Like many carpenters, I'm always looking for a better workbench system — one that's strong, portable, and suitable for multiple tasks. So when Tools of the Trade asked me to try out a folding worktable from Benchmark, I was happy to oblige.
The tool arrived partially assembled in a small, tightly packed shipping box. Putting it together took me 20 or 30 minutes. It has an aluminum frame with steel hardware and various plastic pieces.
Using An Open-Topped Table
The Benchmark differs from the tables I've used before (usually a door blank on sawhorses) in a couple of important ways: It folds, so it's easier to transport; and it has an open top consisting of a series of cross bars covered with stepped plastic caps. Since the top isn't solid, you can cut on it with a circular saw without damaging the work surface — you just position the piece so that the blade passes between the cross bars or through the channels where the caps step down. If you misjudge and hit a cap, you'll only be hitting plastic.
The open top allows you to clamp in ways that wouldn't be possible with a solid top, and to fasten from below when you want to avoid flipping the material. The caps are made from nonmarring ABS plastic and are brightly colored so they're easy to see.
Without a solid top, you have nowhere to rest small items. But you can outfit the table with optional tool trays that attach to the legs. We have two, and they come in handy for holding loose hardware, glue bottles, and small tools. You can also create a solid top of your own. We cut a piece of MDF large enough to cover the back half of the table and use it as a staging area for material and small tools. That leaves the front half of the table free for clamping, cutting, and mounting benchtop tools.
I do a lot of pocket-screw joinery, and I find the open top helpful because I can support the material and still clamp the joint over the table. With a solid-topped table, I'd have to block the material up or hang it off the end. The bench is also great for breaking down sheet goods. We use it with a track saw, though it should work just as well with a standard circular saw. There are photos on the manufacturer's website that show the Benchmark being used with a miter saw. Personally, I would never buy it for that purpose because there are plenty of miter-saw stands that cost less and are even more portable than this bench.
The table sets up and breaks down easily and fits in the back of my SUV with the seats folded down. I've also transported it on the roof rack.
Folded size: 67.25 inches by 37.5 inches by 7 inches
I tested the Pro Package, which contains the worktable, the tool trays I described above, two adapter plates, a cord whip, and eight riser pegs.
The riser pegs are 6-inch rubber-tipped aluminum dowels that fit into holes formed in the plastic caps. You can use them to space material off the table when you are cutting with a hand-held saw, and the rubber will keep it from sliding around. I use the pegs as a backstop — butting material against them when cutting slots with a biscuit joiner, or bringing butt joints flush during assembly.
The adapter plate allows you to quickly connect and disconnect tools from the table top. I screwed an adapter plate to a piece of plywood attached to the bottom of my pocket-hole machine. When I want to use the machine, I plop it onto the bench and the adapter plate clips onto the cross rails in such a way that it won't slide around. Removing the machine is simply a matter of lifting it off. Mounting a benchtop tool on a regular table means screwing or clamping it down; using an adapter plate is faster.
I particularly like the cord whip, a metal piece that fits into the holes in the plastic caps. You can keep electrical cords and vacuum hoses out of the way by feeding them through the loop at the top of the whip.
The bench comes with adjustable feet for leveling on uneven surfaces. The bottoms of the feet are covered by nonmarring rubber pads that protect the floor and prevent the bench from sliding around. For $29 you can replace the feet with locking casters.
The first time I saw this product, I thought it was mostly for DIYers. However, after using it I can say that the Benchmark is sturdy enough for professional use — provided you don't overload it. It's rated for an evenly distributed load of 250 pounds, which is a fraction of what can be put on a pair of heavy-duty sawhorses. For the work I do, 250 pounds is enough capacity; the most I'll ever put on the bench is a sheet or two of 3/4-inch MDF. I could see using the Benchmark for light remodeling, exterior trim, and siding — but I wouldn't take it onto a framing site or anywhere that people will bang on it. It just wouldn't hold up. (It's worth noting that you definitely do not want to stand on the bench; there's a joint in the center of the upper rails that allows it to fold.)
In my opinion, the bench's weakest feature is the knobs that lock the legs open and closed. You have to crank down hard to get them to hold the legs in position, which is difficult to do because they're small and made from light-duty plastic. I'd like to see a better retainer system or heavier-duty knobs (which I could probably add myself) to hold the legs more securely.
The Bottom Line
The Benchmark worktable is well-suited to the carpenter who needs to do light assembly work and cut material (especially sheet goods) with a hand-held saw. If you need a table that can support more than 250 pounds or that you can pound on, this is not the tool for you. Also, as benches go, it's kind of expensive — though if you do the right kind of work, it could pay for itself in increased mobility and reduced setup time.
Jesse Wright is a finish carpenter for Architectural Molding in Concord, Calif.