 2 small and one medium-sized clamp, come from a set which also includes 2 medium clamps. One of the medium clamps in the set isn't used and can be used for other projects. Cost of the set: 7.  Cost of the other 2 clamps: 6.

Steel fixings. Cost for a pack of 10, 6. Only 4 of the fixings are used. The other fixings can be used for other projects.

1 bracket. 2.

Total cost for materials (not including the negligible cost of a small piece of 2mm wire): 49. A note on other costs. This design needs very few tools to construct it. The cost of buying a ladder, if a ladder isn't already owned, or for paying someone who has a ladder to install a nesting box  below the roof, is absent.

It's very unlikely that this particular box will be used by any swifts in the area for bringing up young this season, and perhaps not for several seasons. More often than not, this is the case with any nest box installed in or outside a house. The chances of success are increased by playing a CD of swift calls. The open window (not open very widely) would allow the sound to reach the surroundings easily but I've decided not to play a CD. Neighbours here include very near neighbours, and I don't think I can justify playing a CD for so much of each day, beginning very early in the morning, even in a cause as important to me as this.

This is the newest material on the site. It will be revised and extended. The video material will be revised (but not extended) to include removal of sound, which is unnecessary. (The sounds include passing traffic and my instructions to 'Stop!' which was for the benefit of the person operating the camera on the other side of the street. If only there had been the cries of swifts flying nearby, I would be glad to retain a sound track, of course.)

Very much recommended, the established Websites and blogs concerned with swifts, including their material on internal and external nestboxes, as well as so much other material to do with swifts, as well as other more general sites which have material concerned with swifts. To mention just one topic, but an important one, I've found coverage of the 5th International Swift Conference, held in Tel Aviv, Israel earlier this year of great interest.

This Website isn't one which is exclusively concerned with swifts, obviously. It's very likely that people who are have a strong interest in swifts and a strong desire to help them, to further their welfare and to increase their numbers, won't support all my views or perhaps many of my views. My views on wider matters, like my views on swift nest boxes, have been formed by a process of hard thinking and hard work, but obviously they don't have to be accepted to a greater or lesser extent. They can be criticized, rejected. 

Any comments are welcome, including critical comments and suggestions for improving the design or adding new features to the nest box. My pessimistic view of the contribution which external swift boxes of the established design can make to counteract the decline in swift numbers may well be contested. If so, comments could address this issue.

I recognize, of course, that the best way of providing a place for swifts to lay their eggs and bring up their young isn't by means of a box installed on the outside of a building, whether the box is under a gutter or, as in the case of this design, outside a window, but by installations provided at the time of building, by swift bricks, and the other means which established Websites on swifts describe and illustrate, and, also, free-standing structures which provide many nesting places. Even so, these methods can't, realistically, be used in nearly enough places. To implement them will generally require contacting builders and architects, the use of  methods of persuasion, which are obviously very different from the methods used in personal construction. People who want to give all the help they can to the swifts in their locality generally have to construct, or buy, a swift box and have it installed, or install it themselves. This design is intended to make the process much easier.

If the aim is to provide not just one external box or a few external boxes, fitted on a house or other building, but to provide as many external boxes as possible, so as to make a significant contribution to the decline in swift numbers, then persuasion is obviously a necessity, just as in the case of those larger scale methods of provision, the large scale installations and free standing structures. People can be persuaded to install an external box or a few boxes far more easily if they don't have to do demanding work at a height on a ladder, or to pay someone to do the work. 

After the box has been installed, there's no guarantee of success. Swifts may not use the box, or perhaps not for years, but there's also a strong chance that swifts will eventually use it, helping to arrest the decline in their numbers -  to help these wonderful birds.

I don't live in an idyllic village but in a suburb of Sheffield, not far from the Hillsborough football stadium. Swifts are birds of town and city suburbs far more than birds of  beautiful and idyllic villages. (I make it clear that I appreciate these villages very much, together with all those villages which have less visual appeal but with compensating advantages of one kind or another.) If, hypothetically, I had the means to live in a beautiful and idyllic village rather than here, I wouldn't. I'd far rather live in an ordinary suburb with swifts than a beautiful and idyllic village without swifts. Without the sound of the swifts, the summer skies would seem silent. Without the sight of the swifts, the summer skies would seem empty.




