Equally useful to the home-improvement DIY’er as well as the pro on the go, portable workstations offer convenience and practicality rolled into one easy-to-carry package. The best portable workstations combine a sturdy work surface with a lightweight and compact mode of storage and transport.
Of course, bells and whistles are nice, too. One of the flagship workstations of the past few decades is the Black and Decker Workmate, invented in 1961 by Ron Hickman. As the story goes, Hickman had accidentally sawn a chair in half while using it as a saw stand, so he resolved to make an “extra hand.” Despite the fact that Hickman was an accomplished inventor—it was Hickman who designed the famous Lotus Elan as chief engineer for the car company—many manufacturers reportedly turned up their nose at his workstation until Black and Decker took on exclusive rights in 1973. The rest is history, and it’s still being written. Over the decades, millions upon millions of Workmates have been sold, with the original design evolving into a foldable space-saving workstation with table jaws that clamp like a vise, adjustable work height, adjustable table size and even vertical clamping.
The success of the Workmate has sparked the imaginations of many inventors since, and portable workstations are now available from a broad range of manufacturers and in wide array of styles and designs. Here are five the latest and greatest.
I’ve had a baseline model of the Workmate floating around my shop for several years, and I found some very welcome advancements with the design the new 425 model. For starters, when clamping the table jaws together, my old model requires the user to use both hands to turn the handles in tandem (in order to keep the jaws parallel). However, the new design offers a One-Handed Clamp system with a clever clutch design that enables the user to tighten the jaws with a single hand, or to adjust each side of the jaw independently for out-of-square clamping.
A removable center panel provides extra work surface for large jobs, or for use as a tool stand for a miter saw, drill dress, etc. Plus the front jaw now swings up for vertical clamping, which increases flexibility when clamping odd-shaped objects, and provides the necessary downward force to hold some large overhanging items securely to the table surface.
Plus, the tried and true features of the older versions remain with the 425, only more enhanced. The durable orange swivel pegs can be mounted in the table surface at various locations for a wide range of clamping applications, and the pegs are now larger with more gripping surface area than with my old Workmate. The table surface includes a 180-degree angle gauge, as well as marked measurements in both metric and SAE. The legs fold away for a lower operating height (when working with large work pieces), and the entire workstation folds down for easy storage. The heavyweight steel construction of the Workmate 425 supports up to 550 pounds with a 29-by-20-5/8-inch work surface. (www.blackanddecker.com)
Black & Decker Portable Clamping Workstation
The first thing that struck me about this new feather in Black and Decker’s cap was the suitcase-like portability of the bench. To open, just release a couple of latches in the table top, lift it up and the legs drop down and lock into place. Fold up the side supports, lock the center support in position, and the workstation is ready to go in seconds. It converts just as quickly back into “carrying case” mode with a thin 4-inch profile, weighing a super-light 25 pounds, including a convenient tote handle. The table includes to two removable, adjustable clamps. The clamps can be set in recessed channels in the bench top and used horizontal clamping. The clamps can also be used vertically by slipping them through the slots in the table top—or just clamp them to the edge of the table.
The bench supports up to 400 pounds and has a work surface measuring 33-1/4-by-21-1/2 inches. This new model from Black and Decker offers a unique amenity among the workstations reviewed in the article: storage shelves for tools. Lower shelves at the front and rear of the table provide almost two square feet of storage capacity each, for clamps, hammers, tape measures, pencils, drills or any other tool that’ll fit. Both the Portable Clamping Station and the Workmate 425 offer a 2-year warranty. (www.blackanddecker.com)
Another compact storage option is Skil’s multi-faceted X-Bench. At roughly 45 pounds, it requires a little muscle to carry but offers a working surface of 53-by-23 inches with aluminum legs that adjust table height from 24 to 34 inches (the Black and Decker models max at 30 inches). The X-Bench is also strong enough to support 750 pounds. The legs fold up and the table folds in half, revealing a carrying handle for portability and storage.
