Every workshop needs a workbench, or two, or three. I actually have three in mine, four if you count the portable one. While some people like to build their own, it’s a lot faster and easier to buy one or buy a kit. That also ensures that you’ll have a workbench that’s going to hold up under heavy duty use.
The workbench is the center of the workshop, providing a place to work on projects, set your parts when you’re not working with them, store tools, and whatever else needs to be done. Without a workbench, you’re stuck with trying to find somewhere else to work and often that somewhere is someplace that’s going to get your girlfriend or wife upset at you!
Picking a workbench can be tricky, especially for those of us engaged in a variety of different tasks. Check out our buyer's guide below for some things to look for in your ideal workbench, before making a selection.
Best Workbench Overall:
Can anyone survive without a workbench? Or, can any workshop truly be a workshop without one? A good workbench isn't only a place to work on projects, but it becomes the central focal point of a workshop. With it, one has a place to work, to place their projects between work sessions and even to store parts and tools. Without one, you’re stuck setting up temporary work areas, which often have to be cleaned off and returned to their rightful place after you quit working.
More than anything, a good workbench needs to be sturdy, with a thick, strong top. It’s not uncommon to be cutting, pounding nails and doing other machining operations on the workbench, so if it’s not sturdy, you can end up breaking it while trying to work. In addition, the top needs to be made of a material that will weather beating, tool marks and paint spills. Unlike a dining room table, a workbench probably won’t stay looking good. That’s all right; just as long as it stays functional.
Many people mount a vice on their workbench, so it’s important to have a top that is strong enough to support the vice and that the bolts won’t weaken. Depending upon the type of work that you do on the workbench, you might want one that is extremely flat as well. This is common for woodworking, but some types of hobbies and crafts require a very flat surface.
Of course, the bigger the workbench is the better. That is, unless it becomes so big that it prevents you from putting other things in your garage or workshop. My workbench runs along the entire back wall of my garage, giving me space to mount some benchtop tools, keep some things on the workbench, and still have plenty of space to work on current projects.
The other important thing to look for in a workbench is storage space. I don’t know about you, but I never seem to have enough storage space in my workshop. Between my ever-increasing tool collection and the parallel collection of parts and materials, I’m always looking for new places to store things. A good workbench can help with this, providing drawers, shelves under the workbench, and even risers for additional storage. You just want to make sure that the storage doesn't get in the way of you working on your projects.
Workbenches are pretty universal, able to be used for a wide variety of projects. There are two exceptions to this though; automotive repair and woodworking. For automotive repair, it’s common to use a metal topped workbench, so that there isn't any problem with oil soaking into it. That doesn't mean that you can’t do automotive repair with a wood topped workbench, but you must realize that the wood will become oil impregnated over time. That oil could end up staining wood projects built on the same workbench.
This truly impressive workbench offers lots of storage. Between 12 drawers and a locking cabinet, you have lots of room to store your favorite tools, easily accessible while you work. It's also movable, being mounted on 5-inch castors. Read Full Review
This well-built workbench provides lots of storage in a convenient work space. The overhead fluorescent light ensures that you can see what you're working on easily. Read Full Review
This 5-foot wide workbench from Gorilla Rack provides both lower and riser shelves, in addition to two drawers. The particleboard top is easily replaceable, should it become damaged. Read Full Review
This is just a kit, but it's a pretty impressive one. You have to buy the wood for the top and the shelves. However, you can easily configure your bench as you need to, all the way up to 4-by-8 feet. Read Full Review
If you're doing automotive work, you may want to consider a stainless steel workbench like this one. The heavy-duty top won't become damaged by metal parts or become stained by oil. Read Full Review
Best Woodworking Workbench:
Woodworking workbenches are different than other types of workbenches. A typical workbench is designed to provide a place to work on a variety of projects, along with storing parts and tools. Other than being a rugged workplace, it really isn’t designed to do any specific function on its own.
A woodworking workbench is actually a large clamping system, designed to hold workpieces while you are finishing them, provide a means of clamping projects for gluing, and provide a flat surface for laminating pieces of wood together. It typically has two woodworking vices, one mounted on the end, called a “tail vice” and the other mounted on the side or leg.