The PHD swift nest box
A hydraulic apple press
The PHD workbench

The PHD low-level sheet metal workbench
Safety in sheet metal work
Another sheet metal workbench
My workshop
A wood store
A chainsaw stand
Steam bending of wood


Some of the designs I describe on the site, on this page and my pages on gardening and construction, such as the illustrated introduction, are called 'PHD' designs. 'PHD' stands for 'Paul Hurt Design.' There's no reference to 'PhD,' the name of the higher degree. I don't have a PhD degree and I don't have a business called 'PHD.' Starting a business wouldn't be a realistic possibility for me in the least, for many reasons, including the fact that I've a range of very different interests which take up a very great deal of time, as the Home Page will make clear, and no interest at all, or not much of an interest, in some of the knowledge and skills needed to run a successful business, such as  financial matters and taxation. Running a business would take me away from matters which are very important to me. I'm also past retirement age.

I use 'PHD'  simply to refer to designs of mine which I think are different from established designs, with some advantages. For example, the low level sheet metal workbench described on this page allows for much easier and safer handling of sheet metal. The design has no screw, nail or bolt fixings and the bench is particularly easy to erect and to dismantle.

A hydraulic apple press

This section is now archive material. I've now designed a completely new press. Material on the new design will be added to the page.

Some advantages of the apple press, which is suitable
for a wide range of users. It's suitable for the owner of a small orchard, for a person with a few apple trees or a person who can obtain apples in quantity - but it's large enough for (very small-scale) commercial operation.

It's cheap to construct. The cost is less than 250 GBP.

It's easy to construct, if the cross-beams are made of timber rather than metal. Wooden cross-beams will have to be much thicker than the steel cross-beams used in my model, although thinner wooden beams can also be used - simply use more of them. More about drilling into metal later. The basic structure is very simple - paired hollow section steel horizontals, painted black here, and paired wooden horizontals at right angle to the metal ones. (Alternatively, the metal horizontals are replaced with thicker wooden ones.). There are four uprights, not, as in many designs, two. These consist of four threaded rods, without the need for a separate stand to support the structure. The pressing has nearly always been carried out at the orchard but here, it's  carried out in a room in my house - excusable, I think. The weather has been poor.

The arrangement for halving or quartering the apples and pulping the apple sections, prior to pressing the pulp:

The design makes for a convenient, efficient work-flow. Everything is near to hand. Apples can be taken from the container, cut into pieces on the nearby horizontal wooden support, thrown into the scratter (which is nearby) and ground into pulp, which falls into the tray, all without unnecessary movement. The only time that it's necessary to move from the spot is to operate the wheel of the scratter (if a helper isn't available.)

The wooden board can be placed on the horizontal members of the upper level, which form a flat surface, once two smaller wooden horizontals, provided with clips, have been put in position. The bin is supported by a metal bar (inside the larger hollow steel section) which can be extended. Later, it's returned to its original position. It gives extra structural strength to the larger steel section. On the lower level are some of the various items that will be used during pressing.

During the apple pressing process, it may be convenient to have a larger working surface available than the small wooden rectangle shown above. The large wooden tray can be taken from the lower level and placed on this higher level. Obviously, it may come in useful at other times, and for other purposes, throughout the year, in fact.

This photo shows some of the other components of the press, the hydraulic bottle jack and the pressing sunface. It also shows some optional additions to the structure. As well as the four main threaded rods, four smaller diameter threaded rods can be used, attached to two small metal sections. Two of these smaller rods are shown here, in front of the main rod. These are necessary if a higher capacity jack is used.

The press can be used on uneven ground as well as flat surfaces, if the position of the nuts is adjusted. This will often be useful in an orchard. If the press is placed on a hard surface, as here, castors can be fitted very quickly. The two sub-units at the ends of the top hollow section - they contain the four smaller diameter threaded rods - are removed by loosening four nuts. Here, the two units are shown against a door.

