Wise Buys: Portable Workbenches
In the shop, a portable workbench can serve as a temporary worksurface, tool stand, or as a large clamp holding your workpiece. Its light weight and compact size let you bring a worksurface to fix-it jobs around the house. After use, it folds up for easy storage. We tested eight workbenches looking at clamping capacity, durability, stability, and value. These four each offer a twist on the traditional split-table vise design.
Skil Xbench 3115
(Shown above) Max. table size (jaws open): 191⁄2
Max. jaw opening: 63⁄4 "
Table height: 317⁄8 "
Weight: 27 lbs
Although I like the clamping speed of the quick-release rear jaw, this bench took some getting used to. Instead of spinning the handles repeatedly to open and close the table, the rear jaw slides up to the workpiece. Then you tighten the jaws with just a twist of the handles.
The long edges of the MDF jaws are clad in durable aluminum with an integral T-track. The plastic dogs have a screw mechanism that locks them into the T-track anywhere along its length--much more versatile than dog holes. Smaller T-track on the jaw's inside faces accept four plastic pads with notches for gripping round stock vertically or horizontally. Two metal arms rotate from under the front jaw to support a workpiece in the opening while you position and secure it.
The stand is lightweight, but sturdy, and easy to carry. It sets up and folds easily with just a tug or push on the benchtop.
--Tested by Jeff Mertz, Design Editor
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Max. table size (jaws open): 203⁄4
Max. jaw opening: 43⁄8 "
Table height: 301⁄4 " to 411⁄4 "
Weight: 40 lbs
Two unique features set this workbench apart: a tilting top (up to 70 degrees from horizontal) and adjustable height. Working at the raised table was much easier on my back. The height adjustment also made it useful as an outfeed support for several of my stationary tools.
A removable benchtop piece fills the space between the jaws creating a large, gap-free tabletop, but with slight ridges at the seams. With no on-board storage for the filler piece, I threw it on the floor between the legs when it wasn't in use. The shelf attached to the leg brace is useful for holding a few small hand tools.
The workbench folds easily, and its weight helps it stay put while planing or sanding a workpiece. A molded plastic handhold on the leg brace provides a comfortable grip for carrying the bench. My main concern is the long-term durability of the MDF top—during use, several places along the edges chipped.
—Tested by Bob Wilson, Techniques Editor
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Black & Decker WM425
Max. table size (jaws open): 22×29"
Max. jaw opening: 85⁄8 "
Table height: 24" or 31"
Weight: 31 lbs
The WM425 offers the widest jaw opening, the most table surface area—and a front jaw that pivots up 90 degrees to clamp items down to the rear jaw. The front jaw release-and-pivot mechanism feels a bit rickety, but it clamps items securely.
I'm not sold on the three-piece tabletop, though, with removable rear and center sections. To use the vertical clamping feature, you remove the center section and position the rear one in the second of three sets of keyhole slots. I spend a lot of time moving table parts.
A perforated plastic belt ties the handles together for one-handed operation. A mechanism behind each handle lets the belt slip so you can move just one end of the front jaw. But with no explanation of this in the manual, when I first tightened the jaws and the belt slipped, I thought something broke. Still, the WM425 does the basics well and its wide stance makes it a stable table.
--Tested by Kevin Boyle, Senior Design Editor
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Black & Decker
Rockwell Jawhorse RK9000
Max. table size (jaws open): 181⁄2
Max. jaw opening: 43⁄4 "
Table height: 351⁄4 "
Weight: 58 lbs
Compared to other workbenches, this is a horse of a different color--and the price reflects it. About $175 buys the Jawhorse, a three-legged sawhorse with a foot-pedal-operated, 37"-capacity vise at one end. It's built to withstand life on a jobsite. An optional split-table worksurface ($50) attaches to the vise jaws. (Jawhorse offers additional accessories as well.) The foot pedal provides clamping power in spades and lets you hold a workpiece with both hands while tightening the jaws. Release the foot pedal and the jaws lock in place. Flip a front-mounted lever to unlock them.
The moderately sized bamboo table should prove more durable than an MDF surface and includes a hole to park the nose of your cordless drill. One gripe: The plastic dogs fit too tightly in the benchtop holes; I had to pry them out with a screwdriver. When the job finishes, the stand folds into a compact footprint with the legs locked below the upper beam. And while it's heavier than traditional portable workbenches, a roller at one end glides over smooth surfaces for easy transport.
—Tested by Doug Hicks, former shop teacher and woodworking magazine editor
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