These two vices define the woodworking workbench more than anything else. Woodworking vices are different than vices which are used for metalworking, in that they are designed and manufactured to provide a large, non-marring clamping area. The vices are mounted flush with the top of the workbench, so that they can work together with the bench top for clamping. Bench vices made of wood will have a hole for bench dog, while metal wood vices usually have a bench dog built into them.
The bench dog is a clamping device which goes into holes bored through the bench top. They allow the vice to be extended, so that it can clamp larger pieces of wood or clamp them on the flat. The wood is captured between a bench dog inserted through the bench top and one that is on the vice. As the vice is tightened, the workpiece is captured between the two bench dogs, holding it in place.
Another set of bench dog holes may be bored into the front surface of the bench’s legs. This is used in conjunction with the side vice, putting a bench dog into the hole to act as a support for long boards or other pieces that are held in the side vice. The bench dog does not provide any clamping ability in this case, merely functioning as a support. For this to work, the bench’s legs must be flush with the edge of the workbench.
The best woodworking workbenches will have large vices which are wood faced. Ideally, the end vice should be the width of the workbench, with two bench dog holes and two rows of bench dog holes bored through the workbench top.
Woodworking workbench tops are made of a light colored hardwood, laminated much like a butcher’s block. A good workbench might have a top that is two inches thick, although this is the first place that manufacturers look to cut costs on lower cost workbenches.
The top of the bench may have an indented area along the back side (side away from the side vice) to put tools in while working. Considering that it is common to use these workbenches with large workpieces, such as doors and table tops, the indented area keeps tools from being knocked off the bench inadvertently. It is also common to have a shelf under the workbench for the storage of tools. Rarely do they have any drawers for storage, although that is not unheard of.
Woodworking workbenches are intended to be free-standing in the center of the workshop, not placed against the wall. Often, the woodworker needs access to all sides of the project, in order to be able to work on it. This requires that the workbench be located where there is plenty of space all around it.
The weight of a woodworking workbench is important as well. The solid top provides weight to keep the bench from moving while working on it. Using a plane on wood can easily create a large amount of force, which could move a light weight workbench.
From Sweden, this top-quality bench by Sjoberg is huge. Measuring 93-3/4-by-23-5/8 inches it provides ample room for working on almost any type of project. Read Full Review
This workbench was originally sold exclusively by Woodcraft, but has now been released for sale by others. The Pinnacle bench is based on Colonial American designs, providing today's woodworker with the same convenience that those Early American craftsmen enjoyed. Read Full Review
This workbench is made of Beech, providing a hard and smooth top surface. The end vice runs almost full width, offering plenty of clamping potential. Read Full Review
For the woodworker who needs a bargain, this is truly an excellent deal. The workbench has four felt-lined drawers for tool storage, as well as a nice wide shelf under them. Read Full Review
Best Portable Workbench:
Workbenches are great, but sometimes they’re just not enough. I don’t care how many workbenches you have in your workshop, there are times when they are all full and you still need someplace to work. Then there are the times when you need to work somewhere other than your workshop. Your workbench doesn’t do you the least bit of good in those cases; you need something you can take with you.
That’s where a portable workbench comes in. with it you can have at least some of the advantages of having your workbench, right there with you. While they don’t offer you the same amount of workspace, nor the storage that a real workbench does, they do provide you with someplace that you can cut and work on projects, without having to set up a temporary workbench on sawhorses.
There are lots of different styles of portable workbenches out there, for the various types of work that people do. one that is designed for woodworking may not work well for auto mechanics work, nor one for auto mechanics work for those that are doing woodworking. So, you need to select a portable bench that best meets the type of work that you are doing; not what somebody else’s idea of a perfect portable workbench is.
All of these have one thing in common, their portability. After that, they really aren’t alike at all. Each provides a good portable or mobile solution for some types of work. With them, you have the possibility of taking your work with you, whether it’s in another part of your house or another jobsite entirely.
One of the really great things about having a portable workbench is that it’s easier to keep clear of projects in process, tools, parts and all the rest of the clutter that can fill up a workshop. So, even if you only work on projects in your shop, you’re likely to find a portable workbench or two handy things to have around. For me, two of my three workbenches always seem to be piled up with stuff. The third one, which is my main work area, always has a project sitting on it. So, whenever I need to work on something else, out comes the portable, giving me the workspace that I need for that quick repair job.