Four casters are screwed into the lower ends of the threaded rods and then the two sub-units are put back at the ends of the steel horizontal. One of the castor-pair at the end of one of the sub-units. One castor in each pair has a brake to stop movement when it's applied.

If castors aren't used, the press can be moved short distances by two reasonably strong people. The press can be dismantled easily, simply by loosening nuts or pulling away pieces with clips, and it can be re-erected very easily. None of the separate pieces are very heavy. The heaviest are the two hollow section horizontals. Each one weighs about 2.8 kg.

The main items to be bought or acquired, if the version with metal cross-beams is constructed. The prices given are the approximate ones I paid, except for 12+mm threaded rods (I used the ones I already had, which happened to be stainless steel - much more expensive than the price quoted below. The cheaper ones are completely suitable.

The most expensive item by far is the one given first:

4 sheets of HDPE sheet for the racks of the press (many people would use 5 or perhaps 6): 72 GBP. Plywood sheets can be substituted - much cheaper and perfectly usable, even if less easy to keep clean and less durable.
Threaded rods, 16mm diameter: 19 GBP for a pack of 5 (only 4 are used.)
Threaded rods, 12mm diameter (if the optional units shown in the photo above are attached to the ends of the upper metal cross-beams): 8 GBP.
Two lengths of hollow rectangular section structural steel: 15 GBP.
Bottle jack (I used an 8 tonne hydraulic jack, the minimum size recommended for a press of this size): 25 GBP.
Curtain net, to make the cloths which are filled with apple pulp in the former before pressing: 9 GBP.
Waterproof, food-safe cloth (manufactured by Pro-care), used for lining the tray, with an outlet to direct the apple juice to a storage container (other options, a stainless steel tray or varnishing the tray with a suitable product): 30 GBP.
Timber board, to construct the tray (a piece was left which can be used for the support for chopping boards when the apples are halved or quartered): 30 GBP.
Other wood, to construct the wooden horizontal members of the frame, the top plate and the form (I used ordinary softwood, spruce): estimated 15 GBP.

If castors are used, these will add to the cost. I paid 40 GBP for the four castors.

In addition, varnish was used for the wood and metal paint for the rectangular section. I used two convenient products, very easy to apply, Ronseal diamond hard Interior Varnish and Hammerite direct to rust metal paint. Costs not given here: only a small part of the contents of the containers had to be used.

It's easy to construct the version with these metal cross-beams, if  a bench press or larger press is available for drilling the holes. Ordinary portable drills can also be used, provided they have the necessary power and can take a 16 mm drill bit, and provided the person doing the drilling is cautious but confident - when the drill bit begins to break through the metal, there are large torque forces and the drill has to be held very firmly.

The PHD workbench

More images of the workbench in the section my workshop.

No innovations are possible in workbench design and construction - everything that could have been thought of has already been thought of. That's a common opinion, but I don't share it. I'd claim that the PHD workbench does include innovations, even if the innovations aren't dramatic. Of course, I don't claim, of course, that an improved workbench necessarily leads to improved woodworking or metal working.

There's general agreement that a good workbench has to be solid and heavy, to provide a stable base for holding the wood or metal which is being worked. I don't dispute that. I think the same. The workbench I've designed is solid and heavy.

Manufacturers charge much more for very solid and heavy workbenches than  for very light and flimsy ones, but this one is cheap to construct. I used an old door for the top of the bench - it had been thrown out and put in a skip - together with a plywood sheet, but if a free-of-charge door can't be found, the cost of the workbench is still very low. For reasons I explain later, I put the door on top and the plywood sheet underneath. Anyone who wants to build a similar workbench and has a usable door is completely free to do it differently.

The door has an obvious flaw - there's a hole at one side where the lock was. The standard way of dealing with the hole is to use filler or to plug the hole with a circular section of wood, although it's  difficult to disguise holes of this size. The hole can be hidden very easily, for instance, by bolting a pillar drill in this area (a thick support is underneath the bench here.)

