How Best to Mobilize My Workbench?
Issue: Issue 350
Posted Date: 4/29/2014
My woodshop has limited space (in a dedicated one-car garage), and therefore all of my power tools are mounted on mobile bases. After a lot of research, I have decided to purchase a small SJOBERGS workbench rather than build one myself, for reasons that don’t apply to this question.
Given all the choices available, what is the best option for adding mobility to a solid workbench? The number of alternatives is almost overwhelming, and I would really appreciate some professional direction to narrow the field. Here are some of the selections I am facing:
• Wheel style: rolling, swivel casters, pneumatic tires
• Best wheel material for support, stability, wear: steel, rubber, neoprene, some other non-marking plastic?
• What kind of locking mechanism will maintain the best balance between flexible movement and stability? For example, when planing stock clamped between the end vise and a bench dog, I don’t want the bench to be moving on caster swivels. That can happen even when the wheels are locked. Should I consider some form of wheel chocks?
• Wheel mounting options: fixed directly into the legs of the bench, attached to an angle-iron mounting bar, a rectangular dolly system like HTC, outrigger type swing-out, attached externally like a marine-type bolt-on jack that would allow the wheels to be raised out of the way, or suspended gate-type wheels that can be lowered using a spring press?
I'm sure there are other aspects to consider as well. Thanks in advance for your help. I imagine that others may benefit from your advice on this topic. - Steve Graham
Chris Marshall: Steve, I'm in the same boat as you, and my shop is bigger than a one-car garage. Working for the magazine, I'm constantly rearranging my shop for photo shoots, tool reviews and the like. So, I put a premium on rolling bases and casters. But, I haven't mounted my workbench on wheels yet. When I do (hopefully soon!), I'm going to use Rockler's Workbench Caster Kit. The urethane casters flip up or down on foot-activated steel lift mechanisms to let you either move the bench around or rest it solidly on its legs. For hand tool work, as you point out, you'll want the stability and mass of the bench standing off of its casters, so these seem a good solution in that regard. But, it will still be around an $80 investment, plus tax and shipping. The customer reviews about this product on Rockler's website are very encouraging, and you wouldn't have to engineer your own wheeled fix. Bolt them on, and you'd be good to go. That's my advice.
Tim Inman: I'm going to suggest something that to me is practical, but it may be a little bit less convenient. One of the principal benefits of a good workbench is rock-solid stability. When I'm carving, cutting, laying out or just doing ordinary shop things, the last thing I want is a wobbly workbench. I want a bench that will stay put and let me worry about the task at hand; I want to be able to beat on it, lean on it, and have it stay still. That said, instead of adding casters directly to your bench, please consider using car dolly trucks for your wheels. These are low-slung “wheelies” that enable one person to pretty much push a car anywhere on a flat, hard surface. They're actually not much more expensive than a good set of casters for your bench. Since they're low, you can easily lift one end of your bench up and into a pair of them (one truck for each leg). Depending upon how big your bench is and how strong you are, etc., one pair on the end might be all you need. If the bench is bigger, or you're not wanting to heft the other end, then get a second set and put the whole opera on wheels. Glide it into storage position and go home. Next time, roll it out into work position and lift it off the trucks while you work. I think this would actually solve the problem quite well.
If this isn't your cup of tea, then my second choice would be to attach the casters to the bench via a hinged caster board that can be “rolled” or folded back under the bench when it is moving time, but “hinged” back out of the way so the bench sits solidly on the floor during working time.