Chris Schwarz's Blog

Making Workbenches Mobile (and Immobile)

Making your workbench mobile is easy – just add swiveling casters. Making your workbench immobile, however, is more difficult. We have tried a number of solutions here in our shop.

1. Using casters that lock isn’t a good solution – the bench is easily moved even if the wheels are locked.

2. We’ve put some flip-down wheels on a bench. This works OK; but if you hit a bump the wheels will flip back (I have a solution to this that I’ll publish later in the week).

3. Putting a mobile base on a bench makes it a tripping hazard, and your feet keep ramming into the base of the mobile base.

There are lots of solutions out there that we know work. The problem is that they are overly complex or expensive – sometimes more expensive than the bench itself. I’m looking for a solution that won’t break the bank.

Today I think I’m one step closer to my goal.

On Easter weekend I was in Rochester, New York, to speak to the Rochester Woodworking Society on Friday night and then give a one-day class on handwork on Saturday. During my Friday-night lecture I gave a history lesson on workbenches (with nudity!) and tool chests (thankfully, no nudity).

During the question-and-answer session after the lecture, one woman asked for advice about making her workbench mobile. I really didn’t have any good advice to offer, but woodworker Jon Rouleau did.

He suggested using a “floor lock” or a “truck lock” to immobilize the bench. These are used in industry to hold heavy stuff in place, anything from large computers to machinery to work tables. The way he described a floor lock sounds like a dream: Press a foot pedal to lock the bench on rubber pads. Press a second foot pedal to unlock the bench and allow it to roll freely.

On Saturday morning, Rouleau brought one of these floor locks made by Presto Products Co. to my class to demonstrate it. They are a simple and awesome piece of hardware. And after some more research that Rouleau helped me with, I really want to purchase some of these floor locks to mess with.

The floor locks are designed to be used with separate casters (though there are some casters that have floor locks built into them check these out).

The floor locks aren’t crazy expensive. Simple ones are $29 each from CasterSupply.com. But they might not be the best option for a retrofit to your existing bench. I probably would put the floor locks and casters on the bottom of my legs – and that will require some real estate and some design work. The manufacturers recommend using one or two floor locks per workbench. But I probably would use four — just to be sure.

If it works, it could be a reasonable and bulletproof solution to a problem I’ve been trying to solve for a long time.

— Christopher Schwarz

“Floor Locks” Aren’t In Roubo….

• But if you want some other hi-test workbench information, visit workbenchdesign.net.

• I have a couple books on workbenches that are helpful for designing workbenches, including “Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use” and “The Workbench Design Book.

• We still have some posters of Plate 11 from Andre Roubo’s masterwork – the ultimate workbench-lover’s poster.

20 thoughts on “Making Workbenches Mobile (and Immobile)

  1. Eric Davis

    Well I am designing mine and I think I have a simple solution not expensive and as sturdy as you would like.
    make posts as thick as you would like and then attach the castors as sturdy as you would like, attach them to the end of your new post drill a hole near the base of the post for a metal rod threaded again as thick as you would like.
    Now drill a hole through the base of your bench leg offset just enough to allow the wheels to be functional and of course level. Now attach threaded rod through both holes and you can use the post as a lever to raise and lower each leg and then put a peg hole through both legs again to secure the top of the post to the leg of the workbench.
    As well if you plan on making workbenches for other tools consider incorperating this functionalty in all the legs so as to make just one set of 4.

  2. JWatriss

    I dunno, guys. I’ve used locking casters and so on for a lot of my workstations. And they’re cool and all. But you have to buy another set for every workstation. Drill press/mortiser station, contractor saw/router table station, (Yes, it works well enough for a secondary saw station. Sawstop is my primary saw.) and so on and so forth. After a while, it all adds up. And the little wheels get hung up on shop debris really easily.

    I’ve since fallen in love with our pallet jack. Decent entry level versions are about what you’d pay for casters, they handle bumps a little better, and all you need to do is design 4″ of clearance under a workstation.

