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I am familiar with many types of workbenches. However, most of the good ones weigh a lot - more than a couple hundred pounds in some cases. One of the reasons the weight is important is so that the bench stays in place while you are putting your own weight into the work.

I have been invited to some craft shows and would like to be able to work while I am there to show off my skills craft. Problem is that most of these benches, like the Roubo workbench, are not really designed to be moved around.

I could just make a smaller version of it but I fear the weight would be too small and the bench would move around too much.

Are there any bench styles that lend to portability while retaining functionality to do simple things like planing? I am not looking for plans but bench styles or individual bench features that would help with my predicament.

Tusk and tenon would play a part in this I would imagine but I want to see what other people think.

  • Maybe not what you're looking for, but... Festool has one that fits snugly onto a systainer (and you can carry tools inside), although it's admitedly a bit... small (like 40x30cm). But it is truly light and portable, and you can even lock it on top of their dust mobiles, which is kind of cool since dust mobile plus two boxes is a quite comfy working height. – Damon Sep 11 '15 at 21:29
  • I would suggest something like what my camera's tripod has. Build a lightweight bench, but put hooks on it. Take some sandbags with you and attach them to the hooks underneath, and let gravity take over. – Daniel B. Sep 11 '15 at 21:53
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Tusk tenons, as you mentioned, would be good for disassembly, allowing you to make a larger workbench that can be easily moved in parts. Probably the biggest single piece would be the work surface itself.

Together with this, I would suggest using ballast - make a small workbench (that can be disassembled or not, depending on how portable you need it to be), and add a place to put weights at the bottom (like a shelf). Then you can take the 10 KG bench with you, together with 100 KG in weights (steel blocks, concrete blocks, sacks of sand, whatever you have or can make). This should also allow for a small footprint bench (I presume space is also at a premium at craft shows), being the minimal size you'll still be comfortable planing with, without worrying about the weight of the bench by itself.

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  • Weights. Wonderful idea! – Matt Sep 11 '15 at 5:07
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Overall design

There are many designs of smaller benches out there that could be converted to be easy to assemble and disassemble with minimal modification (e.g. nuts and bolts taking the place of glued joints).

In addition there are many purpose-designed knockdown benches, either for portability such as you want or to allow the bench to be broken down and stored out of the way if the woodworker isn't lucky enough to have a dedicated workspace.

Two of my favourite knockdown workbench designs that are available online are shown below. They make a great pairing when shown together as they take completely different approaches to the problem while still fulfilling the requirements:
Large knockdown workbench

[Source: Fine Woodworking]

Apartment workbench

[Source: Close Grain blog]

Weight and stability

Obviously with smaller workbenches the lack of mass becomes an issue in terms of how well the bench performs in use, primarily when planing which can impart surprisingly high forces through the workpiece to the table. There are two main forces to contend with, lifting from the leverage (resulting in the bench potentially being knocked completely over, as you've experienced with your folding metal work table) and plain pushing, which can make the bench 'walk' across the floor.

As already suggested in another Answer, adding ballast can help with these problems and it's the most common solution. Effectively you're making a lighter bench heavier, without it inherently being that massive. This ballast can be in the form of sandbags, large jugs of water and best of all, jugs filled with sand and water, which is significantly heavier than either material used alone.

While weights like this can work OK the system is not without its problems, for your application possibly the worst is that the weight is bulky and tiring to carry to and from your vehicle to where your bench will be installed. And anyway there's a better method: use your own bodyweight.

Your own weight will usually be considerably more than any reasonably portable ballast system and it is always available when working at the bench while needing zero additional effort to 'install' at the site.

Some bench designs have either low rails or a foot and you can step up with one foot on either to help hold the bench down and in position but having tried this it's not perfect — it's neither the best stance to be working in and it doesn't add close to your entire weight.

