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Workbench - one piece top

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Forum topic by LeChuck posted 1611 days ago 2510 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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LeChuck

417 posts in 1664 days


1611 days ago

Topic tags/keywords: workbench workbench top slab beech

Hello folks,

One question about a workbench top.

If you had the opportunity to buy a really large slab of wood (beech in this case, European), big enough to make a one-piece workbench top, would you use it?

I am thinking mostly about possible expansion, warping etc. In other words, is it a good idea to make a workbench top out of one piece of wood rather than glue it up. I’m still thinking about using the usual breadboard ends etc…

The piece in question would be about 80” long, 22” wide, 3.5” thick, before straigthening and planing.

Of course, the added difficulty would be that none of it can go through a planer or even on a tablesaw. I’d need a longer plane than my #4 :)

In terms of cost, it’s cheaper than buying cheap pine from the local lumber store for the same amount of wood (actually I’d also be getting a second half-size slab with it).

Thanks,
David

-- David - Tucson, AZ


14 replies so far

View Jeison's profile

Jeison

947 posts in 1709 days


#1 posted 1611 days ago

Well, I would. So by logical extension, that means theres probably a very good reason why its a bad idea, because I’m usually wrong LOL.

-- - Jei, Rockford IL - When in doubt, spray it with WD-40 and wrap it with duct tape. The details will attend to themselves.

View ashahidan's profile

ashahidan

64 posts in 1700 days


#2 posted 1611 days ago

I have one book titled “Working Green Wood With PEG” which I bought long ago. PEG is a chemical product used as wood preservative, preventing shrinking and warping .

For more information on PEG go to http://owic.oregonstate.edu/pubs/peg.pdf

ashahidan

-- asm

View LeChuck's profile

LeChuck

417 posts in 1664 days


#3 posted 1611 days ago

Hi,

This is not green wood though.

-- David - Tucson, AZ

View Glen Peterson's profile

Glen Peterson

508 posts in 1658 days


#4 posted 1611 days ago

I would probably buy the piece and hide it from my wife who might say something like, “why did you buy more wood when you haven’t even…” Using it for a bench top is another question. I’d be concerned about wood movement and splitting. If the wood is good and dry and has been sitting in my shop acclaimating for a couple of years I’d have no problem using it. The issue about hand planing is irrevalent, because even when you glue up a bench top it becomes too big to run thourgh a planer so you have to hand plane it flat. If the beech slab is still green you might end up with something that looks like a potato chip with huge cracks running through it. Nevertheless, I really like the idea of a one-piece bench top. I’m sure that’s what they did hundreds of years ago.

-- Glen

View LeChuck's profile

LeChuck

417 posts in 1664 days


#5 posted 1611 days ago

It’s not green and the seller says it’s dry, although I don’t yet have any info on how long ago it’s been cut (I do not have a tester unfortunately). My only use for such a piece would be for a workbench top. it’s really too big for me to do anything else with it at the moment, too large to handle on machines and a bit of a shame cutting it down to small pieces. In other words, I probably won’t buy it if not for the workbench. Also, as far as other uses go, I’m not a fan of beech at all in terms of looks. I also do not have the space to stock such amount of wood. This is mostly why I’m posting this question because that’s mostly the only use I’d have for it.

-- David - Tucson, AZ

View SandyK's profile

SandyK

50 posts in 2054 days


#6 posted 1611 days ago

I never worked with beech before, but I have worked with plenty of big slabs of pine that were only 2” thick x 8’ long x 20” wide, and they have not warped. They made great table tops with the natural edge. My thicker but shorter slabs have never even budged. I doubt you will have any problems with 3.5” thick wood, especially since it’s already dry and hasn’t warped so far. If you do seal it, I would seal all sides and the top and bottom, not just the top.

Since the wood is already dry, PEG or Pentacryl won’t really help anymore. Those products are supposed to be used when the wood is green. What they do is fill the cells of the wood so that they don’t shrink so bad as water evaporates. Takes forever to dry again. To really be effective the entire piece should be saturated.

