There is no doubt that one of the most important woodworking tools is a workbench. It gives every woodworker the essential ability to secure a piece of wood to something solid, especially if you prefer working with hand tools.
You have two choices: buy a pre-made bench or make your own. Whether you’re a master woodworker or a weekend warrior, having a portable workbench on hand means more than just being able to haul it out when you need more table space – it means you can set up shop wherever you are.
Portable workbenches vary in shape and size, but most are lightweight, relatively inexpensive and easy to transport and store. Here’s a favorite pick from WOOD Magazine.
Rockwell Jawhorse RK9003: This three-legged workbench may look odd, but it’s strong and versatile. It has a table height of 39 inches, features a clamping range to 37 inches and offers more than one ton of clamping force. The clamp is controlled by a foot pedal, leaving your hands free to hold the workpiece. A front-mounted lever unlocks the jaws. At 43 pounds, this is heavier than some other portable workbenches, but it easily holds 600 pounds of weight. The bench is constructed of solid steel with a long-lasting bamboo top.
Kreg Mobile Project Center: This lightweight (40 pounds) portable workbench has a load capacity of 350 pounds and includes a 17.75 inch by 26-inch shelf below the work surface that holds up to 25 pounds. It features a multi-function 30 inch by 32-inch work surface, with a height of 31.5 inches. This versatile unit can serve as a portable workbench, assembly table, sawhorse and clamping station. When you’re done working, it folds down to a slim 6.5 inches.
There’s no doubt that buying a portable workbench is going to be more convenient than building one. But if you buy a cheap workbench, you could very well spend a great deal of time repairing, reinforcing and replacing things just to keep the bench in working order – not really convenient in the long run. After all, the style, construction and composition of a workbench can definitely affect its functionality. So, if you purchase one, you’re stuck with it. Modifying it may be difficult or impossible.
One of the great things about building your own portable workbench is that you can customize it to your needs and tastes. If you keep the original design relatively simple, more features can be added as you need them.
How About a Hybrid Compromise?
Building your own portable workbench from the ground up is not a woodworker’s rite of passage, so don’t feel compelled to do so. How about combining the best of both worlds and go the hybrid route? You can either buy a sturdy base and add the wooden top or buy a beautiful pre-made top and build the base to suit your needs.
Building your own base would be a relatively easy project, even for those new to woodworking. This is the area where most of the customization takes place, anyway. A custom-made base allows you to add any type of vise you prefer, storage areas, a thick skirt, dog holes, a sliding dead-man and anything else you’d like to add. This method might not be as inexpensive as starting from scratch, but it will take far less effort.
In the end, buying or making a portable workbench is a personal choice. A workbench you make can be utilitarian or it can be beautifully handcrafted. Both types of workbenches will function about the same, but for the passionate woodworker, it’s more likely the latter example will be much more of a pleasure to use and own.