It often is a problem in any home to find work space for home-improvement and hobby projects, but that is especially so in many apartments, condominiums and smaller homes.
One new solution is the Hide-Away Workbench, sold at some home centers for about $40. This ingenious folding device hangs on the inside of a closet or other interior door. It folds to a compact package that can be left hanging on the closed door - out of sight, if it's in a closet - or removed for storage elsewhere.The Hide-Away's work surface is a durable sheet of 3/4-inch particleboard measuring 36 by 20 inches. The work surface is supported at one end by folding metal legs and at the other by the hanger bracket. The device includes a 24-by-22-inch panel of perforated hardboard attached to the hanger bracket. When equipped with hooks and other fixtures of the type sold at most hardware stores and home centers, the board can be used to hang small tools or hobby supplies.
The Hide-Away is inherently somewhat wobbly. The manufacturer - Crawford Products Inc., of 301 Winter St., West Hanover, Mass. 02339 - warns that the bench should not be used as a dressing table for children or as a seat. Do-it-yourselfers who want to do hammering or pounding also should look for sturdier equipment. However, the folding bench is fine for many projects and hobbies, including refinishing of smaller pieces of furniture, kit assembly and model-making, potting of plants, and similar light work.
Do-it-yourselfers have several other choices if they want sturdier or larger work surfaces that will take up little space when not in use.
One versatile option is the folding Workmate benches made by Black & Decker and sold at many home centers and building-supply stores. Workmates are made in several sizes and prices, starting about $70. The standard top for these devices is a pair of relatively narrow hardwood boards. On a basic Workmate, the boards are about 24 by 5 inches.
The boards are fitted to a screw-type mechanism that moves them like the jaws of a vise. Work pieces often can be clamped between the jaws to hold them in convenient positions. The vise feature and the sturdy metal frames of the Workmates make them excellent for heavy-duty work such as sawing, planing and pounding. When folded, Workmates are less than nine inches deep, and can be hung on a wall or tucked into a closet.
A Workmate can easily be fitted with a removable custom top to provide a larger, workbench-type surface. To do this, cut a piece of 3/4-inch plywood to the desired size - say, 24 by 36 inches - and screw a 1-by-4-inch cleat about 24 inches long to the center of the plywood's underside. The long dimension of the cleat should run in the same direction as the long dimension of the plywood top. Open the jaws of the Workmate wide enough to accept the cleat, and clamp the cleat in the vise with the new plywood top resting on the vise jaws.
A still larger take-down work surface, although not as sturdy as a Workmate or as easy to store as the Hide-Away, can be made by attaching a homemade top to a pair of folding legs or sawhorses. Folding legs, sometimes called banquet-table legs, and sawhorses are available at some home centers and lumberyards. Prices vary, but a set of legs or sawhorses can usually be bought for less than $50.
Banquet-table legs, often priced at less than $30, are especially useful. These consist of two H-shaped double legs of tubular steel. Hinges and a folding brace allow the legs to be folded flat against the top when not in use, so you can slide the assembly under a bed, behind a sofa or along a garage wall.
Plywood 3/4-inch thick makes a good top for a knockdown workbench, but is quite heavy in larger sizes. One reasonably convenient and fairly lightweight size is 24 by 48 inches.
Another option for a top, not as sturdy as plywood but relatively lightweight, is a hollow-core door, which has skins of thin wood over a lightweight frame. These doors are available in various sizes. A standard door, measuring 28 by 80 inches, provides a truly expansive work surface - it is even roomy enough for sorting statements and receipts at income-tax time.
Folding legs can be screwed directly to plywood tops. If you use them with a hollow-core door, glue solid wood cleats 3/4-inch thick at each end of one side of the door to provide a firm grip for the screws used to attach the legs.