Workbenches which are solid and heavy are difficult to move. Shifting loads of this size is a job which should preferably be avoided. Changed circumstances may make it essential to move a  wonderful and very substantial workbench some distance. There are any number of reasons - a bad leak in the roof above the workbench, the purchase of a new piece of equipment which would be better off in the place where the workbench is now ...

This workbench is very easy to move, as I explain now. Workbench design doesn't have to be like tent design - the ideal backpacking tent is very spacious, very light, very strong - capable of withstanding gales - very cheap, very easy to erect and very easy to dismantle. In tent design, far more than workbench design, the problem of incompatible ends is a real one. In workbench design, it's much easier to achieve advantages without corresponding disadvantages.

We can move the workbench within the workshop or working area very easily, without taking it to bits. We can move the workbench longer distances by taking it to bits, something which is very easy. It's just as easy to assemble it.

How do we move such a heavy object within the workshop or working area? Answer, the bench has a jacking point. Place a heavy hydraulic jack or a small and light hydraulic bottle jack or a non-hydraulic vehicle jack under the jacking beam, at more or less the centre of the beam. I see advantages in equipping workbenches, like motor vehicles, with beams which are strong enough for the purpose. These beams are at the ends of the workbench, not the sides, of course.

When one end is in the air, attach blocks to the two legs - or supporting members - of the workbench at this end. The blocks are equipped with heavy-duty spindle castors. These castors have brakes, so that once the other end is raised, the castors don't move. Operate the jack so that this end is gently lowered and the castors take the weight of the workbench. Go to the opposite end and do the same. There's no need for the castors at this end to have brakes. Once this end has been gently lowered, the workbench is mobile.

Why is this workbench so easy to erect and dismantle? Primarily, because it doesn't rely upon mortice and tenon joints. The pieces which make up the workbench are either bolted together, with carriage (coach) bolts or, in some cases, where strength isn't a necessity, by means of screws, Unlike nails, of course, screws can easily be removed. The screws used in this workbench are substantial ones of M12 diameter, but are easy to insert and remove, with the aid of a club hammer.

The PHD low-level sheet metal workbench

Above, the workbench. The wooden straight edge for guiding the jigsaw has now been replaced with a metal straight edge, which has the advantage of greater weight as well as an edge which is more exact. The workbench is suitable for work with a router as well as a jigsaw.

What are the advantages of having a sheet metal workbench as low as this? Above all, much greater safety in handling sheet metal. The sheet metal I have is stored against the wall to the right of the bench. If I had a bench of the usual 'bench height,' I would have to get hold of the sheet and lift it on to the bench. A sheet of sheet metal isn't too heavy but it is large and unwieldy. It flops around in an irritating - and potentially dangerous - way. The corners of the sheet metal are protected by my system of plastic clip-on units, more or less eliminating the dangers but not eliminating in the least the difficulties - these materials are much more difficult to handle than structural steel bars or most other things, even for two people. I do need help bringing in the sheets from outside to this storage area. A fork-lift truck can transport sheet metal in a horizontal position, but people always carry them in a vertical position, for obvious reasons. Why should anyone need to take out a vertical sheet from storage, rotate it to the horizontal position and then lift this very, very cumbersome thing quite some distance and then place it on a bench at approximately waist height?

The section which follows this describes my earlier sheet metal workbench - a good design, I think, in many ways, but with the great disadvantage of being simply too high.

My bench allows a far easier way of working. I simply get hold of the upper edge of the sheet - with an extended arm, keeping a safe distance - and pull it away from the wall so that it falls to the left, onto the low-level bench. Adjustments are made to the position of the sheet and then the sheet is clamped to the bench. The clamps shown in the image above are spring clamps, used in pairs. One clamp grips a wooden support, a scaffolding board. (The placing of these boards is explained below.) The other clamp grips the edge of the sheet metal and the clamp which has already been applied. This system is very, very quick and very secure. The sheet metal can't move at all. In this stable position, the sheet metal can be cut. For straight cuts, including long straight cuts, the wooden straight edge shown in the image above is used. It acts as a guide for a jigsaw. The wooden straight edge is clamped to the sheet metal at the front edge using one spring clamp. The straight edge is secured at the far side using a very simple but very effective method. It's simply weighed down with the two blocks, which are oak and heavy - heavy enough to allow no movement of the straight edge during cutting.

