2 1/2 Maple Bench top?

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Forum topic by Valkiera posted 01-04-2016 07:30 PM 1070 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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9 posts in 1972 days

01-04-2016 07:30 PM

I’ve been mulling over all the bench build threads, trying to figure out which to build. I am fairly settled on building the $280 (or so) Christopher Schwarz bench. But I was having a hard time finding decent lumber locally. I have a few things working against me, I don’t have many tools and the ones I have are all hand tools. So taking really big lumber and breaking it down is a challenge. I had found a few pieces that would work for the legs and stretchers, but lumber for the top was eluding me.

While out poking around, I got dumb lucky the other day and found a stash of 2 1/2” Hard Maple for next to nothing at a small mill. I’ve got it in my shop (aka spare bedroom) acclimating now. It is various widths. but enough to get a 20” – 24” top out of. Do you think this will be thick enough on it’s own, or should I find a way to back it with some additional thickness?

Thanks for your thoughts and input.


11 replies so far

View builtinbkyn's profile


2691 posts in 1180 days

#1 posted 01-04-2016 07:54 PM

I think even if you end up with 2 1/4” after truing/flattening the surfaces, that will be pretty substantial for a maple top. If you need more bite for a vise, you could use a wider skirt piece. Many commercial benches are thinner across the top and have wider/deeper skirts.

-- Bill, Yo! Brooklyn & Steel City :)

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

5241 posts in 2733 days

#2 posted 01-04-2016 08:18 PM

I think it will absolutely stout enough for a bench top. I’m not sure if it will work with holdfasts, but it will do everything else just fine…

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View Valkiera's profile


9 posts in 1972 days

#3 posted 01-05-2016 06:30 AM

Thanks you both, I should be able to get most of the 2 1/2”, since it was surfaced to that thickness. I checked on it today and no twisting or bowing yet, so here’s hoping.


View descolada's profile


54 posts in 2038 days

#4 posted 01-05-2016 07:09 AM

Very often the boards in a work bench are ripped and glued face-to-face with side grain providing the surface for the top. This will let you get a thicker bench without having the ultra thick initial boards. This and the side skirts for the vice action as Bill said.

I’m actually finishing up a new bench that replaces one i built with a woodcraft “butcher/bench block” top. That was 1.75” and was just fine for the various hold-fasts I tried. I did need to add deeper jaws for the vices.

My new one is 3” thick (from 8/4 maple) and i went for the extra thickness as much for weight as anything else. I’m also hoping it helps keep it very flat as the woodcraft one was definitely not. It’s also got 8” skirts all around. Now I just need to find someone to help me move it from my old bench to the floor so I can finish it up…

View drcodfish's profile


124 posts in 1192 days

#5 posted 01-05-2016 07:56 AM

I just built one with 2 1/2 inch maple for the top, from a local miller. Top constructed from two planks 12” wide. I beefed up the legs (4X6DF) and fitted it out with a couple really old vises which I rehabbed. Sure, I wish I had the 6 inch Chris S monster bench top, but my bench works great for me.

-- Dr C

View fuigb's profile


542 posts in 3198 days

#6 posted 01-05-2016 11:39 AM

Val – if you only have hand tools then I hope that you’re reasonably skilled because a laminated top can go wrong in many ways, not the least of which is an uneven surface resultant from slippage during glue-up. A torsion box is a good alternative to the classic top: easier to construct for someone with a Robinson Crusoe toolkit and a heck of a lot cheaper, too. Weight & stability? Compensate for a torsion box’s light weight with a heavier frame.

-- - Crud. Go tell your mother that I need a Band-aid.

View rwe2156's profile


3233 posts in 1721 days

#7 posted 01-05-2016 01:01 PM

You should be OK.
Don’t be discouraged about not having power tools.
Many videos on flattening workbench with hand planes.

To the previous poster, yes hand tools require some skill. So do machines.
I resent the characterization some use like “Robinson Crusoe”, neanderthal, etc. The fact is, they will be found in, and used frequently by, every fine ww’er’s tool kit.

As for a torsion box, it would be easier to build with hand tools? Really?
Light weight is NOT what you want in a workbench.
Lastly, mounting vises and using holdfasts might be a slight issue. ;-)

Val, you’ll be fine. Check out Paul Sellers video series on building a workbench.

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

View WoodNSawdust's profile


1417 posts in 1416 days

#8 posted 01-05-2016 01:12 PM

My bench top is 2 inches thick and it works fine. I have a couple of Gramercy holdfasts and they grip fine in the top. As for weight if you need more you can always add a shelf and put weight on it.

-- "I love it when a plan comes together" John "Hannibal" Smith

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2298 posts in 2609 days

#9 posted 01-05-2016 02:40 PM

Another vote for “you’ll be fine”. Mine is 2” thick, with a 5” skirt on the front. Works fine with holdfasts. Don’t worry about not having the power tools. I flattened mine by hand, and it was a chore, but doable. I had some slippage during glue up, and the flattening probably took me 6 hours, spread over the course of a week,

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

View drcodfish's profile


124 posts in 1192 days

#10 posted 01-05-2016 04:37 PM

You are ahead of me, when I started all I had were power tools. I had a small 12” bench top planer which could not handle the two planks for the top. I got the wood shop teacher at the local Jr College to take the big dips out of the two planks with his 40” bed planer (remember these were cut by a local gent with a wood mizer mill).

I didn’t even own a plane when I started. I picked up three from Craigslist, learned how to sharpen them watching YouTube video’s got the blades gleaming, and went to work smoothing the top. That was without a doubt the most satisfying part of the whole process.

Then I went back to CL and picked up some chisels, and with the chisels and my cheap hand saw cut the mortises and tennons. Again more wood working fun. The best money I spent on the whole project was for Chris Schwartz’s book The Workbench Design Book, the newer edition with a dozen or so different benches explained. Whenever I hit another brick wall (which was often), I got a cuppa joe, took out the book and had a reading session.

You can do this but as Mark Twain said, “The secret to getting ahead, is getting started.”

-- Dr C

View Valkiera's profile


9 posts in 1972 days

#11 posted 01-05-2016 08:47 PM

Thank you everyone.

I’ve watched the Paul Sellers video (several times), have his book, have Christopher Schwarz’s second book, and have watched any thing on You Tube that has to do with a bench build.

Next weekend I’m making a run to Harbor Freight to pick up a dozen or so clamps. Then do the Paul Sellers upgrade to them. After that, I hope to have some pictures to share.

Still a bit torn between the $280 bench and making a Paul Sellers with no well or a smaller well. May just have to flip a coin and go for it. After all, either will be an improvement over no bench, and a learning experience. Not like I can’t ever try building another bench.

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