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Built to Last: Navigating Workbench Options

11/17/23

You don’t sit behind an office desk all day – but you still need a work surface.

Workbenches, worktables and workstations provide ergonomic and organized spaces with durable surfaces for heavy duty industrial, mechanical and manual tasks. They can be combined with shelving, cabinets and pegboards to hold spare parts and small tools. Some models have built-in electrical outlets for lighting and power tools, and some models have special features to make specific tasks easier.

Asking the Right Questions

To choose the right workbench or worktable, start by asking a few basic questions:

Standing or sitting?

A worktable gives you a surface for standing work, while a workbench gives you a surface for seated work.

Some worktables and workbenches have adjustable heights, which can help you dial in a good ergonomic fit for people with different heights and working postures.

Worktables can also be used as equipment stands. 

Mobile or stationary?

Some worktables and workbenches are mounted on wheels or casters, allowing them to be moved easily from place to place. Other shop furniture is stationary, providing a stable surface for working in one location.

Storage or no storage?

If you don’t need storage, there are simple worktables and open-base workbenches.

If you do want storage, there are a few different directions you can take, depending on your needs:

 

Open Base Workbenches

Open Base Workbenches

Preconfigured Pedestal Workbenches

Pedestal Workbenches

Preconfigured Workstations

Preconfigured Workstations

Configurable Workbenches

Configurable Workbenches

Modular Workbench and Storage Sets

Modular Workbench Sets

Cabinet Benches

Cabinet Benches

General purpose or task-specific?

Most workbenches and workstations are suitable for a wide range of applications, while some are designed for specific tasks:

  • Woodworking workbenches have built-in clamps, vises and mounting holes.
  • Wire harness workbenches can raise, lower and tilt harness assembly boards.
  • Computer cabinet workstations protect and organize computer equipment in industrial environments.
  • Shop desks have a writing surface and desk-like storage, but they’re built to stand up to industrial environments.
  • ESD workbenches have a work surface that prevents electrostatic discharge (ESD), which can be important in electronics assembly and repair.
  • Packaging tables have a work surface for wrapping and taping shipments, along with space for organizing shipping supplies and add-ons for holding cardboard and packages.

 

Woodworking Workbenches

Woodworking Workbenches

Wire Harness Workbenches

Wire Harness Workbenches

Computer Cabinet Workstations

Computer Cabinet Workstations

Shop Desks

Shop Desks

Shop Desks

ESD Workbenches

Packaging Tables

Packaging Tables

Finding the Right Features

Once you have a basic idea of the kind of workbench you’re looking for, you can narrow down your choices by thinking about the features and specs. Here are some things to consider: 

Load Rating

Workbenches and tables are rated by the maximum weight they can support. A lightweight, mobile table might be rated to support only a few hundred pounds, while a heavy-duty stationary bench might be able to handle more than 10,000 pounds. If you’ll be working on heavy components, be sure your workstation can carry the load.

Surface Area

Workbenches come in a range of sizes, from compact tables to wide benches. Your workbench should be able to comfortably handle all the tools and parts you’ll need, but be sure the furniture’s footprint will fit in the available shop space. 

Benchtop Thickness

The thickness of a benchtop affects its weight and durability. Metal benchtops are measured by gauge, and lower gauge numbers are thicker than higher gauges. Wood and plastic benchtop thickness is measured in inches.  

Bench Edge Shape

The top edge can be squared off, rounded into a “bullnose” or have its corners smoothed into a filet radius. A square edge is necessary if you will be bending or cutting material over the bench’s edge. However, rounded edges will be less likely to dent parts as they are moved on and off the bench.   

Storage Configuration

Workbenches offer endless configurations of drawers, cabinets, and shelving to hold tools and parts. Some common storage options include:

  • Lower shelves: Many workbenches add shelving in the open base for more storage capacity. For mobile workbenches, lower shelving also ensures that items stowed beneath the bench will come along as the bench is rolled into position.  
  • Drawers: Sliding drawers beneath the workbench can hold tool trays and organizers for small parts.
  • Risers: A raised shelf along the back edge of the workbench provides eye-level storage within easy reach.
  • Pegboards: Hand tools can be hung on a pegboard that rises behind the bench, an easy way to keep frequently used tools in sight.
  • Louvered panels: Similar to a pegboard, but with slots designed for hanging small bins instead of holes for tool hangers. Louvered panels are useful for keeping an array of small parts readily available.

Height Adjustability

Bench height can make a huge difference for workers’ comfort and ergonomics. Adjustable benches use either a bolting mechanism or adjustable feet to raise or lower the height of the working surface for a custom fit.

Security

Some benches have keyed drawers or padlock hasps to keep tools secure.  

Outlets

If you’ll be using power tools, a bench with built-in power outlets will provide a convenient place to plug in.

Surface Material

The benchtop needs to stand up to the job. The options for benchtop materials include:

  • Steel, which provides a tough, impenetrable work surface that’s easy to clean and highly resistant to cuts and gouging. On the other hand, a hard steel surface may scuff and dent the parts you’re working on and could dull drill bits and cutting tools.
  • Stainless steel, which is extremely corrosion-resistant and easy to clean. Stainless steel repels most oil, dyes and solvents, but it can be susceptible to etching from strong acids.
  • Butcher block, which is a made of wood pieces and offers a softer surface than steel, making it much less likely to scratch and dent components. Wood also absorbs shock and vibration, so it can be easier on the wrists when using a mallet or power tools. However, butcher block can be stained by spills and gouged by cutting tools. A wood benchtop may need to be sanded and refinished periodically to restore the surface condition. 
  • Engineered wood, composite wood and particle board, which are made of highly compressed scrap wood fibers. These materials are relatively inexpensive and eco-friendly, and like butcher block, they offer a soft, shock-absorbent surface that can be sanded and resurfaced to repair minor cuts and stains.
  • Laminate, which provides a smooth, impermeable benchtop that’s well suited to tasks like packaging, assembly and lab work. Laminate is not as durable as steel or wood, but its light weight makes laminate tables or rolling workbenches easy to move and set up. 
  • Plastic, which is very lightweight, corrosion-resistant and moisture-repellant. Plastic workbench tops are often made of ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene, also known as UHMW-PE or HMPE, the same durable plastic used for pickup bed liners and dock bumpers. It’s impermeable and highly abrasion resistant, and its low friction makes it less likely to scratch products as they’re being worked on.

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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.