Ideal material for workbench top

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Forum topic by FlagshipOne posted 10-07-2015 12:32 PM 694 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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11 posts in 1753 days

10-07-2015 12:32 PM

I am planning a new workbench build and was wondering what wood type might make the best top? factoring in durability and cost effectiveness.


-- Some Dood in Virginia

12 replies so far

View chrisstef's profile (online now)


15488 posts in 2430 days

#1 posted 10-07-2015 12:35 PM

Whatever is cheap and available.

-- "there aren’t many hand tools as awe-inspiring as the #8 jointer. I mean, it just reeks of cast iron heft and hubris" - Smitty

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2294 posts in 1720 days

#2 posted 10-07-2015 12:38 PM

Maple. Or ash. Or plywood. Or a solid core door. How deep is your wallet?

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


13576 posts in 2042 days

#3 posted 10-07-2015 12:41 PM

Cheap and available is huge, Stef is right on, and that depends on where you are. So check the janka scales for wood that’s in your area and pick the best option for you. Could be southern yellow pine, could be one of the oaks. Many say the exotics should be used for projects, that’s up to you.

Check out the pics in the Workbench Smack Down thread for ideas on what various makes and woods look like, maybe that’d help decide, as the end result needs to be pleasing to your eye as well.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

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4687 posts in 1635 days

#4 posted 10-07-2015 12:57 PM

From Christopher Schwarz’s advice on Mistakes of First Time Bench Builders

3. Over-agonizing the wood types used

Any wood (even plywood) can be used to make a bench. The material should be cheap, easy to get, heavy (if possible), dry-ish and heavy (if possible). After a few years of use, your bench will look like every other used bench – beat up, broke in and awesome.

Notice that the first criteria for him is cheap. My main bench is SPF construction lumber. I also have a very inexpensive travelling bench made out of oak trucking skids that cost me almost nothing. Paul Sellers has built many benches from Home Depot 2×4’s. Find something cheap and use it.

-- "Good judgement is the result of experience. A lot of experience is the result of poor judgement."

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1402 posts in 2409 days

#5 posted 10-07-2015 01:03 PM

I used doug fir 2×4’s for mine. I prefer it that way, since you want the bench top softer than the woods you will be working with so your bench gets marred, not your project. Also, if it takes a ding, I don’t sweat it. Finally, it was cheap.

-- Brian T. - Exact science is not an exact science

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3972 posts in 1775 days

#6 posted 10-07-2015 01:14 PM

I used poplar/ with ash to reinforce the front edge wagon vise area. It has held up well over several years so far.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2264 posts in 1793 days

#7 posted 10-07-2015 02:07 PM

I used DF 2×10’s, pith ripped out, turned on edge, for a 2” thick top, with a 3.5” apron on the front. At the time, was cheap, and readily available. Shortly after I finished it, I met a local hobbyist with a mill that sells me maple for significantly less than DF costs. Oh well. So far, it’s worked out great for me.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View Andre's profile


993 posts in 1230 days

#8 posted 10-07-2015 03:17 PM

I found some old Birch, bought some hard Maple to frame top and for Vise faces! Hard to tell the two apart except for some grain patterns on them!

-- Lifting one end of the plank.

View rwe2156's profile


2126 posts in 905 days

#9 posted 10-07-2015 03:27 PM

Whatever you can get your hands on.

Generally I would recommend a hard, dense wood that when you pound on it doesn’t simply absorb all the shock.
Dense wood will also be more durable. That’s way hard maple, beech and ash are such common choices.

The only wood I can think of I WOULDN’T use is spruce – way too soft.

The one I’m using now is a piece of SYP bowling alley lane.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View ste6168's profile


250 posts in 595 days

#10 posted 10-07-2015 05:42 PM

I used Teak, works great.
Just kidding, my current benchtop is made of a sheet of 3/4” MDF, cut down the middle, and sandwiched together. Works fine for now, but I do plan to build a “real” bench at some point. Will probably use ash for the top.

View HokieKen's profile


1543 posts in 562 days

#11 posted 10-07-2015 06:46 PM

Right now, I use 3/4 utility ply topped with 3/4 Oak hardwood flooring. It was free and available when I needed it and it’s worked fine. I’m planning a new bench soon and will be using construction grade SYP because it’s cheap and readily available. Most of the “Gurus” (Schwarz, Sellers et al) rank those as the 2 most important requirements. I did some research into SYP’s properties also and it’s quite suitable. It’s relatively dense and hard and resists bending/breaking very well. If glued up properly, it will remain pretty flat based on most people’s experience too.

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View SignWave's profile


281 posts in 2459 days

#12 posted 10-07-2015 08:13 PM

I built a workbench out of D. Fir, although SYP would have work as well. I chose D. Fir because in this area, it has fewer knots and only costs a tiny bit more than SYP.

If you use construction grade dimensional lumber, I strongly suggest buying longer and wider boards and ripping/cutting them to size. It will be much easier to get knot-free and relatively straight short boards from a 12’x2”x12” board than it will from a 8’x2”x4” board. The cost per board foot is about the same (although there seems to be a sweet spot around 2×10 being much cheaper than 2×12 right now).

Mine is from ripped 2×6’s, so roughly a 2 5/8” thick lamination. It’s plenty durable, but my next one will be between 3 and 4 inches. A couple things that I’ll also do next time is to avoid knots and to orient the grain in the same direction on the boards. Both of these will make it much easier to level.

I’ve seen some really nice workbenches, but I like having one that I don’t mind if it gets dented or stained. It’s a tool, not a piece of furniture, IMHO.

-- Barry,

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