what hardwood for workbench?

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Forum topic by jcwalleye posted 11-04-2010 03:56 AM 3984 views 0 times favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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306 posts in 3100 days

11-04-2010 03:56 AM

Topic tags/keywords: oak ash maple bench

I’d like your opinions on which hardwood you’d recommend for a new workbench I’m wanting to build. I have a access to a decent selection of the following:

White Oak——————-8/4 $4.53/bd ft—————4/4 $3.26/bd ft
Red Oak———————-8/4 $3.78/bd ft—————4/4 $3.04/bd ft
Hard Maple——————8/4 $4.32/bd ft—————4/4 $3.21/bd ft
Ash 0nly 4/4 avail———————————————-4/4 $2.65/bd ft

I’ll probably need 100 to 150 bd ft so this won’t be cheap. And I’ve just recently worked with Ash for the first time. It’s a real nice wood to work with, though I’ve never finished any of it. What wood would you recommend?

Thank you for your recomendations.

-- Trees, a wonderful gift --Joe--

19 replies so far

View Don's profile


517 posts in 3099 days

#1 posted 11-04-2010 04:17 AM

I wouldn’t use Oak or Ash because they are open pore woods. It’s difficult to get a really smooth surface without using filler and a lot of sanding.

Hard Maple is a good choice but a little too hard IMHO. I used Poplar for my bench because it’s hard and heavy enough but generally softer than what ever I’m working on so I’m more likely to ding the bench than the project if I drop something. It’s also a lot cheaper than Maple (at least in my area).

-- Don - I wood work if I could. Redmond WA.

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3491 days

#2 posted 11-04-2010 04:21 AM

why use hardwood? lots of good benches have been built from softwoods. if you do use hardwoods I wouldnt recommend an open pored wood either :-)

View jcwalleye's profile


306 posts in 3100 days

#3 posted 11-04-2010 04:26 AM

I just assumed hardwood was the way to go, but maybe it isn’t. I hadn’t thought about the open grain aspect either. Thanks Don & Aaron. Dixie, there’s quite a bit of birch available too, but assumed it was real expensive. Poplar’s cheap though.

Keep em coming folks.

-- Trees, a wonderful gift --Joe--

View JJohnston's profile


1622 posts in 3318 days

#4 posted 11-04-2010 04:34 AM

Is poplar hard enough? Heavy enough?

-- "A man may conduct himself well in both adversity and good fortune, but if you want to test his character, give him power." - Abraham Lincoln

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3491 days

#5 posted 11-04-2010 04:35 AM

check out schwartz’s blog over at popular woodworking (and his book on benches) – no need to use fancy lumber :-)

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3491 days

#6 posted 11-04-2010 04:36 AM

it is if you use enough – plus there are other ways to add weight.

View Dark_Lightning's profile


3165 posts in 3136 days

#7 posted 11-04-2010 04:52 AM

Well, what I did was…

I wanted a workbench that I could make a drop-in insert for that would accommodate a skilsaw (pretend tablesaw), router, jigsaw (pretend bandsaw), etc. Well, the lamp fell over and I woke up, so to speak.

What I ended up with from that exercise was a monster workbench (4 feet by 8 feet by 40 inches tall) with five two-drawer files underneath, the whole thing is on metal casters. I can pull u-joints from a driveshaft on it when I attach my metalworking vise. I never got around to making it like I originally intended.

Then, I inherited a radial arm saw of old enough vintage that it was only scrap. I took the table and put a solid birch top (from Rockler) on it, with a couple of drawers underneath.

So, there you have it, birch. I apologize for the electrons sacrificed in this story.

-- Random Orbital Nailer

View hoppeman's profile


8 posts in 2940 days

#8 posted 11-04-2010 04:57 AM

I only use hardwoods for the edging. I used to milled 2×4’s for top and frame. Looks really good. For my assembly table which doubles as an outfeed table for table saw, I use MDF and covered with hardboard. Finished with oil and varnish mix.

