Cool Tools: Portable Workbenches And Carts

By Jeff Griffin | Dec 15, 2013
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Electricians frequently find themselves on job sites without a place to lay out plans and drawings or organize tools and materials. A stack of Sheetrock can provide a temporary work surface, or scrap lumber might be used to construct a crude bench or table. Often the floor is the only flat, usable space available.

Many types of portable workbenches are available. However, most of them are generic, not designed for the needs of any specific trade. Home improvement centers stock lightweight, portable work benches for do-it-yourselfers, costing less than $100. Many are intended to serve as a sawhorse with the added convenience of a vise to hold material while cutting or sawing. Most of them are not intended for professional use.

More suitable to the demands of tradesmen are sturdy, two-shelf steel tables available both with and without wheels. The top can serve as a desk. Wheeled models can be easily rolled around a work site. Also available are tool and storage boxes with tops that can serve as a work surface. Some contain sliding drawers and doors to storage space. Many different brands are offered in a variety of sizes and weight capacities from equipment suppliers, including Grainger Industrial Supply and Northern Tool and Equipment.

The last Cool Tools report on this topic included products of well-known manufacturers in electrical markets. In the interim, several of those companies stopped producing portable workstations and workboxes. But others still do. Knaack, a primary upfitter of work trucks, offers a selection of rolling workbenches. Maxis, a Southwire company, manufactures Wire Wagon mobile workstations, which are designed specifically for the electrical trade. Maxis and Greenlee conduit bending carts are marketed to electricians and electrical contractors (ECs).

Portable workstations

The industry has developed portable workstations to meet EC needs. 

According to Tim Bardin, Southwire/Maxis general manager, contractor equipment: “Time is money, and electricians continue to look for ways to work more efficiently and finish jobs faster. A portable workstation that is a print table also carries reels of wire, lengths of conduit, other materials and tools is a proven way to accomplish these goals.”

The Wire Wagon concept was developed 14 years ago by Doyle Elder, a licensed electrician and member of IBEW Local No. 1141. Elder is now a Southwire development partner.

“I’ve spent years installing conduit and pulling wire,” Elder said. “So I knew first-hand the frustrations of keeping reels of wire, conduit, and tools and supplies accessible and ready to use. Having used wire racks sent out to jobs, I thought there could be something more versatile that could be used in more than one way and developed our first multipurpose product. That original design has been refined, and the line has been expanded to include several models. In addition to a wire rack, they can be used on a job—start to finish—to haul conduit, to hold and move materials and tools, as a workbench to prefab parts and to roll out prints. They are rugged, multipurpose portable workstations that are mobile workbenches, print tables and portable storage for conduit and other materials, all in a compact package that can be rolled around the job to wherever needed. In the morning, load a wagon with all the high-voltage and low-voltage wire colors needed for the day or several hundred feet of conduit, along with tools and supplies, and back and forth trips for more wire, conduit, supplies, and tools are reduced or eliminated.”

There currently are six Wire Wagon models, including the 550 and 510.

Wire Wagon 550 is a print table and mobile workbench with portable storage for conduit and other materials in one compact package that can be moved around the job site to wherever it is needed. The table surface is a workbench for fabricating parts, assembling fixtures, and many other tasks. Position the table surface at an angle, and it becomes a print table. Underneath are storage shelves for materials and supplies and a rack to hold conduit.

Wire Wagon 510 is a wire and conduit cart with portable workbench. It can accommodate 16 2,500-foot spools. These high-capacity carts allow all high-voltage colors, switch leg colors and ground wire—a total of 13 wires—on one rack. The 510 can hold several hundred feet of conduit and can store additional tools and materials on the top shelf. The metal top shelf also can serve as a worktable. Five-inch casters make it easy to move the cart around the job, and lock brakes secure its position.

Other companies also make handy workstations. Knaack perhaps is best known for utility truck storage cabinets and racks, but it also offers heavy-duty JobMasters rolling workbenches. Mounted on casters for easy moving and positioning around work sites, the flat top can serve as a worktable or bench. Storage space configuration varies by model and includes drawers that slide on ball bearings and storage spaces accessed by doors. An optional door-locking system secures these rolling workstations.

Ladders aren’t thought of as workstations, but Werner’s heavy-duty Old Blue Electricians Job Station is a fiberglass stepladder with features designed specifically to help electricians work more efficiently on a ladder. Among its features is a customized holster top to secure electrician’s tools of the trade. A tool lasso/bungee system has three bungees to wrap around tools or parts. There is an easy-access hacksaw hook located on the rear side of the third step. A wire spool holder is designed for cross-ladder wire-pulling for optimal ladder stability and tip-over resistance. Brackets will hold up to 375 pounds total on the job station. Brackets fit up to ¾-inch pipe. Front and rear mounting brackets are parallel to the ground, so spools won’t slide to one side. Powder-coated aluminum construction resists corrosion. Electricians workstations are designed to fit Werner 1AA-rated fiberglass ladders in five heights from 4 to 12 feet.

Conduit-bending carts

Portable bending carts are job-specific mobile workstations designed to speed up conduit-bending operations, and a couple manufacturers have such solutions. 

Greenlee offers several portable bending tables to support benders of various capacities (purchased separately). For example, the 881-MBT (mobile bending table) carriage assembly is designed for the 881 bending unit. Locking swivel wheels provide job-site maneuverability, or fork pockets allow facilitate moving with a fork truck. A ram “positioner” facilitates setup of the ram to accommodate different size bending shoes. It has steel pegs with hitch pins for storage of shoes and saddles.

For accurate bends, a vise chain securely holds conduit to prevent twisting and turning while the bend is made. A pump basket holds the hydraulic pump for the bender unit.

“The Maxis EMT Bendstation is the newest work station in our line,” Bardin said. “The electrical industry has been bending EMT the same low tech, labor-intensive way more than 60 years, and there can be a lot of wasted motion in the bending process. Our new Bendstation is a complete workstation for bending ½-, ¾-, and 1-inch EMT. Bendstations can be ordered with either ½-inch and ¾-inch dual-bending head or a ¾-inch and 1-inch dual-bending head. To help make quick and accurate measurements, there is a 60-inch ruler incorporated into the working surface. Its speed vise holds conduit and Unistrut, making cutting faster and safer. It also has a built-in protractor for quick and accurate bends.

Mobile office workstation

Many owners of small electrical contracting companies and supervisors of field managers of larger organizations manage operations from their trucks, so a mobile office workstation would be the appropriate tool for them.

One such solution is from Jotto Desk, which markets compact desks that convert the passenger seat of a pickup, van or SUV into a mobile office. Mounting bases are available for major truck brands and install in minutes with simple hand tools. A laptop computer locks firmly to the desktop and can be moved to different positions for ease of use. Manufactured with heavy gauge steel, billet aluminum, and ABS plastic, this laptop mount is designed for constant daily use. The unit can be easily removed when not needed. Accessories include screen holders, side tables for printers or writing stands, docking stations, wireless phone holders, PDA holders, night lights and other add-ons.

About The Author

GRIFFIN, a construction journalist from Oklahoma City, can be reached at [email protected].





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