To make best use of your body weight you want to use all of it and you want to be able to do so without compromising on the best stance for the task at hand. Luckily there's an easy solution to this and that is to attach the legs (e.g. with steel fixing plates) to a sheet of plywood or OSB. The sheet must extend far enough out that you stand on it with both feet during regular use, so normally if it is wider to the right and projects out at the front only that will be enough (for a right-handed user).

This should completely solve any tendency of a lightweight bench to walk away from you as you plane and it's impossible for the user to knock over, even if while you're working the plane hits a knot and stops dead.

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There are two workbench styles I think would fit your bill. Both are made to be portable and include knockdown construction for ease of moving and transportation.

Nicholson Workbench

The first is the Nicholson Workbench.

nicholson (source: Lost Art Press)

This bench is easily made from construction lumber. I've seen lots of blogs of people making these who live in apartments or are otherwise concerned with weight and portability. Chris Schwarz (source of the picture above) likes the style for these qualities, as well as the ease of construction.

I'll give you a few links for building one below:


Moravian Workbench

The second bench is the Moravian workbench.

moravian (source: Lumberjocks)

This one is a bit more complicated to build due to the non-square angles of the legs and the odd leg vise. Roy Underhill discusses its virtues in this video. You will notice the sliding wedged tenons on the legs that are easily knocked out with a mallet. The tops are usually gravity-held on the base and come off easily. The splay of the legs increases the stability of the bench during planing action.

Again, I'll paste some links with further information below.

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  • I'm still waiting for someone to convince me bench needs a tool tray eating a large percentage of its top surface... but this seems to be one of those undecidable questions depending on how you work and how the rest of the shop is set up, and should probably be a separate question if we're going to discuss it. – keshlam Sep 11 '15 at 20:05
  • My opinion is that tool trays are nice-looking shaving collectors. My workbench is always so full of stuff that having a tool tray would be a nuisance. – grfrazee Sep 11 '15 at 20:10
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I think this may not be what you are thinking but what about those jaw horse style benches. I have this old one from the 70's made by BD and it has dog holes on top and the top separates for a vice and it folds up. It is really sturdy and stays somewhat stable. Workmate by Black and Decker.Standing with feet folded.

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  • I have one of that style from Canadian Tire. Do those feet fold out? Problem with mine is that the second I "vice" something down and plane it it knocks over the table. The one you pictured looks more robust though. – Matt Sep 11 '15 at 12:52
  • @Matt yes they fold out as well and brings it to a better height. Yea the newer ones are not as robust. Believe it or not I found this in the garbage. They will move when planning but you can put your foot on this one to help. The trade off for portability. I think you could make this but the steel makes it rigid and heavier. Maybe you could modify the one you have and use some weight to make it more stable? – John S Sep 11 '15 at 13:11
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Romak Workbench

This is a tool-less (Maybe a mallet) dis/assembly steel workbench, with recessed MDF tops. Would provide great portability and as mentioned elsewhere here, you can use the bottom shelf for a ballast.

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Have you seen/thought about the Paulk workbench? It was designed to be broken down and is pretty sturdy. It is built from sheets of plywood with an open construction pattern so it is both sturdy and lighter weight, and according to the designer it was designed so he could have a good bench that could travel to him to various jobsites.

A picture to help

An interview with the creator and a video on it is here:

http://www.core77.com/posts/25453/Interview-with-Ron-Paulk-on-the-Design-of-His-Innovative-Paulk-Workbench

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  • Thanks for the answer but you need to add some information about the bench in the answer. Link only answers are discouraged. If the link is lost the answer would carry no weight. Pictures and a description of the bench would be essential. – Matt Sep 16 '15 at 13:06
  • Sorry about that, each SE community seems to have 100 unwritten rules and I learned one today! Edited. – Pulsehead Sep 17 '15 at 14:56
  • That's OK. Sometimes things here at SE can be odd. But i'm pretty sure it is unanimous that we want as much content here at the sites and try and minimize sending people to other sites. Links are great for extra information if people want. We want users to stay here as much as possible. – Matt Sep 17 '15 at 14:58

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