Need finishing suggestion for my new workbench

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Forum topic by crank49 posted 07-25-2010 08:45 PM 9848 views 0 times favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 2995 days

07-25-2010 08:45 PM

Topic tags/keywords: workbench shellac sealer hardwood face question

I’m building my new workbench. It is a combination of ideas I have seen on at least 3 classic benches and other shop projects.

It started out to be all laminated plywood, legs and all, but I decided to put oak faces on the legs; the sides of the legs will still show the 5 laminations. The stretchers are 3 layers of 3/4” plywood, sandply a-c exterior grade, as are the cross braces. The top is 4 layers of 3/4 sandply with a replaceable 1/4” hardboard work surface and is banded with 1×4 maple. There is a planing shelf on the back side that can be adjusted up and down, and is attached to the legs. Tke planing shelf is yellow poplar and the adjusting brackets will be polished brass. Over all size is 25 1/2” wide X 85 1/2” long. Legs are 3 1/2” x 3 5/8”, top is 3 1/8 thick. Jointery will be mortise and tennons mostly. I plan to work at all sides of the bench so I want it to all look finished. I am using Titebond III for glue.

I want to seal and finish this bench because it will live in a basement workshop. Is shellac a good choice for finishing something like this?

Should I seal the hardboard top; both sides or just the exposed surface?

5 replies so far

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3099 days

#1 posted 07-25-2010 10:22 PM

For me, a great workbench is workbench that looks like it have been used a lot. I don’t worry about the finish on my workbench.

However, if I were to apply a finish, I would use a highly durable finish. Shellac is not durable. Polyurethane is probably your best option amongst the common finishes. I wouldn’t bother with the hand rubbed version. It’s thin and it takes many coats to build up a good finish. A brush on provides thicker coats and the it builds up faster.

Epoxy is probably the best option for durability but it is a pain to work with and I, personally, do not like the look.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View swirt's profile


2780 posts in 2996 days

#2 posted 07-25-2010 11:10 PM

i would think finishing the hardboard with a building finish would make for a pretty slippery top. I don’ think I would want it that slick. I’d probably leave the hardboard untreated. Just replace it as needed.

As Rich said, shellac is not a great protective or durable finish. But it is very renewable. My wood benchtop and my vice chops are finished with shellac. It keeps glue from sticking too badly and when the bench starts looking cruddy I wipe it down with a rag and ethyl alcohol and it looks almost like “new”. Disclaimer, my bench would never pass for a gorgeous bench. It is about as utilitarian as it can get.

-- Galootish log blog,

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 2995 days

#3 posted 07-26-2010 04:34 AM

I will definitely be working on this bench and I agree, the hardboard would probably be getting too slick with finish on it. I do other things on my bench in addition to wood work and wanted to use hard board specifically because it will be getting beat up. I was mainly concerned about moisture making it swell or curl and glue and paint sticking. Is hard board apt to absorb moisture like MDF or particle board? Would it be worth while to rub some oil on it?

View paratrooper34's profile


915 posts in 2976 days

#4 posted 07-26-2010 11:58 AM

I finished my bench with boiled linseed oil. The whole thing, top included. It gave it a nice patina and while not impervious to spills (my top is now coffee stained in one area!), it does provide a certain level of protection. I have no problem scraping off glue; it doesn’t stick very well to the top. I think any finish that adds some measure of “slippery” would be a trait you want to steer clear of. Keep it simple and don’t make it slick.

Good Luck!

-- Mike

View Greedo's profile


473 posts in 2985 days

#5 posted 07-26-2010 12:26 PM

im with paratrooper, my assembly table is mdf on top, i finished it with 3 coats of BLO and then 1 coat of BLO with polyurethane 5O/50.
but after some time i put some acrylic clear coat on a little area of the table to see if it was better, it makes the surface smoother and feel better, but forget doing any operation on top that requires the workpiece not to slip away. sanding on it becomes a nightmare etc…
so a big no to anything that makes the top harder/smoother, the top is supposed to be soft to absorb beating.

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