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What Material Should I Use For First Bench Tabletop?

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Forum topic by JohnnyBoy1981 posted 05-15-2017 06:15 PM 5189 views 0 times favorited 50 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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JohnnyBoy1981

93 posts in 73 days


05-15-2017 06:15 PM

Topic tags/keywords: worktable worktsble top work bench top question

I’ve been avoiding building a woodworking table for several reasons 1) I don’t have a pickup so large sheet goods would be tough to transport, and 2) I have other smaller projects I’d prefer to work on instead.

I bought a Kreg Mobile Project Center, and while it’s a nice bit of kit, it’s somewhat unstable for handplaneing. And the lower shelf is so flimsy I don’t want to put much weight on it to aid in holding it down.

So I may build a cheap bench. I definitely want a vise and bench dogs. One set of plans I have shows two layers of MDF sandwiched together with screws and glue in use as the table top. Would this be an appropriate material for use with bench dogs and the lateral pressures they may encounter? It seems like the bench dog holes would wear faster than if the table top was made out of two sandwhiched sheets of 3/4” plywood.

What do you all think? I’m on a budget so exotic or expensive woods are off the table (so to speak).


50 replies so far

View richardchaos's profile

richardchaos

35 posts in 15 days


#1 posted 05-15-2017 06:27 PM

I used 2×8 pine but its just a rough bench. If I had the money I would of made a real one out of Poplar with a front and end bench vices!

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JayT

5251 posts in 1847 days


#2 posted 05-15-2017 06:43 PM

In Christopher Schwarz’s 10 Mistakes of First-time Bench Builders is this great piece of advice about workbench material. (The whole article is worth a read)

3. Over-agonizing the wood types used

Any wood (even plywood) can be used to make a bench. The material should be cheap, easy to get, heavy (if possible), dry-ish and heavy (if possible). After a few years of use, your bench will look like every other used bench – beat up, broke in and awesome.

My bench, as well as those of many others on this site, is made from 2x construction lumber. Paul Sellers has a whole series about building an English style bench out of 2×4’s, too. I made a portable bench out of some old oak trucking skids that were purchased for a very cheap price. There are many people who make tops out of layers of sheet goods, too, and it works just fine. In the end, if your bench is stable, heavy and flat, it will work for woodworking.

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

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BlasterStumps

130 posts in 75 days


#3 posted 05-15-2017 07:02 PM

I have built a few benches and up until the last one I made, I hated them all after a while for one reason or another. Too heavy, too tall, wrong location for vise, etc. Then one day I saw the plans for the bench in this little DIY book.
http://toolemera.com/bkpdf/haywardhowtobk.pdf

Love it. I made it from lumber at HD. You can see it in this picture:

http://i127.photobucket.com/albums/p124/mmurray_02/IMG_2285-1.jpg

The top is 4×4 pieces (3) glued together and it has a tool well. The frame is 4×4 also. It will serve me for a long time to come. I bought a veritas inset vise for use as a tail vise. I added a quick release vise to the face and it was done. It’s heavy enough but can still be moved easily enough when wanted.

If I ever make another bench it will be built on the same plans only next time, I would like to try to find some Southern Yellow Pine to build it out of.

Edit: I also must acknowledge that Richard MaQuire influenced me on building this bench as well.

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theoldfart

8663 posts in 2087 days


#4 posted 05-15-2017 07:03 PM

+1 to Jays advice. My first bench was out of 2×4s and twisted. I used it for years and learned exactly what I wanted in a bench. My current bench is a Roubo made from Schwarz’s plans with vises, dog holes, holdfasts and a lot of other doohickies! It is my most valued tool in the shop.

-- "With every tool obtained, there is another that is needed" DonW ( Kevin )

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RichTaylor

793 posts in 225 days


#5 posted 05-15-2017 07:20 PM

Interior doors make cheap table tops. The hollow core aren’t good for much more than having a surface for glue ups. You need a solid core if you’re going to do any real work on it. I got mine for $20 on clearance at HD and ultimately turned it into something that suits the way I work perfectly.

-- No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

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BlasterStumps

130 posts in 75 days


#6 posted 05-15-2017 07:57 PM

Nice Rich. I like that. Durable and solid. Good job.

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RichTaylor

793 posts in 225 days


#7 posted 05-15-2017 08:08 PM


Nice Rich. I like that. Durable and solid. Good job.

- BlasterStumps

Thanks Blaster, I really appreciate that. I had just the door on sawhorses for a long time while I figured out where I wanted to go with it. I admire the craftsmen who do the Roubo and 21st Century builds, but they all had features that I didn’t need. Indeed this thing is a rock, and I doubt if I have even $200 invested in it all.

