My Workbench #2: Questions About the Top

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Blog entry by Eric posted 02-12-2008 05:20 PM 1392 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Lumber for the Top Part 2 of My Workbench series no next part

I have to say, the thought of trying to flatten 16(ish) boards entirely by hand (for the bench top) is a bit daunting. But I lined up the six I have done a cursory planing on, and they look like they mostly line up. Of course, I think they all have a slight bow, but at least they’re all bowing to the same extent. It’ll be an artistic bench with the “bent” look. ;^)

But I do have a couple questions for you all, and I know that at least a few of you won’t disappoint and will try to answer, so thanks in advance.

1. I think termites have gotten into at least a couple boards – I see tiny holes. First of all, how do I know if they are gone? I haven’t seen any sawdust at the base of the boards, which is the only thing I can think of to look for. Secondly, if the termites are gone, is it okay to use the wood? It’d be laminated in between good pieces, but is it more succeptible to re-infestation or decay or anything?
2. I have a mix of heartwood and sapwood, mostly because when I bought the wood I didn’t know what I was looking for. I gather from my readings that heartwood is favorable, but is there any reason I should not mix the two? I don’t really care if it looks dumb, so long as it works well. Or would you recommend I use sapwood for, say, the stretchers, and go buy some more heartwood for the top?
3. If I have to get a different kind of wood for the legs (2×6s), would that be problematic? It would be another tropical hardwood (probably meranti or nyatoh), so my guess is that it would work.
4. Regarding that slight bow, what’s the best way to fix it? If I glued the first bowed piece to a straight one, would it pull the straight one over? Or is the trick to glue them up quick and get end caps on them? (Is that what they’re called – end caps?)

And if anyone is interested, a 10’ board of kempas 2×4 (which is pretty close to being the full 2” by 4”) is $5.56 in U.S. dollars.

-- Eric at

3 comments so far

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4172 days

#1 posted 02-12-2008 06:03 PM

I think the heartwood/sapwood issue is mostly because heartwood tends to be more dense/solid than the sapwood. In your case, dealing with tropical hardwoods that are already harder than most U.S. domestic woods, I don’t think you should worry about it.

Are you going to be handplaning the top? If so, then you definitely want to take into consideration the grain direction of all of your boards and try to end up with all grain going the same way. Then you won’t have to deal with as many tearout problems.

Not sure what to tell you about the slight bow, though. If possible, you should dress the lumber to be flat before you glue up.

Re: the termites… They probably aren’t termites (or, termites as we understand them to be). There are a lot of bugs that will bore into wood but don’t affect it the same way termites do. When termites are done with a piece of wood, you can quite easily crush it in your hands. I often see small holes, usually bored in the sapwood or in a particular section of heartwood, in Mahogany and rosewood (almost always the sap wood) and other “exotics”. I’ve never worried about them.

if you ARE worried, however, you should make a plastic tent over your lumber, seal it up nice and tight, and then fume it with a fumigation bomb.

-- Ethan,

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3820 days

#2 posted 02-12-2008 06:18 PM

Termites do not live in wood they use if for food. They live in the ground and build mud tunnels to their food sources. They need damp dark conditions and plenty of wood to stay happy and healthy. As Ethan said there are a number of wood boring insects that lay eggs in wood on which their larva feed but you could also simply have an older piece of wood with “worm holes” which adds character to the wood.

It’s not going to hurt to mix wood species or to mix heartwood and sapwood. In fact this adds a nice detail to the piece especially if there is a contrast between the woods.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View SPalm's profile


5320 posts in 3880 days

#3 posted 02-12-2008 07:56 PM

My first choice in flattening a massive solid top like this is to use a router on a sled. Glue it all up first and then flatten it by swirling a router with a flat bit, on a supported sled, all over it. Tage Frid, myself, and several others here have done it. It really does a good job, leaving scraping or sanding to smooth it. The router will not care about grain direction, or sapwood/heartwood.


-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

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