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How to Improve the Performance of a Folding Workbench
I love to create with my hands. I especially like to create useful objects from wood. Unfortunately, my self-designed and self-made 6 X 3 ft. garage workbench tends to get cluttered with various “stuff” and I find myself at my wits end trying to build projects on a piece of plywood strung on two folding horses. Not perfect, I agree. I appreciate the convenience of being able to remove and store components on my makeshift work surface. What I don’t like is that the work surface is not as stable and requires a separate set of clamps to hold the work surface to the legs.
Looking for something sturdier than a piece of plywood and some adjustable clamps, I discovered that 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 different, but they all have similar features. I especially like benches that fold up, are easy to store, have built-in adjustable “megemets” and can carry a moderate load.
After researching the various offerings, I settled on an inexpensive folding work table from Harbor Freight.
After researching the various offerings, I settled on an inexpensive folding work table from Harbor Freight. Price was a determining factor. You can see what I finally bought by following the link embedded below in the resources section below.
The folding work table comes as a set. Critical elements are pre-assembled. I had to mount the two hand cranks to the two fiberboard work surfaces, then mount the legs and their bracing cross members, which also serve as tool stations. Assembly went quickly; All I needed was a Philips screwdriver.
Unfortunately, the finished work table does not fold completely flat. But the workbench really functions as I wanted it to: it’s a sturdy, portable workbench that I can easily carry around the house or out in the backyard to practice my woodworking skills. Add some extra speed clamps and a 6″ portable woodworking vise and I’m good to go (my first project was to make and attach two ¼” wood trim pieces to the metal jaws of this 6″ woodworking vise).
After looking at the construction of the workbench, I came to the conclusion that with a few minor modifications, this workbench could be greatly improved. And that prompted me to write this How To article to document what I did with my workbench.
There are five areas of this workbench that, with some minor modifications, will greatly improve its performance and possibly extend its working life. None of these suggestions are critical or even necessary for the average user. None of these suggestions are difficult to implement, but I think they will probably be worth the effort over time.
Area #1: The fold-flat function.
When this workbench is assembled as directed, when folded, the handles lie pointing down towards the legs towards the floor. By reversing the way the legs are mounted (the exact opposite of the assembly instructions), the handles are now on top of the folded bench, pointing away from the legs, and the legs really do fold all the way! Easy solution.
Area #2: Crank Bracket Lead Screw Adjustment.
I noticed that the board that is mounted to the manual lead screw that makes the work surface boards function as a built-in vise was loose and flopped around as the handles were turned. To fix this I used a wrench to tighten the crankshaft attachment onto the movable work surface so that there is less play while the unit is rotated. Don’t over tighten or the board won’t move at all!
Zone #3: Sheet metal end clamp with manual crank lead screw.
Each of the hand crank lead screws passes through an end plate that is bent from the sheet metal to support the legs. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the lead screw plate is attached to the sidewalls with two sheet metal “ears” and two small dimples in the sidewalls. This looks like a potential source of downstream failure: nothing to prevent the sidewalls from separating and allowing the crank to come loose. My fix? Simple: I installed a clamp and anchor bolt through the sidewalls just behind the end plate. To secure the side plates and prevent them from spreading, about 1″ from the end plate, I drilled a ¼” hole through the two side plates (which also mount the legs) and inserted a 1 ½” long, ¼ -20 bolt with washer and locknut. Tightening the the locknut makes the end plate securely clamped to the side plates; this will prevent any tendency for this end plate, which holds the lead screw and handles, to loosen over time.
Area #4: Reducing Friction.
The assembly instructions had me use a bolt, two washers, and a locknut on each leg to hold it in place. The problem is that this means the legs will wear on the side plates. It is not a good idea. I bought 8 more stainless steel flat washers and inserted these washers between the legs and side panels. The legs will now ride on the washers instead of the side plates. This makes the leg attachment mechanism consist of the bolt head, the washer, the side plate, the washer, the leg, the washer, the other side plate, the washer, and then the lock nut. So each of the legs now has 4 washers: two washers on the outside of the side panels and two washers to prevent the leg from rubbing directly against the side wall. Again, do not over tighten or the workbench will not fold.
Area #5: Make things run smoothly.
Be sure to lubricate all moving surfaces with WD-40 oil™ or dry film lubricant (You can use a light grease on the two lead screws, but if you lubricate the slide 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 couplings, especially the added washers on the legs where they mount to the side plates.
Area #6: Replace fiberboard work surfaces.
Although this is a light to moderate duty bench, you may want to consider replacing the fiberboard on the work surface with 1½ X 4-inch lumber, with holes drilled appropriately for the plastic bracket inserts. If you are comfortable with a planer or router, make a suitable undercut to clear the cranks and use 1 ½ X 6 inch boards for the work surfaces. This will give you a wider work surface when both panels are curved to the maximum.
As I said at the beginning of this article, none of these refactoring items are absolutely necessary; the workbench will function very well as is if you simply follow the included assembly instructions. But I think these minor modifications and redesigns will enhance your enjoyment of this inexpensive folding desk. I know I have.
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