Now that every relative has given you a new tool for Christmas, where are you going to use them all? Think workbench. Whether you build your own from 2-by-4s and plywood or buy one, it must be sturdy enough to support all kinds of projects.
Need to know:
There are several kinds of workbenches. Depending on how you'll use them and the quality of their construction, the cost can range from a few bucks to several thousand.
Woodworkers think of workbenches as solid and sturdy tables to which pieces of whatever they're building can be clamped easily. Do-it-yourselfers not into fine woodworking probably will want portable or adjustable tables that can be easily carted from job to job. Car enthusiasts want workbenches they can use for banging metal, and something with drawers and cabinets underneath for storing tools. Then, of course, there are models with elements of all three.
These are often works of art in themselves. Veteran woodworkers typically make their own; the Internet is filled with sites offering free plans. Such benches usually are made of hardwood, with tops that can be sanded and planed if they are nicked or gouged. Though plywood is cheaper, it is not as versatile a material.
Standard workbenches available for purchase are generally 50 to 60 inches long and 30 to 36 inches wide, with tops that are about four inches thick. Since most woodworking is done on freestanding machinery such as table saws or jointer-planers, the key job of a bench is to facilitate clamping. Some come with stationary clamps on the side and back, but most woodworkers look for a level surface so clamping two pieces is a snap.
Woodworkers with larger shops seem to prefer cabinetless, trestle-style benches with foot room underneath for greater maneuverability.
For the garage:
The fact that garages do double duty as work and storage areas is nothing new. Just about every manufacturer has come up with dual-purpose systems for garages, which - depending on the number of components and finishes - can run $10,000 or more. In general, garage workbenches are less expensive than woodworkers' benches because they aren't going to be used for such fine work and can get pretty banged up; they also offer some storage space. Most benches are 24 inches by 48 inches and often are pushed up against a wall that has shelving or cabinets. Heights typically are 30 to 36 inches, and some benches are adjustable for the comfort of the user. Some are wood, others are industrial steel.
Simple and inexpensive:
Simpson Strong Tie sells kits for under $30 that provide even the fledgling do-it-yourselfer the opportunity to build a sturdy worktable, a workbench with shelves, or a free-standing workbench. All you add to the box of connectors and screws is a circular saw, a drill/driver, a tape measure, a pencil, and 2-by-4s.
Several manufacturers make these, including Stanley and Black & Decker. Portables fold and set up with a couple of hand moves and are height-adjustable, offering a sturdy place both to set up tools such as a chop saw and to make cuts. Black & Decker's heavy-duty Workmate has a clamping mechanism ideal for either standard lumber or odd-shaped objects. Stanley's version is heavy-duty plastic and can hold a lot of weight but doesn't come with the clamping device. Most portables hold up to 450 pounds. Price: $75 to about $110.
Building your own? Bolts stand up to work pressure better than screws, so design that into your table.