Bonus! Lessons Learned with an Industrial Pipe Workbench

Last month, I posted about some lessons we learned when installing industrial pipe shelves. Working with rigid, steel pipes with high manufacturing tolerances provided a lot of unexpected challenges, and those challenges weren’t exclusive just to the shelves.

At the conclusion of that project (and primarily because I can’t measure properly) there was a not-insignificant amount of extra pipe and extra shelves remaining. Extra material is usually not ideal. But when life hands you lemons, make grape juice.

We decided to make a work bench / desk that would be used for making woodwind instrument reeds. Reed making can be damaging to the surface you’re working on, so this extra workbench would provide a surface that can handle a little destruction with minimal loss of value.

This should be pretty simple, right?

– Naivety, circa February 2020

The Loop Problem

For someone who prides himself of having an acute sense of spacial dimensions, I’m ashamed I didn’t see this coming. To be fair, anyone who builds the aforementioned shelves would never encounter this problem. This was uncharted territory for using industrial pipe shelves for unintended purposes.

We’re all familiar with the old workman’s phase, righty tighty lefty loosey. Naturally, any pipes one acquires for this project abides by this unwritten law.

Or maybe it actually is written somewhere…

But that presents a problem. To build a free-standing structure, we needed to assemble this workbench with a “box” structure, so that a path of pipes eventually connects back to itself. With righty tighty lefty loosey, that’s literally impossible. Once you loop a series of pipes back around using elbow- or T-joints and try to connect itself, you’re unscrewing one end while you screw the other end in.

That impossibility wasn’t apparent until midway through assembly.

What’s needed is called a Left-Right Coupling. It’s a joint that has threads on one end going in the normal direction (righty tighty lefty loosey) and reverse threads in the other direction. Therefore when you twist that coupling, the pipes on either end are simultaneously pulled in or pushed out.

Now, you’ll probably notice that the threads on one pipes must also be reversed. Luckily, you can usually buy these Left-Right couplings with a corresponding pipe that also has reverse threads on one side.

After using some conduit U-brackets to mount the extra shelf onto the sturdy, square structure, we had ourselves an impromptu workbench.