I like creating with my hands. I especially enjoy creating useful items out of wood. Unfortunately, my self-designed and self-built garage 6 X 3 foot workbench has a tendency to become littered with miscellaneous “stuff”, and I find myself at my wit’s end attempting to build projects on a piece of plywood strung across two folding sawhorses. Not ideal, I will agree. I do appreciate the convenience of being able to take down and put away the components of my makeshift working surface. What I don’t like is that the working surface is not that stable and requires a separate set of clamps to hold the working top to the sawhorses.
Casting about for something more robust than a hunk of plywood and some adjustable clamps, I found there are a number of folding workbenches on the market from manufacturers like Worx, Black and Decker, and sold at places like Home Depot, Lowes, and Harbor Freight. Their prices are varied, but they all have similar features. I especially like benches that fold flat, are easily stored, have built-in adjustable “vises”, and can carry moderate loads.
After researching the various offerings, I settled on an inexpensive folding workbench from Harbor Freight.
After researching the various offerings, I settled on an inexpensive folding workbench from Harbor Freight. Price was a determining factor. You can see what I finally bought by following the link embedded below in the Resource section below.
The folding workbench comes as a kit. The critical elements are preassembled. I had to mount the two hand crank assemblies to the two fiberboard work surface, then mount the legs and their stiffening cross members that also double as tool stations. Assembly went quickly; I only needed to supply a Philips head screwdriver.
Unfortunately, the finished workbench doesn’t fold completely flat. But the workbench does function as I desired: it’s a sturdy, portable workbench that I can easily carry around the house or out into the back yard to exercise my woodworking prowess. Adding a few extra speed clamps and a portable carpenter’s 6″ vise, and I’m good to go (my first project was to make and attach two ¼” wooden facing pieces to that 6″ carpenter’s vise’s metal jaws).
Upon looking at the workbench’s construction, it came to me that with a few minor modifications, this workbench could be materially improved. And that’s what prompted me to write this “How To” article to document what I did to my workbench.
There are five areas on that workbench that, with some minor rework, will materially improve its performance and probably extend its working life. None of these suggestions are critical, or even necessary for the casual user. None of these suggestions are complicated to implement, but I find that they will probably be worth the effort as time passes.
Area #1: The “fold-flat” feature.
When this workbench is assembled according to the directions, when folded, the handles lay pointing down the legs towards the floor. By reversing the way the legs are mounted (exactly reversed from the installation instructions), the handles now are on top of the folded bench, point away from the legs, and the legs do indeed completely fold flat! An easy fix.
Area #2: The hand-crank clamp lead screw adjustment.
I noticed that the board that’s mounted to the hand-cranked lead screw that makes the work surface boards function as a built-in vise, was loose, and flopped around as the handles were cranked. To remedy this, I used a wrench to tighten the crank shaft attachment on the moveable work surface so that there was less play as the unit is cranked. Don’t over tighten, or the board won’t move at all!
Area #3: The hand cranked lead screw sheet metal end clamp support.
Each of the hand crank lead screws goes through an end plate that’s bent from the leg support sheet metal. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the lead screw plate is secured to the sidewalls by two sheet metal “ears” and two small dimples in the sidewalls. That looks like a potential source of failure downstream: nothing prevents the sidewalls from separating and allowing the crank to become loose. My fix? Simple: I installed a clamping and securing bolt through the sidewalls just behind the end plate. To secure the sideplates and preventing them from spreading apart, about 1 inch from the end plate, I drilled a ¼” clearance hole through the two sideplates (that also mount the legs) and put a 1 ½ inch long, ¼ -20 bolt with a washer and a locknut. Tightening the locknut makes the endplate securely clamped to the sidewall plates; this will prevent any tendency for that endplate holding the leadscrew and cranking handles from coming loose over time.
Area #4: Reducing friction.
The assembly instructions had me using a bolt, two washers, and a locknut on each leg to hold it in place. Problem is, that means that the legs will wear on the sideplates. Not a good idea. I bought 8 more flat stainless steel washers and slipped those washers in between the legs and the sidepanels. Now the legs will wear on the washers instead of the sideplates. This makes the leg securing assembly consist of the bolt head, washer, sideplate, washer, leg, washer, other sideplate, washer, then the locknut. So each of the legs now has 4 washers: two washers on the outside of the side panels, and two washers to keep the leg from rubbing on the sidewall directly. Again, don’t overtighten, or the workbench won’t fold up.
Area #5: Making things run smoothly.
Be sure to lubricate all moving surfaces with oil, WD-40™ or a dry film lubricant (You can use a light grease on the two lead screws, but if you grease the sliding rail, I think you’ll find that the grease will probably be a sawdust magnet!). Be sure to lubricate all sliding or rotating joints and connectors, especially those added washers on the legs where they mount to the sideplates.
Area #6: Replace the fiberboard work surfaces.
While this is a bench designed for light to moderate loads, you might consider replacing the worksurface’s fiberboards with lengths of 1½ X4 inch lumber, suitably drilled holes for the plastic dogging clamp inserts. If you are comfortable with a power planer or router, make a suitable undercut to clear the hand cranks and use 1 ½ X 6 inch planks for the work surfaces. That will give you a wider working surface when the two panels are cranked to the max.
As I said at the beginning of this article, none of these rework items are absolutely necessary; the workbench will function very well as is if you merely follow the included assembly instructions. But I think these minor mods and reworks will improve your enjoyment of this inexpensive folding workbench. I know I have.