Needing advise on a workbench top

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Forum topic by JCamp posted 11-23-2016 01:33 PM 895 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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846 posts in 726 days

11-23-2016 01:33 PM

Topic tags/keywords: workbench work bench countertop bench question

I haven’t had a workspace for around 8-10 years but have been blessed enough this last summer to get concrete poured in my building which allows me to start setting up an area to work in.
Right now my biggest need is a work bench. It likely will b partially used for general tool storage as well. My building is 38 ft long I’m looking at making a stationary work bench that’s roughly 20ft long. I’ve got it designed in my mind on how to build the bench but I need ideas/advise on a work bench top.
Growing up we used just 3/4 plywood but it stained real bad and seemed like it was never smooth I am considering going with just linoleum kitchen counter top. There’s a local place that will sell it from $6-$10 a Lin foot. I lik the idea that it won’t stain Will resist wear an it’s cheap (that’s right up my alley. Lol)
Anyone hav any insight they’d be willing to share? It’ll b used mostly for woodworking but I do occasionally do mechanic work
Also what height do you all recommend? I’m 6ft2in tall
Thanks in advance for the advice

-- Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might

12 replies so far

View CB_Cohick's profile


487 posts in 1427 days

#1 posted 11-23-2016 02:16 PM

I would suggest a non-permanent top that you can replace if it gets a stain you don’t like or if it gets beat up too much. The bench I use has a sheet of 1/4” hardboard screwed to the top.

-- Chris - Would work, but I'm too busy reading about woodwork.

View dhazelton's profile


2789 posts in 2472 days

#2 posted 11-23-2016 02:42 PM

If I had a bench that long it might have at least a couple of different surfaces. Steel for mechanical work, a smooth ply for general carpentry stuff and maybe a section that has laminate on it that would be easy to clean up. Kitchen counter tops are made out of OSB or something cheap and can absorb moisture from below and warp.

View ClutteredShop's profile


38 posts in 728 days

#3 posted 11-23-2016 02:43 PM

Why not make a heavy-duty top of two-in lumber (such as two-by-fours bolted together with threaded rod). This will be massive enough to hold still with planing a difficult board and not jump around under pounding, like when you’re chopping a mortise. It can be varnished or enameled for protection, and you can put down a sheet of Masonite or plywood when you want to tear down an engine.

-- Cluttered Shop

View JayT's profile


5928 posts in 2387 days

#4 posted 11-23-2016 02:56 PM

If I had a bench that long it might have at least a couple of different surfaces. Steel for mechanical work, a smooth ply for general carpentry stuff and maybe a section that has laminate on it that would be easy to clean up.

- dhazelton


The ideal top for woodworking is wood, but that isn’t the best choice for mechanic work with oils and solvents. Actually, with that much space, I’d do two separate benches—one designed for woodworking and one utility bench for everything else. Not just the surface material, but that would also allow different heights for the different requirements.

-- In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. Thomas Jefferson

View Halc's profile


146 posts in 1778 days

#5 posted 11-23-2016 02:58 PM

I’m not sure how heavy-duty your tops need to be, but you could screw down a 1/4” layer of masonite over them. It’s smooth and cleans up easier than plywood. It wood stain, but I wouldn’t care. If they are beat up after a couple of years it’s easy to swap them for new sheets.

View JBrow's profile


1366 posts in 1096 days

#6 posted 11-23-2016 03:09 PM


A 20’ workbench seems too long to me for woodworking, unless this bench is setting against a wall. I find that when woodworking, I am frequently moving from one side of the workbench to the other. Mine also has an end vice and dogs that come in handy from time to time. For this reason plus the fact that you also do mechanic work, considering two separate workbenches might be worthwhile. The woodworking bench could be of a more traditional size, 6’ x 2-1/2’ and used exclusively for woodworking. I would be prone to used hard maple for the top of the woodworking bench. It is a durable surface, light in color, and forgiving of sharp edges that contact the surface.

I see nothing wrong with a smooth light colored Formica type surface for the utility workbench. Alternatively 1/4” tempered hardboard could be a surface worthy of consideration. It is relatively inexpensive, flat, and smooth. When it becomes dinged up, the screws used to secure the hardboard to the substrate can be removed and a new piece of hardboard installed. The downsides are the hardboard surface is dark, making it more difficult to see dark colored items on the top. It would also have to be seamed, unless you can find hardboard sheets longer than 8’.

