Recently, I purchased a butane powered soldering iron, and realized continuing to solder on a wooden table is a really bad idea. So, I started thinking about what I could put on top of the table to protect it. I thought of an old piece of plastic I used to use, but couldn't think of where it was. So I stepped into my room, and looked around for a solution. And I found it! A sheet of Plexiglas.
Why it's good
- can be placed on nearly* any flat surface
- you can easily move your project without packing it all up if somebody needs to steal your work area
- protects chosen flat surface
- easily cleaned
- with one addition, the Plexiglas gets a bunch more positives which I will discuss at the end
- are there any?
**WARNING: Whenever using a hot object on the worktable, be very cautious. The Plexiglas CAN be melted, and will become very hot**
*I would say any flat surface, but I can't make any guarantees!
Step 1: What You Need
Scrap piece of Plexiglas (or new if you don't have scrap)
2 ping pong balls
Cutting tool of some sort
Dremel tool (or similar rotary tool)
Hobby knife or razor blade
Gorilla Super Glue or hot glue
Step 2: Ping Pong Prep Work
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We need to cut both of the ping pong balls in half so we have four "hemispheres".
1) If you hold up the ping pong ball to the light, you should see a line shadow that outlines the entire circumference pic 1. Once you identify the shadow, you will be able to find the line even if you are not holding it up to the light; it will be a faint white line. We will use this line as a guide while we cut.
2) Carefully puncture the ping pong ball with the hobby knife, right on that white line. You want a slit not a hole pic 3. Now, cut all the way around until you get back to where you started. You will now have two hemispheres. Repeat this with the other ping pong ball.
You may want to have one or two extras, that way you are prepared if you mess up.
3) Use a pair of scissors to trim any uneven parts like in pic 6
Step 3: Plexi Prep Work
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1) Cut your Plexiglas down to size. Mine was already an ideal size of 22" x 28"
2) Get the rag damp and wipe off your Plexiglas. Dry it off. Mine was dirty because it came from a demolished play house (sad, right?).
3) Flip the Plexiglas so the side that will go down on the flat surface faces up. This doesn't really matter, but you may have a preference.
4) Place a ping pong hemisphere in a corner of the Plexiglas. Lightly hold the ping pong hemisphere in place (if you press too hard, it will distort the circle). Use the sharpie to trace around it.
Leave the ping pong hemisphere there. Repeat in all four corners, placing a ping pong hemisphere, tracing, and leaving.
Once you do that, label each hemisphere and their respective circle. I used BL, BR, TL, TR (bottom left, bottom right, top left, top right), then I realized you can just use ABCD or 1234. Use whatever labeling system you want. See pic 5 & 6
5) Use the dremel tool to cut a "rut" right along the sharpie line. Make the rut extend toward the inside of the circle (refer to pic 8). When you work on a circle, use the respective ping pong hemiphere as a reference to fine-tune the rut. You want it to be able to fit into the rut, not rest on the edge.
This part will make a big mess! Be sure to do it in a place that is easy to clean up.
**WARNING: Use eye protection why using the dremel tool**
Tip: If you add one more ping pong hemisphere in the center of the Plexiglas, it will add extra support. Just make sure that it is less than a hemisphere, otherwise it will lift the worktable off of the other ping pong hemispheres, making the worktable wobbly.
Step 4: Putting it Together
1) Liberally apply glue inside the ruts, and stick the ping pong hemispheres right in. Make sure you put the ping pong hemispheres into their labeled rut. Be careful with Gorilla Super Glue; a little goes a long way.
2) Let it dry.
Note: I only have hot glue, which I know is not very good glue for making stuff. I do know that Gorilla Super Glue is amazing for just about anything, so use it if you can.
3) Clean up any stray glue so it doesn't look like it was applied by an ogre.
The ping pong hemispheres protect the flat surface from scratches when you place the worktable on it.
Step 5: Complete
You now have a portable worktable! You can turn any flat surface into a neat workstation.
In addition to protecting the selected surface, the ping pong hemispheres lift the worktable up. If your selected surface is cluttered, you can slide small items such as paper and pencils under the worktable. This way you don't have to bother clearing out an area; you can get right to work! Another advantage to this is you can slide your tools underneath the edge, that way they are easily accessible but out of the way when you don't need them. Another plus, you can put your plans underneath for easy reference.
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Step 6: Cool Stuff About Plexiglas
Before I decided to use Plexiglas as a workstation, I did some research to make sure it would be able to withstand my butane soldering iron. In the process, I learned some cool things about Plexiglas.
- It has a super cool scientific name: Polymethyl methacrylate or PMMA for short
- Plexiglas is actually a brand name, kinda like Velcro. It was patented and registered by Otto Rohm in 1933. It's non-branded name is acrylic glass
plexiglas:acrylic glass::Velcro:hook and loop
- During WWII, Plexiglas was used for submarine periscopes, windshields, canopies, and gun turrets for airplanes. Needless to say, if I find myself caught in the middle of WWIII, my worktable will pull through.
- Plexiglas has higher impact resistance than regular glass. So, if I drop an LED, it shouldn't shatter the Plexiglas.
- My favorite property is that it can me formed using heat. Now, you may be thinking, "how in the world will this withstand a butane powered soldering iron?!" Well, it ignites at a temperature of 860º Fahrenheit (460º Celsius). I was able to achieve this with the torch function of my soldering iron (see video below). However, I had to aim the flame at the Plexiglas for a sustained amount of time in order to do this, so heat from the tip (no flame) will not catch it on fire.
- When I lit the Plexiglas on fire, I discovered that the flame does not spread quickly (by any stretch of the word), and it could be put out by a quick blow. If you do decide to light your worktable on fire (intentionally), be sure to do so outside.
- You can remove scratches from Plexiglas by directing heat toward it. I used the torch to try this, but kept it moving so it did not light the Plexiglas on fire. Because I don't mind the scratches, I stopped removing them. I tried this to confirm that you can actually remove scratches with heat. I suspect that you can join pieces of Plexiglas together by holding them together and heating them where they meet.
While the Plexiglas was on fire, it started bubbling. I noticed that when I blew out the flame, the bubbles remained! So, I lit it the Plexiglas on fire again, and let the bubbles grow, then blew the flame out. Then I let the Plexiglas cool completely. I have created bubbles that won't pop! However, you can break them if you push hard enough.
This was actually a pretty good scratch. I scratched it with a razor blade. When I was heating it, I accidentally held the flame too close for too long, so it started bubbling a tiny bit, and a little flame appeared. I did not remove the scratch completely, but you can see it started to disappear.
**WARNING: Do not use a butane torch in bright sunlight like I did. You can barely see the flame (if that) which is very dangerous.**
I got most this information from Wikipedia. You may think this is not a reliable source, but I find it to be quite accurate. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plexiglas