Moving a sheet from storage to its position on the bench  only takes a few moments - from a position of safety - rather than a much longer time, in a position which is potentially dangerous and at the least, something of a struggle for two people and all but impossible for one. When the work has been carried out, it's very easy to lift the sheet - or sheets, if the sheet has been cut into more than one piece - back into the storage position by the wall. Setting up the straight edge takes only a few moments.

Above, the components of the workbench

The workbench is very simple and very quick to set up, and  to dismantle. The components can easily be stored and take up very little space. The main components are simply four sections of scaffolding board, each of them 22cm high, separated by six sections of oak sleeper. Sections of softwood sleeper can also be use. Each of these sections is 30 cm long and 10cm high. These sections of sleeper and scaffolding board (longer, complete scaffolding boards can also be used) aren't joined in any way, by nails, screws or bolts. The components are simply held in place by two long pieces of webbing. The ones here are the kind used to secure loads to roof racks. The components rest on hardboard here, but can also rest on the floor directly. The weight of the oak sections effectively prevents any movement during cutting.

Longitudinal cutting of sheet metal is obviously carried out parallel with the sleepers. If it's necessary to cut the sheet metal in a place where one of the scaffolding boards would get in the way, the sheet metal is simply unclamped and moved to the left or right, so that there's no obstruction, and then re-clamped.

Transverse cutting takes place nearer to the three blocks at the far side. A straight edge is secured, and the metal can be cut easily.

The workbench can't be used for long periods of work - obviously, kneeling is much more tiring than standing -  only for operations which take little time, and there are operations in sheet metal work which shouldn't be attempted in a kneeling position at all. For these, a conventional bench will be necessary, with a helper if necessary (or more than one helper) to lift the sheet metal onto the bench.

Safety in sheet metal work

The companies which sell sheet metal, in my experience, underestimate the hazards of working with sheet metal. They may assume that every customer is an experienced sheet metal but someone who has only recently become interested in working with this very interesting material is able to take away the sheet metal, with unprotected corners. Sheet metal comes in large sheets. Moving them calls for great care, but even with great care care, accidents can easily happen, when sheets have to be taken up stairs or moved round corners, for example.

In the second image here, the sharp corners shown in the first image are made more or less harmless by the addition of plastic corner pieces. I use the plastic pieces which are sold to hold together loose printed sheets, easily obtainable from shops which sell stationery materials. It's just as easy to protect any jagged edges of sheet metal, including the complete edge of a section of sheet metal, by using longer plastic protectors. I have available for use protectors which are 2.5 m long, sold as 'universal channel board, finishing trim.'

I'm glad that Dr Marcus Bowman points out the dangers in his book 'Sheet Metal Work.' It's one of the books on sheet metal work which I own and I recommend it. In the chapter 'Safety First,' he writes,

'Because the edge of a sheet is so thin, the pressure it exerts is very high. You might get a nasty bruise or even break a bone if you strike your hand with a hammer or a large flat piece of metal, but strike your hand with the edge of a sheet and the injuries are likely to be much more severe ...

'The edges left after a cutting operation usually have a fine, almost invisible burr which acts like a sharp razor saw ... Yes, the edges of sheet metal deserve the utmost respect. Whenever possible, avoid handling the edges of sheets, and atthe very least, wear good, heavy-duty, procetcive gloves of leather or Kevlar, and do not allow your hand to slide along an edge.'

He also writes well on the risks to hearing and sight, including this:

'Wear good eye protection made to proper industrial standards at all times.'

He gives many recommendations in the section, 'Creating a safe environment' including this,

'Watch those sharp corners if you are moving sheets when others are present ...' but of course, there's a need to watch those sharp corners when others aren't present. It's much better to take great care but to have the sharp corners made blunt and more or less harmless by such a method as the one I've suggested.