The X-Bench is chock full of features, including an innovative cut channel in the center of the bench. Two sections of the table can be pulled apart to expose the cut channel, which accommodates circular saws up to 7-1/4 inch. The MDF table top has peg holes to accept the two wedge dog clamps included with the table, which helps secure materials when using the cut channel. The table top includes ruler markings and a miter gauge slot.
With several optional accessories, the X-Bench can be expanded upon for a slew of applications. For example, the patented Skil Insert Plate System is available for jigsaws, routers and sanders. Using the tool insert plates, users can convert a section of the workstation into a scroll saw, router table or drill-press station.
Skil offers a clamping kit for securing material to the X-Bench that includes additional wedge dogs, spring clamps, horizontal clamps and a storage bag that attaches to the bench. A tail vise can be attached to the side of the X-Bench that allows users to clamp materials up to 5 inches thick. A downdraft table is also available to minimize dust when sanding. When hooked to a shop vac, the 2-1/2-inch vacuum port at the bottom of the table pulls sawdust through the small openings in the top of the downdraft table to keep the work area clean and orderly. (www.skil.com)
Trojan Manufacturing offers a line of top-quality American-made work support products, from portable work centers and sawhorses to outfeed rollers and power tool stands. Trojan’s new contractor-grade MS-2000 Miter Saw Stand is ideal for big jobs with oversized material, providing more than 13 feet of material support. The large 16-by-40-inch MDF table serves as a universal platform for virtually any model of miter saw—just bolt the saw to the table and adjust the height of the rollers and wings.
When set up for work, the MS-2000 is big, beefy and heavy, which is great for strength and stability. To compensate for the size and weight of the tool, the MS-2000 is cleverly designed so the wings and legs quickly fold beneath the table top and rest on two large pneumatic tires. The roller at the opposite end of the table from the tires doubles as a pull handle; simply tilt the table, grab the handle and roll it where you need to go. The 10-inch tires are among the largest I’ve seen on a portable workstation, which is a welcome amenity for outdoor, out-of-shop jobs where it’s necessary to transport the saw stand across rough terrain. The MS-2000 features rugged steel construction (0.065 wall), galvanized rollers that won’t rust, and a durable powder coat and zinc-plated finish.
Plus, Trojan backs up the manufacture of their product with a strong warranty: All Trojan products carry a lifetime warranty on each of the welds. So, in the unlikely event that anything breaks (say, from mortar attack or direct rocket fire), Trojan Manufacturing will repair or replace it free of charge. (www.trojantools.com)
Unique in design from any other workstation I’ve seen, the Rockwell Jawhorse can clamp virtually anything. Do you need a sawhorse? Just clamp your work piece securely in the jaws of the Jawhorse. Need a work table? Clamp a piece of plywood in the jaws and use its surface as the table top. The patented rubber jaws provide a string grip but are flexible enough to prevent marring delicate work pieces. Maybe you need to clamp an odd-shaped piece, like a log … Just attach on the accessory zinc-plated steel log jaws to grab it by the throat. Additionally, the tool’s tripod design with exceptionally wide leg stance provides exceptional upright stability as a work support stand. And with only three legs, it’s easier to stabilize the Jawhorse on uneven terrain.
The Jawhorse is an ideal tool for the lone worker who needs the third hand of a second person to do the job. The Jawhorse serves as that extra hand. It doesn’t even require a hand to activate the clamping action—this is done with a foot pedal. With a hardened metal ratcheting system, the Jawhorse can achieve more than 1 ton of clamping force. It comes with a 3-year warranty and is constructed with an all-steel frame for years of rugged use. Thankfully there are no plastic parts to break or replace. With a 37-inch clamp capacity, the Jawhorse can hold doors, engine blocks, bench power tools and more. Plus, the legs fold up for compact storage, easily fitting into a closet or car. (www.rockwelltools.com)