Best folding work benches

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By Gary Stretton

01 December 2018

Folding_work_benches_2018 : credit: © Gary Stretton

An extra pair hands or two are often all the support you need. Gary Stretton puts four to the floor

Not everyone has the benefit of a fixed work bench in their garage. If you have a typical lock-up garage, it's unlikely there is enough room for a bench at one end that can be accessed unless your Land Rover is partially or fully pushed outside. Awkwardly-shaped and very corroded or dirty pieces of work are often best tackled outside anyway, so supporting them at a comfortable working height is preferable to kneeling or bending for extended periods. The original Black & Decker WorkMate has been around for decades, made famous in the 1970s, and was designed by Ron Hickman, the man behind the design of the Lotus Elan, Elan 2+2 and Europa.

We requested a WorkMate for our test but none was submitted. The four benches in our test offer readily-portable surfaces with means of securing work for additional stability and safety. For intrepid explorers and expedition fans, there’s no reason why you couldn’t use one or two as suitable trestles for large table tops, knowing you have very useful work benches on board, too. I’ll leave that thought with you. It’s realistic to accept the limitations of any tool, so don’t expect to rebuild an engine on one of these, but equally their versatility may well surprise as they can withstand a range of weights between 120-453 kg. Once folded, they can be stored onboard or in cupboards and sheds.

When buying, deciding on its intended use is key to being satisfi ed, so do your homework regarding the weight and size of components. The benches tested could prove ideal for spraying panels, but check the intended panel doesn’t make the bench unstable by being top heavy. I’m something of a convert, having put these through their paces, as they are so much easier and effi cient to use than working on the fl oor in the dirt, rust or grease you might be removing. From a safety perspective, these benches are not intended for use with materials being excessively hammered or for components requiring excessive torque leverage while three hefty mechanics sit on the other end, if you get my meaning. 

What to look for

• Any bench should be stable enough to withstand drilling, sanding and support of work pieces

• Ensure the folded bench is compact enough for its intended storage space

• Storage of the adjustable supports and tools prevents loss, damage 
and accidents as you work

• Adjustable means for securing various shapes and thicknesses of work is essential

Keter folding work table

Price: £55 

This all-plastic bench takes seconds to open from a slim fl at-pack to a very well-sized bench with integral shelf, folding legs and clever stabiliser design. Once locked into position, the bench is sturdy, robust and versatile. Clamping of work is via two 300 mm clamps, either mounted in rails or vertically through or around the work top. It’s certainly different and effective.

Key features
• Heavy-duty, all plastic construction
• Portable and easy to store
• Integrated universal metal T-track rails.
• Two holding clamps with integral storage
• Integral central stabiliser
• Lower storage shelf
• Dimensions open Width 850 mm, depth 550 mm, height 750 mm
• Closed width: 115 mm
• Maximum weight: 453 kg

Search: Item 10910; toolstation.com

Silverline flip-top bench

Price: £32 

The fl ip-top design offers excellent support for work placed at angles or vertically, thanks to its pivoting bracket design. This also allows the creation of a cradle for supporting work that might otherwise roll easily when being cut or shaped. The independent vices exert good pressure, helped by adjustable pegs with various grooves and indents for materials.

Key features
• Steel box frame
• Adjustable angle brackets for table tops 0°, 45° and 90°
• Two 605 x 120 mm MDF worktop sections
• Maximum load: 150 kg
• Tools/pegs storage in frame
• Initial assembly required

Search: Item TB05; silverlinetools.com

Clarke folding work bench

Price: £24 

Clarke’s budget level work bench delivers fi rm support and versatility within an easy-to-use package. The  all-metal frame and vice mechanism are robust enough for panels and components up to 100 kg. Clamping pressure is solid and consistent with enough scope from the adjustable vice pegs for round, square and fl at profiles.

Key features
• Steel steel frame with MDF worktop
• Portable, compact and easy to put up
• Four vice pegs
• Independent vices for variable work positioning
• Worktop area: 240 x 605 mm closed
• Worktop width: 240 mm closed, 350 mm open
• Working height: 790 mm
• Maximum load: 100 kg
• Tools/pegs storage in frame
• Initial assembly required

Search: Item CFB600; machinemart.co.uk​​​​​​

Draper fold down bench

Price: £46 

At 800 mm, the wide fold down bench offers more work surface and greater stability from its steel box frame. Plenty of vice peg holes for securing work and the raised tops allow work to drop lower into the bench for greater stability. With the MDF worktops fully tightened to their support blocks below, the vices were restricted from moving although this does offer additional support at the expense of ease of use. The additional width is a bonus for sheet materials.

Key features
• 35 holes for clamping pegs
• Two-piece MDF worktop
• Four vice pegs
• Independent vices for variable work positioning
• Worktop area: 655 x 800 mm open
• Worktop width: 800 mm closed
• Working height: 800 mm, closed 1000 mm
• Maximum load: 120 kg
• Maximum clamping width with dogs 430 mm
• Tools/pegs storage in frame
• Initial assembly required

Search: Item 21353; drapertools.com

 

Verdict

Folding work benches might seem old fashioned to some, or even out of place for the DIY Land Rover  enthusiast. However, their use could prove invaluable in many situations where  a fixed bench simply isn’t an option. Their versatility is their strength as they will soon become a very welcome second or third pair of hands. Even at 100 kg for the least-robust bench, that’s still plenty of scope for many tasks. Carried on board, they will make mobile repairs easier and double up as table top supports, trestles or whatever use you can put them to when not used as a work bench.

The Clarke bench is an excellent, handy-to-have, friend-in-need tool. Easy to use and sturdy on its feet it’s great value for money. Draper’s extra-wide bench offers increased stability thanks to its wider foot imprint and worktop size. Finding a suitable way of securing our floor section was made possible with the array of vice pegs holes. All it could be faulted for is the need to slightly loosen two of the MDF top screws when adjusting the vices.

Silverline’s flip-top design readily claims the value for money award. The pivoting brackets are a great bonus and ideal for securely holding thin panels vertically. It does what the Clarke and Draper can and then a bit more besides. In addition, the cradle feature is excellent for holding logs being cut for firewood when camping or working on tubular materials. With 150 kg capacity, it offers portability and plenty of options for an array of tasks.

Folded, the Keter is the most compact on test

The surprise overall winner though, is the Keter bench. From its unobtrusive flatpack size to fully extended workbench, you are only 30 seconds away from getting started. Yes, the other benches are as quick to unfold but not as easy to store, and, this bench can be left out in the rain, unlike MDF worktops. This means it can be stored on roofracks and left outside when camping, where it would easily double up as a compact table. In use, the 12” (300 mm) clamps can secure a variety of materials and components very effectively, thanks to the numerous ways to achieve positioning the work. With a working capacity of over 450 kg, the Keter can support some hefty components, providing you can make them sit securely. It’s not what you expect when you think of a folding bench and perhaps that is its best feature. It certainly impressed me.