I noticed the OP mentioned he didn’t have a pickup. I drove a 1985 Mazda Rx7 GSL-SE for years and the guys at the lumber store would laugh when I showed up. I brought home my Jet 6” jointer in it, all of the lumber and shingles for an 8×16 foot cover for my smoker in the back yard, and even 100 BF of African mahogany once.

-- No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

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magaoitin

174 posts in 585 days


#8 posted 05-15-2017 11:40 PM

Without a truck for hauling bigger material, you have added a unique challenge. Even getting a solid core door blank home is not going to be simple.

Another very outside the box option to consider is a concrete topped bench. There is a neat youtube video by Jeremy Schmitdt that I thought was an interesting way to add a lot of mass to a bench and make it very stable. Plus side is you can buy individual bags and haul them home

-- Jeff ~ Tacoma Wa.

View JohnnyBoy1981's profile

JohnnyBoy1981

93 posts in 73 days


#9 posted 05-16-2017 12:10 AM

I drive a 2002 Saturn sedan. I can put several 2×4x8 boards in there precariously, but I can get the trunk shut at least!

A guy on YouTube built a workbench out of 100% 2×4’s. For the top he lined up 2×4’s on end, then glued and screwed them together. He planed and sanded then flat, I think. I thought it was a cool idea but I don’t know how the bench top would move with humidity changes. I also think it might be difficult to mount a wood vise on one end (maybe not).

View TungOil's profile

TungOil

285 posts in 131 days


#10 posted 05-16-2017 12:44 AM

I doubt MDF will hold up to anything but the lightest bench dog and hold fast use.

I made my bench about 15 years ago entirely from 2x lumber, I doubt it would cost more than $100 to build today. I followed a design in Fine Woodworking. It was a quick build, less than a weekend of work. I f you decide to use construction lumber to build with, be sure you get KD. The cheaper stuff is too wet and will warp all over the place.

-- The optimist says "the glass is half full". The pessimist says "the glass is half empty". The engineer says "the glass is twice as big as it needs to be"

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JohnnyBoy1981

93 posts in 73 days


#11 posted 05-16-2017 02:39 AM



I doubt MDF will hold up to anything but the lightest bench dog and hold fast use.

I made my bench about 15 years ago entirely from 2x lumber, I doubt it would cost more than $100 to build today. I followed a design in Fine Woodworking. It was a quick build, less than a weekend of work. I f you decide to use construction lumber to build with, be sure you get KD. The cheaper stuff is too wet and will warp all over the place.

- TungOil

Thanks, sounds like 2x is in my future. How did you make the table top?

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TungOil

285 posts in 131 days


#12 posted 05-16-2017 03:48 AM

I don’t have a good photo handy but this should help you visualize to top construction

Basically it’s 2×4’s on edge between 2×10’s ripped down a bit. Overall width is 30”. Base is a trestle style base. My dog holes are used for hold fasts, and you can see that I put them into the 2×4’s that are on edge to give them a bit more meat. I stuck a Rockler QR vise on the front and another little iron vise I had on the end. I’m mostly a power tool user so this works fine for me. I have flattened it twice with a router sled. Once about 6 months after I built it to,allow the wood to dry out, and I just did it again about a year ago since it warped a bit after I moved.

-- The optimist says "the glass is half full". The pessimist says "the glass is half empty". The engineer says "the glass is twice as big as it needs to be"

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JohnnyBoy1981

93 posts in 73 days


#13 posted 05-16-2017 03:56 AM



I don t have a good photo handy but this should help you visualize to top construction

Basically it s 2×4 s on edge between 2×10 s ripped down a bit. Overall width is 30”. Base is a trestle style base. My dog holes are used for hold fasts, and you can see that I put them into the 2×4 s that are on edge to give them a bit more meat. I stuck a Rockler QR vise on the front and another little iron vise I had on the end. I m mostly a power tool user so this works fine for me. I have flattened it twice with a router sled. Once about 6 months after I built it to,allow the wood to dry out, and I just did it again about a year ago since it warped a bit after I moved.

- TungOil

Looks great! Thanks for the picture. That’s how the YouTube guy built his top also.

View Rick M's profile

Rick M

9266 posts in 2016 days


#14 posted 05-16-2017 04:47 AM

Don’t sweat it. Rob Cosman built a bench out of MDF and had a lot of positive things to say about it, there is a video of it on his youtube channel. I made dog hole inserts for a guy who built an mdf bench and was afraid the hold fasts would wallow out the holes. Myself, I’ve had plywood benches and 2x pine benches, I like the pine a lot better. I plan on building a new bench soon but can’t seem to get caught up on more important projects.

-- http://thewoodknack.blogspot.com/

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TungOil

285 posts in 131 days


#15 posted 05-16-2017 01:16 PM

Here’s a couple of photos that make the construction more clear

-- The optimist says "the glass is half full". The pessimist says "the glass is half empty". The engineer says "the glass is twice as big as it needs to be"

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