Guide written by:
John, DIYer & IT developer, Brighton
In order to choose the right workbench, you should start by outlining your needs. The size of your work surface and the weight your workbench has to withstand will be determined by the size of your work pieces. Do you require a vice? If so, which type? Will you need to move around your workbench to a corner of the workshop or collapse it down to store away?
Identifying your needs from the get-go will mean you're sure to find the best workbench for your workshop!
As not all projects have the same requirements, each workbench has been designed for a specific application. It goes without saying that mechanics and carpenters won’t be looking for the same criteria! There are six main types of workbench:
Folding workbench with vice
A woodworking workbench made of solid wood will bring a touch of traditional charm to your workshop. However, the dimensions of these benches are as impressive as their weight, meaning they are usually only suited to relatively large workshops. Without adequate space, you'll find you won't have enough clearance to work around the bench with the addition of any of the presses, clamps, or vices commonly used for carpentry work.
These benches are often equipped with a large shelf (as big as 50 cm deep and 1.2 to 2 m in length) below the main work surface which can be used to accommodate even your bulkiest tools with ease. A series of cupboards or drawers will also offer a substantial amount of storage space.
Mechanic’s workbenches are generally medium-sized benches made from solid wood or plywood and are very strong. Some models can withstand as much as a few hundred kilos in weight. Just like woodworking workbenches, the lower part of these units is usually equipped with storage shelves. Some models will include hanging storage above the work surface to keep your screwdrivers and spanners close at hand.
Rolling workbenches usually consist of a metal frame fixed to a set of large wheels equipped with brakes and are easy to move around the workshop as you like. These models can act as an extension to another workbench in order to hold a longer work piece, provide a place to set down your tools or even serve as a mobile work station for fixing tools such as pillar drills.
Folding benches are convenient if you do not have a permanent workshop or if your space is too small for a traditional workbench. These workbenches are essential for jobs that change work sites. The metal structure is lightweight for easy handling and transportation.
As they generally only weigh about ten kilos, collapsible benches will spare your back from any strain. Steel is preferable to any other material thanks to its strength. Nonetheless, moving parts, such as hinges, create weak points in the frame that limit the maximum weight these benches can support. The maximum load ranges from around 100 kg for entry-level models up to 250 kg for high-end models.
These workbenches are another variation on folding workbenches. The work surface of these benches is split into two parts that can be operated by two cranks. This allows you to tighten pieces between the two boards. Plastic swivel pegs can be inserted into holes on both plates to accommodate work pieces of different shapes and sizes. Some high-end models offer the option of tilting the surface vertically in order to work with objects of unusual shapes, giving you a full range of motion for any project.
Multipurpose benches are folding benches that can be transformed into work stations for various tools. Simply attach a circular saw or a router to safely turn your workbench into a table saw or mini router table. Some models even come with an emergency stop button to cut off your tools in case of emergenices. Some accessories are supplied as standard while others can be purchased separately, allowing you to take full advantage of your workbench.
Your workbench should be able to withstand the weight of your work pieces, and be resistant to shocks and warping over time. A range of materials is available, depending on your budget.
MDF is a cheap but very stable composite material. It won't warp but does not stand up well to shocks.
Plywood is a stable composite material like MDF. The layering of wood crossed with other fibres makes it more resistant to shocks. While it is still a relatively cheap material, it is more expensive than MDF.
Glue laminated timber is a high-quality but expensive material. The main disadvantage of this material is that the wood shrinks as it dries which can cause it to misshape. A good quality workbench will be made of dried wood which has been pre-treated to limit the risk of warping.
The key to selecting the right workbench is to properly define your needs; dimensions and portability are the keywords here. Going for a higher-end model will have its advantages. No matter which type of workbench you go for, a high-end model will offer the guarantee of a better quality finish, a flat and sturdy work surface, and fully functional moving components. Folding benches and multipurpose benches have many moving parts that must work precisely and reliably to ensure the quality of your work and your safety. Finally, you'll find that high-end workbenches offer a whole range of accessories designed to make your life easier!
Guide written by:
John, DIYer & IT developer, Brighton
Since I was a child, I was always interested in manual and technical work. Always fascinated by woodworking, I took advantage of my first flat as a playground. On the cards: electricity (of course, safety first!) and some partition walls; but also decorating with the help of the missus, made-to-measure furniture and little tricks to optimise the space, all the while remaining as original as possible. When the little one arrived, I started building bits and pieces for him! Lacking space, I have not got a permanent workshop and certain tools I dream about are not part of my collection. Not to worry, I already know a lot about DIY and I have a high-tech profile that I hope will guide you in your decisions!