My woodworking bench top is 6” lower than my belly button. I am 5’ 10-1/2” and the bench top is 35-3/4” from the floor. I find this to be a comfortable working height for most operations. It also allows me a long reach across the width of the workbench. Sometimes I find it better to elevate my work, such as for certain routing operations, but this is not very often.

I do all bench work standing. If you are sitting while doing bench work, I am not sure what would be a good height, although probably higher than when standing. It would depend, in part, on the height of the stool.

View JCamp's profile


846 posts in 726 days

#7 posted 11-23-2016 03:28 PM

All good advise so for. I should hav also put in my initial question that the bench will b located and attached to the rear wall of my building. I do like the idea of at least two separate tops. One for mechanical work an the other for woodworking.
For the past several years most of my work has been off the tailgate of my truck so pretty much anything will b an improved working surface

-- Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might

View saddletramp's profile


1180 posts in 2814 days

#8 posted 11-23-2016 05:35 PM

You first need to determine what you will be doing on the bench. A higher attached bench is a good bet for your mechanical work and for woodworking done with power tools (drill press, elec drills, sanders etc.) but if your woodworking is with hand tools (planes, chisels, brace and bit etc.) you are going to want a second smaller, lower, unattached bench so that you can change your working positions (move all around it) as needed. Either or both of these benches should be a a height that is comfortable for YOU to do the tasks that you intend to do on it.

-- ♫♪♪♫♫ Saddletramp, saddletramp, I'm as free as the breeze and I ride where I please, saddletramp ♪♪♪♫♪ ...... Bob W....NW Michigan (Traverse City area)

View ColonelTravis's profile


1918 posts in 2070 days

#9 posted 11-23-2016 06:22 PM

I built a workbench about 20 feet long attached to the wall of my garage, thought it would be ideal. It isn’t (for me, and maybe it would be for you or someone else.) I’m close to tearing it out and replacing it with something smaller. I’ve since built a dedicated woodworking bench.

Long isn’t necessarily bad. I would just say that, unlike what I did, think about what you need and build accordingly. Good advice given by people here.

View ADHDan's profile


800 posts in 2284 days

#10 posted 11-23-2016 06:35 PM

If I had a 20’ long space for an against-the-wall workbench, I’d consider making a row of two or three shorter workbenches with gaps between them. That would give you separate areas for separate projects and make clamping easier, and really big projects would probably span the gaps just fine anyway.

If time/resources are an issue, you could even use solid-core doors for the benchtops with replaceable masonite over them.

-- Dan in Minneapolis, woodworking since 11/11.

View JCamp's profile


846 posts in 726 days

#11 posted 11-23-2016 09:45 PM

Well thanks for the advice guys. After hearing all your comments I do think I will likely do two bench. The one for mechanic work I’ll try to get maybe a 1/8 inch piece of stainless on it On the woodworking one I may still go the cheap countertop route because it’s what’s handy. I like the idea of using a door but I don’t really know where to get one of those an haven’t seen any locally avalible.
How about getting 3/4 inch thick maple or oak flooring to use? Mayb put that on top of two 3/4 inch sheets of plywood. That would make the top around two An a quarter inches thick Not to mention in a few years if it started looking bad it could b sanded an refinished

-- Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might

View gerrym526's profile


274 posts in 3984 days

#12 posted 12-04-2016 06:46 PM

Just saw your post and thought I’d add my 2 cents.

The best advice given here is to think hard about how you will work at the bench-several jocks here mentioned how they move around the bench, so a long one would get in the way. You’re on the right track to go with 2 benches for different purposes.

As far as a top, you might consider 3/4 MDF panels and finish the edges of the workbench with 1×4 wood aprons rounded over with a router to ease the sharp corners. The MDF panels can be fastened with countersunk screws. they’re heavy, very flat and can support bench dog holes being drilled if you glue a wood piece on the underside. I’d also put a light coat of paste wax on the top-will keep wood glue squeeze outs from sticking.

When the top wears out, just remove the screws and put in a new one. And the best part is the surface is already smooth so you don’t have to worry about sanding, staining, etc.

-- Gerry

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