    I’m not saying casters aren’t a good choice sometimes. If you’re moving your bench around a really small shop, they make sense. Palletizing wood storage, unfinished projects, scrap plywood, and so on, designing workstations to be moved that way, (even cabinet saws) can really work well. If your workshop is in a garage, and you have a nice, level-ish concrete floor, it’s just so easy to move things around. Much more so than mobile bases or casters… and you only need to buy the one pallet jack, instead of several sets of casters or trip-hazard mobile bases.

    And, naturally, it works wonders when it comes time to move my 8′ bench around the shop, or lift it up so I can level it out with shims.

  3. dkisker

    This is an interesting idea and one would think that it would work. However, in doing my own searching at an industrial supplier that DOES sell to the public, McMaster-Carr, I found both good news and bad news…

    Good news is that there are multiple varieties of these things, (although MC is admittedly more expensive that others may be) including a version that would attach to the side of the workbench legs. (PN 27185T11) However, there is also a note that might be a source of concern at the top of the page, which points out that “Floor locks are not load rated. They are designed to keep equipment in place, not for lifting it off the floor.” Obviously, it would depend on your application as to how important this would be. Here is the URL for the page: http://www.mcmaster.com/#floor-locks/=c25abm

  4. Mark Clark

    My Ridgid table saw has a built-in foot pedal, step on it once and it is raised up onto 4 casters, step on it again and it is lowered back to the floor. Works great to move the saw around the shop or roll it outside to work in the sunshine.

  5. Scott

    Here was my solution. I built a 500 pound 7′ bench out of Beech that I needed to be mobile, but I didn’t want to have unsightly wheels visible. My solution was to use two vise screws on either end. Each screw has a board attached to the end that rides in a groove on the inside of the legs. A pair of swiveling casters are attached to each board. The board with the wheels is hidden by the bottom shelf and wide skirt so the only things visible are two vise screws. When you crank the vise down, the bench gets lifted. I only need to lift it about half an inch to make it mobile and get it to where I need to go. I can also use the lift to put blocks under the legs if I need the bench higher (up to 4 or 5 inches. I’m not sure if the link below will work, but you can go to “Hook Handmade” on facebook and search through my wall photos.

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/photo.php?fbid=202041713142432&set=a.141103982569539.27737.138175779529026&type=1&theater

  6. Tale Gunner

    I tried to locate these floor locks from Presto Company but could not. When I searched the internet I got all kinds of results but not the one I was looking for. Any help where to find these gems?

    1. Jon Rouleau

      Tale Gunner, It is possible that the Presto Company no longer makes this floor lock. It is unique in that it is spring loaded and the springs apply the holding force. I too looked for them online and was unable to find any but the internet is funny that way. These would be industrial items and maybe not available to the general public but keep looking, you could get lucky.

    2. RCWW

      I bought a similiar set of these a few years ago at greatlakescaster.com. I put them on a very heavy metal brake lathe table I made and they work well. They are an industrial company but they will sell to anyone or at least they did then and they had a very low minimum order. The ones I prefer are colson brand. I worked maintenance at a GE lighting factory for many years and the colson casters and floor locks were always made much heavier than other brands.

  7. BillT

    “A better solution would be to have wheels that would go up and down with a foot lever. Then the bench sits on its legs normally, but can be raised to move.

    “Has anyone found wheels like this?”

    Yes, on my old 1950’s Shopsmith Model 10ER. It was all original, including the original base, which included the retractable caster set. The retractable casters function by a rotating shaft that has cams on it and levers that stick out perpendicular to the shaft for you to step on. You step on a lever and the shaft rotates about 1/3 of a rotation. In one position, the wheels are completely up and the bench sits on the floor. In the second position, the wheels are on the floor with maybe 1/4″ clearance under the bench legs; in the third position, the bench is raised higher and is easier to move about. Step on the lever again, and it drops back down.

    You’d need a much heavier-duty version for a good woodworking bench, though.