Another sheet metal workbench

As I explain in the previous section, this bench has been replaced. The material here is archive material.

Above, a view of part of the machine I designed and built for bending sheet metal and for making the cutting of sheet metal easier. It's also a workbench for general sheet metal work (to mention just one activity, joining sheet metal sections by riveting) and a supplementary bench for other work, such as general metalwork and woodwork.  It can be used for joining sheet metal sections by riveting, for example.  It's housed not in my workshop but in another room. The sheet metal is fed into the machine between the two perforated steel bars. I already owned a machine for bending sheet metal but the maximum width of the sheet metal which the machine can bend (by non-hydraulic power) is only 600 mm. This machine will bend sheet metal up to a width of 1300 mm by hydraulic power.

I made use of webbing straps (one of the two red straps visible here) rather than steel components when the forces are purely tensile, not compressive. I think this is a very useful design feature, which can be used in machines of many different kinds. Webbing straps can withstand considerable forces without breaking.

When the machine is used for cutting sheet metal, the sheet is placed on top of the two long and strong boards which form the upper surface and secured with clamps - there are two G-clamps which can be seen towards the left. To the right of the G-clamps is another clamp. Its main use is clamping  metal which is being drilled in the pillar drill of the workshop. On the far left is the equipment which does the cutting (Stakesy's throatless hand shear.) On the right is a bench swager and slip roller used amongst other things for strengthening sheet metal. On the nearer of the top boards is a router guide, useful for measurements of length.

To cut the sheet metal, the cutter is placed within the channel which separates the two boards, at one end of the channel. The channel is 12 cm wide and 10 cm deep. The cutting blade is at the correct height for cutting the sheet metal. In this position, the cutter can be moved forward. As it advances, the handle is operated to cut the metal with the blade. The cutter can be used without the machine, but it's much harder to obtain a straight cut - if a straight cut is the intention. The machine, and the separate cutter, can also be used for curved cuts. Again, the machine makes the process easier.

My workshop

Above, part of my kitchen-workshop, not in the least elaborate. Most of my work is carried out with portable tools in the open air. On the workbench here there are  tools which do use mains power, a router, with attachment, a drill press, a saw, manufactured by 'Evolution,' which can cut a range of materials, structural steel as well as wood, and an Evolution jigsaw. Some tools can be stored underneath the bench, but others are fixed. These include a sheet metal bead roller and a sheet metal folder. The bench is a 'transverse extension bench.' The wooden extension houses a very substantial Record metalworking swivel vice on the night but there's free space available to the left. The extension can be extended, giving more available space to the right of the vice. There are many more tools than the ones shown here. Some of them, including a chainsaw, an electric planer and a rotary sander are stored underneath the bench. Others are stored in tools cabinets in the workshop, or on one of the walls not shown here.

Above, a closer view of routing equipment

Above, another view of the workbench, showing some of the large area available for storage underneath the bench. As will be obvious, the workbench top was constructed using a wooden door (with a layer of plywood underneath. The four  recesses in the top of the workbench are useful for retaining a wide range of tools, fixings and other items, largely eliminating the risk of accidental falls  from the bench onto the floor.

A wood store

Above, an outdoor project, in the backyard / back garden - a very simple structure for storing wood to be used in a multi-fuel stove. The wood store is in my small back garden. The wood store is constructed from off-cuts of railway sleepers, which support horizontals made from decking boards. The store still has to be finished with oil/varnish after it has dried out. The log sections here still have to be cut into smaller sections for seasoning.

A  chainsaw stand

Another outdoor project, a stand for supporting a chainsaw, used for sawing logs and branches, particularly repetitive sawing. A safer way of using a chainsaw for tasks like these. This chainsaw has now been replaced with a better model, a Grizzly chainsaw.

Steam bending of wood

Above, two views of the equipment I made for steam bending of wood. The wood to be bent is placed in the inner steel container, which is filled with steam from a steam generator. The container is well insulated with the foam, inside the larger steel container. Next to the steam bending equipment, the chainsaw stand.