Mine won’t fit through my planer either, so I use a hand planer to get it fairly even on top, using the eye-ball method. Then I use belt and orbital sanders to get it the best I can, using a straight board set on top (both ways) to locate high spots to sand off. Pay attention to thickness, as it’s easy to get off quickly. Since I bought my new JET 22-44” open end drum sander, I have it easy now!

Good luck. Send pictures when you get it done.

-- Sandy, Minnesota, www.rusticwoodworking.com

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LeChuck

417 posts in 1664 days


#7 posted 1611 days ago

Thanks for your reply Sandy.

-- David - Tucson, AZ

View JimNEB's profile

JimNEB

239 posts in 1670 days


#8 posted 1611 days ago

One possible solution would be to rip it into 3 equal pieces on a band saw, run it through the planer to get a nice flat surface, joint the edges. Then flip the middle piece 180 degrees when you glue them back up. That might solve most wood movement issues. Just some thoughts…

-- Jim, Nebraska

View LeChuck's profile

LeChuck

417 posts in 1664 days


#9 posted 1611 days ago

Sure, but then I can do it with some other wood and won’t need to handle such a large piece (which I won’t be trying to put through the bandsaw).

-- David - Tucson, AZ

View LeChuck's profile

LeChuck

417 posts in 1664 days


#10 posted 1611 days ago

Thanks for your replies. I’m still on the fence. The wood is 10 years old, but it turns out that the slabs have probably too much cup in them to be used as is without cutting in narrower strips, and this might not be a good idea for a bench. Oh well, stay tuned :)

-- David - Tucson, AZ

View KayBee's profile

KayBee

999 posts in 1848 days


#11 posted 1611 days ago

Let me make sure I’ve got the facts straight. It’s beech, dried, 3.5 thick and cheaper than pine. Get it. Even if you think it’s not wide enough for a top, you’re going to need a hefty base to put that top on. Having 3.5 inches beats laminating all that wood for the base.

-- Karen - a little bit of stupid goes a long way

View LeChuck's profile

LeChuck

417 posts in 1664 days


#12 posted 1611 days ago

It is wide enough for a top. The problem is the seller told me there is actually up to a 2cm cup on it. This really means 2cm of thickness (about 3/4”) lost on each side, at least, after planing, to result with only half of its original thickness. It’s not really that thick anymore, and a lot of wasted wood and effort. It might be ok for the base, but I don’t really know how to cut up strips from such a huge piece, and I don’t want to do that by hand :)

-- David - Tucson, AZ

View KayBee's profile

KayBee

999 posts in 1848 days


#13 posted 1611 days ago

Well, you can use a handheld jig saw or circular saw with a straight edge to rip the strips from the slab. Cut them a bit oversized so you can clean up the marks. Also, when you cut the slab apart, the cupping isn’t as much of an issue. Each piece is just a section of an arc, so it’s flatter. Saves wood and planing.

-- Karen - a little bit of stupid goes a long way

View Gofor's profile

Gofor

470 posts in 2389 days


#14 posted 1611 days ago

Buy it, especially if its cheaper than pine. Rip it. Riping in half will reduce the cup to 1 cm. Ripping to quarters will reduce that to 1/2 cm. But I would rip it into 1/6ths (basically 3 1/2” square). Rip it by cutting in half first as deep as you can (cup side down on the TS) and then finishing with hand saw down the kerf (bandsaw is other option). Then each half into thirds. Rotate the boards 90 degrees to give you a quarter sawn grain orientation to the top. Orient those pieces so all the top grain is running the same direction to allow for smooth planing for final flattening.

True up two edges for glue surfaces and one for surface (bottom side only needs to be flat where a support or vise attaches). This also gives the opportunity to use a dado to cut square bench dog slots in the inside edge of the two outer pieces before you glue up.

Glue up and you have a 3+” quartersawn beech bench top worth 10 times what a pine one would. Will take some work, but the rewards would be worth it.

JMTCW

Go

-- Go http://ncwoodworker.net/pp/showgallery.php?cat=500&ppuser=730

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