The Workmate series is the origianl portable workbenches. This is the largest in the line, with a 550 pound capacity. The split top works as a clamp to hold workpieces, or can be brought together for a larger work surface. Read Full Review
Rockwell has once again shown their penchant for originality in their design of the Jawhorse. This three-legged sawhorse is actually a 37-inch clamp, allowing it to hold some pretty sizable workpieces. Read Full Review
This "table" by Festool is probably the most complete clamping system that's ever been devised. It allows precision cuts of workpieces, even with handheld power tools. Read Full Review
While it may not be easy to take to a remote jobsite, this roll-around workbench offers a lot of storage, along with a good-sized worktop. The two drawers are lockable, to protect your valuable tools. Read Full Review
Workbench Buyer's Guide
Anyone who does any amount of work with tools ends up needing a workbench. I went for years without one when I was younger and always had a problem finding somewhere to work. It wasn't just finding someplace that was available, but also someplace where I could work without damaging the surface I was actually working on. After all, tools and finishes tend to be a bit hard of most surfaces.
While most types of work can be done on pretty much any workbench, some types of work have specific requirements. Jewelry makers have their own special workbenches as well as welders and woodworkers. These specialty workbenches have evolved over the years to provide for the exact needs of that trade. Welding requires a heavy-duty metal workbench that can ground the part being welded and won’t be damaged by the high temperatures. Likewise, auto mechanics usually use a steel-topped workbench so that oil and grease can be cleaned off easily. So, always make sure the workbench you choose is appropriate for the work you're going to do.
What Kind of Workbench do You Need?
Workbenches come in all shapes and sizes. For most do-it-yourselfers, the deciding factor for their selection ends up being a combination of available space and price. However, the configuration of the workbench itself is actually a much more important consideration. A properly made workbench can actually help you do the work much better than a simple tabletop can.
This is a workbench with a hardwood top normally made of laminated maple. It's extremely flat as the bench needs to be able to help align the pieces being put together and ensure they're flat. It also has a sophisticated clamping system which allows for the clamping of large projects such as table tops and doors which can't be clamped effectively any other way.
For those that don't do large complex woodworking projects, a simple workbench might do the trick. You still need a flat surface which is essential for aligning parts when gluing and clamping. But a simple workbench won't have the clamping system that a true woodworking bench will.
A general-purpose workbench is usually made with a wood top and metal legs. This provides a good combination of strength along with a smooth work surface. The better ones will have a hardwood top while lower priced ones will have plywood or particle board. Workbenches for woodworking will always have a laminated hardwood top which is extremely flat and smooth.
Another type of workbench to consider is a portable workbench. Even if you have a regular workbench in your shop, having a portable gives you more work area and flexibility. A portable unit can be used for quick repairs and tasks when your main workbench is filled with a project. Or, it can be taken to a remote location to provide you with a workspace when you need it.
Portable workbenches were originally developed for use on construction jobsites. However, they are just as useful in the garage workshop, especially for those who don't have a lot of room. Having something that you can set up to do the work and then fold or roll away when you are done helps maintain the functionality of your garage space.
The major difference between most portable workbenches and sawhorses is that these benches usually have some sort of clamping system built in so that you can use them to hold whatever you're working on.
What to Look for in a Workbench
To start, you want to make sure that the workbench you choose is actually going to help you do the type of work that you are planning on doing on it. If you do lots of different types of work, you may want to consider having more than one workbench with each one set up for a different type of task. You might also want to consider something like a standard workbench, with a portable for working on larger projects.
The strength of a workbench is of utmost importance. You’ll subject it to pounding, clamping, pushing, and stacking heavy materials on top of it. If the workbench isn’t strong enough, it will start wobbling and eventually break after a while.
A sturdy top is also critical for most types of work. Most manufacturers provide a plywood, particle board, or MDF work surface. Of these, the MDF is the smoothest but plywood is stronger. You need to consider if you are going to be pounding on the top and if so, you want to make sure you buy one that will offer soldi support without the top breaking.
Woodworkers need to think of clamping capability more than anything else. Does the workbench have clamping built into it? Is it possible to use standard clamps with it? Is the top flat enough to ensure proper alignment of the workpieces when gluing them together?
For those who are doing other types of work on their workbench, storage space is often an important criterion. Being able to store your tools on or in the bench itself can be a great convenience as well as a space saver.