  8. bableck

    I stumbled across a really great solution with my son-in-law’s motorcycle lift (currently available on Amazon for $149 – OTC 1545 Motorcycle Lift – 20.1 x 74 x 39.4 inches; 74 pounds) that is on casters, easily lifts 1500lbs, gets under anything that has a 3.5″-16.75″ clearance. I’ve used it numerous times on my Tage Frid style workbench that has 12″ clearance under the stretchers and my large lathe that has several hundred pounds of sand added to it’s base which is 5″ off the ground. Two of the steel wheels swivel so very easy to maneuver and removable steering handle. Only need to find the balance point which usually just takes a couple of quick tries.

  9. rbaynes

    A better solution would be to have wheels that would go up and down with a foot lever. Then the bench sits on its legs normally, but can be raised to move.

    Has anyone found wheels like this?

  10. Acethebiker

    I would think that three might be the optimal number because a three point mount is so stable. Maybe two on the main working side of the bench and one in the middle of the back of the bench.

  11. Jon Rouleau

    Floor locks are not intended to raise the workbench, they have tremendous holding power to keep what ever you use them on in place. In industry they buy floor locks that are sized to be used with a specific castor wheel size. You might have to experiment with the mounting height if you use a different size wheel.
    At work I have seen a single floor clamp mounted on a 800 -900 lb tub with 5 inch wheels. That single clamp is enough to keep a very heavy load from moving once it is clamped to the floor but releases with ease.

  12. BillT

    OK, yeah, I keep posting, but like Chris, this is something I have thought about for a long time.

    Anyhow – casters like these could work as well:

    http://www.footmastercasters.com/

    There are other brands of “leveling” casters out there, which incorporate a retractable foot that can be lowered to lift the wheels off the floor.

  13. BillT

    By the way, I also think that there are locking casters out there that actually would do the job. There are “locking casters” and then there are locking casters. There is a big difference between the standard locking casters you can buy at Lowe’s or Home Depot and some of the industrial, double-locking casters I’ve seen out there. At a minimum, you want “double-locking” casters, which lock not only the wheel so it doesn’t spin, but also the swivel, so it cannot rotate. I have a large, standing mechanic’s toolbox equipped with these, and also a painter’s work scaffold, and they are pretty much impossible to move until you unlock the casters. Granted, the’re not subject to the same kind of lateral forces as planing on a bench, but I’ve got to think there’s something out there that would do the job.

  14. BillT

    I have some very heavy-duty casters that originally were mounted on a large telecommunications mainframe computer in the 1970s. Each caster is mounted on a heavy, vertical threaded rod, which is threaded through a heavy steel bracket so that the top end of the threaded rod sticks out. The top end of the threaded rod has a square section on it.

    To move the mainframe, a tool would be applied to the square section and the rod screwed down until the wheels hit the floor and then lifted the mainframe off the floor. Once it was in place, just unscrew the threaded rod to lower it back down. Unscrew a little more and the wheels retract completely, leaving the mainframe sitting on its legs.

    I have had these casters for years with the intent of putting them on my main woodworking bench. Just haven’t gotten around to it yet. But they should work wonderfully. With the wheels retracted, the bench is just like a regular bench – it sits on its own legs, and the wheels are just appendages hanging off the ends. Screw the rod down and the wheels lift the bench up. They are big, beefy wheels, all on ball bearinges, so they should enable the bench to easily be moved around.

    The only downside is the time it would take to screw/unscrew each caster. But I figure I rarely ever move my bench, so for the occasional move, it wouldn’t be a huge deal.

    1. jaysprague

      My 40 year old Craftsman contractor saw stand has 2 casters like this (threaded rod to raise and lower) and two wheels that lower in a C-shaped slot that puts them on the ground at the bottom of the slot and raises them at the top of the slot. It’s a good system, but the wheels are “cheesy” hard plastic and don’t roll very well. I tried to find two more of the screw down type, but they aren’t in the Sears parts list anymore. I’m thinking four threaded rods, with nuts welded/epoxied to the top and captured nuts/threaded inserts could be placed in the four “corners” (near, but not exactly at the corner) could be used as jacking screws to lift and lower the workbench. Or they could be attached to the inboard corners of the legs. I haven’t worked how to attach casters/wheels to the end of the threaded rods, but I’ll get there soon.

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