A good quality workbench can make a huge difference to your DIY — no more struggling to find an appropriate surface to work on, no more packing away projects before they’re finished because you don’t have the room. It’s important to consider a few different factors when picking the right bench for your needs though, and that’s where our quick guide comes in:
Selecting the surface of your workbench can often be put down to a purely aesthetic choice — but it can actually make a huge difference to your ability to use the workbench for different purposes.
Softer woods are fine for crafting and more delicate work, but if you want to use power tools, or you are likely to be doing any more heavy-duty work, like hammering for example, you’ll need a harder wood that isn’t going to easily scar or dimple. Metal surfaces are easier to keep clean and hygienic, but it is rare that your DIY needs will require that level of cleanliness — likewise, a plastic surface is more than likely not going to be strong or stable enough to support many sorts of work.
It’s also worth thinking about the humidity and temperature of your space. If there are likely to be large fluctuations, or you move the bench outside to work periodically, you’ll want a very thick surface to minimise the impact of expansion/contraction cycles which can cause the surface to warp.
If you are likely to be using surface-mounted equipment — clamps or vices, for example — a less expensive option than hardwood is MDF. You can rely on this to support your tools and equipment, and it can usually be replaced fairly easily and inexpensively as it becomes damaged or worn over time.
If your surface is mounted flush with the frame (i.e. you don’t need to mount equipment to a ‘lip’ or overhang) then plywood is a reliable and budget-friendly option. As with MDF, lots of workbenches will allow you to change the plywood as and when required, so the bench can last for many years.
You can find a workbench in any number of different sizes, so this really comes down to the space you have available. If you’ve got a dedicated workroom or you’re converting a garage, for example, you’ll probably want the largest workbench that you can fit in the space, taking into account any additional equipment you have or need. If you’re just assigning space in a room as a work area, you’ll want to think carefully about the best size for you. Larger is almost always better but, if you also need to use the area for storage or other uses, you’ll naturally be limited by those requirements.
Also bear in mind the strength of the bench. If the surface is on the larger side, but thin and not particularly well supported, the bench may flex or warp when pressure is applied. Try and get a workbench manufactured using strong and sturdy materials like tubular steel or thick hardwood.
Modern workbenches are available with a bunch of special features or add-ons. You can easily find excellent benches that are mounted on castors for mobility and manoeuvrability – great for if you are moving around a lot while working.
Adjustable height benches are the perfect solution if you conduct a range of tasks — you can sit at it and work for hours, you can stand and saw, drill or hammer, and you can even raise the height while seated to handle detailed and delicate tasks that need very close attention to detail.
If your DIY or crafting incorporates work on delicate electronics or computer equipment, then an electrostatic discharge (ESD) model is the way to go. These benches are constructed from materials that produce the minimum amount of static build-up, and also are often fitted with grounding equipment to dissipate the charge if it does build.
As with all things, price will determine the kinds of workbench you are reviewing. The old adage about buying cheap and buying twice is relevant here — a well-made and maintained workbench should last you for decades, so it’s worth pushing your budget to the limit.