-- Steve,NJ

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3101 days

#9 posted 11-04-2010 05:26 AM

For the top I used bamboo flooring. It’s VERY tough and durable. You can see pictures in my projects.

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

View jcwalleye's profile


306 posts in 3100 days

#10 posted 11-04-2010 05:32 AM

Deke, Aaron, no I haven’t looked at any of Schwartz’s books. I googled his name and find a wealth of info. Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll do more research before picking a plan or material. Nice bench Rich. Maybe I’ll make the top from one material and the base from another. I’d like to use some ash, but it sounds like the open grain might not be so good for the top.

Part of my goal is to develop some skills and so am willing to spend an inordinate amount of time, but hopefully not money. Softwoods would be way cheaper but also more challenging. Then again, maybe I’m not being selective enough on the pine or fir I’ve been buying.

-- Trees, a wonderful gift --Joe--

View a1Jim's profile


117120 posts in 3604 days

#11 posted 11-04-2010 05:52 AM

Use what ma terial you want it depends on if you want it functional or beautiful. Lots of people build their benches out of 2×4s or 2×8s etc etc.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3491 days

#12 posted 11-04-2010 12:54 PM

if you are just starting the process of bench design/building, and you’re not in a super rush, then you might enjoy checking out some literature. the FWW “workbench book” is good for a historical and functional perspective, and Schwartz’s stuff is top notch too. For an interesting hybrid, you might get a kick out of FWW’s “new fangled workbench” which looks as low cost as a true bench is likely to get, quite solid, and also very versatile for all sorts of different work – primarily the way the clamps “vises” work.

Unless you’re tied to tradition there’s no reason to even use wood for the top. as someone mentioned here, MDF is really a prime work surface since it’s cheap, flat, and easily replaced. 1 layer of 3/4” MDF wont work alone, dont get me wrong. but on top of either another layer (or 3, lol) of MDF under it or on top of a lumber substrate – something that prevents it from flexing – it’s very good.

remember: things like a workbench should be well made, but not so precious that you’re afraid to use it. I would rather spend my $ on hard maple for a nice piece of furniture, not on building a museum quality workbench :-)

View rance's profile


4258 posts in 3187 days

#13 posted 11-04-2010 01:37 PM

+1 on AaronK’s last paragraph. Imagine working on your bench and need to drill a hole. I don’t want to take it across the shop or ALWAYS have to use a backer board to protect my bench. MY bench is for using, not looking at. I’m not against folks building a very nice bench, but if it were mine, a nice one would sometimes be too nice to do what I really need to do with it. Just a thought. Wood choice, use what is readilly available, cheap, and reasonably stable, but it doesn’t have to be hardwood. I wish you well with your build.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View 8iowa's profile


1580 posts in 3788 days

#14 posted 11-04-2010 02:08 PM

I got to see and closely examine two Rubo benches at last Month’s WIA conference. Chris Schwarz’s bench had a top made out of one large slab of cherry. Another smaller bench made by managing editor Megan Fitzpatrick was made entirely out of white pine.

At the conference’s “trade hall”, Woodcraft had three of their new Pinnacle workbenches. They are made out of beech. Nearby were both Lie-Nielsen’s and Lee Valley’s benches, both made out of hard maple. I tried hard to convince/cajole both Lie-Nielsen and Lee Valley to sell me one of the demo benches, but they wouldn’t budge. The shipping cost on these things is a deal killer. On the last day, Woodcraft offered a $500 discount on their Pinnacle bench. I bought it from their VP of Marketing and his guys even loaded it into my truck.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View canadianchips's profile


2602 posts in 3024 days

#15 posted 11-04-2010 02:23 PM

My main workbench is made from spruce 2×4’s. I have glued and screwed 20 of them on edge, gives me a 32” x 72” work area. I have stain splatters, paint splatters, few saw cuts, I am not afraid to use it because it looks too nice or don’t want to scratch it. When this surface gets to bad, I will build another one.
If you want a nice looking function hardwood one, I would use Maple.

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

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