Materials for a Workbench

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Forum topic by smartlikestick posted 03-16-2011 06:18 AM 3746 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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54 posts in 3777 days

03-16-2011 06:18 AM

Planning on building a workbench this summer, and trying to decide what materials to use. I’m stuck between maple, birch or beech, which all run about the same price. Alternatively, I could follow the Schwarz and go with a softwood. What do you guys think, and why?


-- -- Mike Beauvais

9 replies so far

View Don's profile


517 posts in 3272 days

#1 posted 03-16-2011 06:21 AM

I prefer a softer hard wood like poplar. Then when I drop parts on it it’s the bench that gets dinged instead of the part.

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

View John Ormsby's profile

John Ormsby

1288 posts in 3936 days

#2 posted 03-16-2011 06:35 AM

I made my with maple. Because I had a lot at the time I built the bench. That said, I would prefer to use red beech for another one.
red beech is a very good wood for a bench. It will take abuse and will not harm the chisels. It mills well and is quite stable. The harder wood will also allow one to use better. It will not leave indentations on the bottom side the table when clamping things directly to the bench surface. The small indentations will make clamping more bothersome over time. A harder surface will have as many dents on the surface over time. I like a flat smooth surface to work on.
Just my 2 cents worth.

-- Oldworld, Fair Oaks, Ca

View doordude's profile


1085 posts in 3182 days

#3 posted 03-16-2011 06:45 AM

hey smart, if the price is the same i would use maple or the beech.harder the better.i to, have the schwarz’s book myself. i bought ash it was alot less than maple which was my first choice.
are you going to do the french or english?
i also bought the big wooden screw for the leg vise about six months ago,stock pilling material,for the big under taking
good luck…

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 4092 days

#4 posted 03-16-2011 07:06 AM

My preference, Beech, and prefer it quartered. Heavy,dense, inexpensive and plentiful.

Maple (hard ) not soft…........rock hard, dense, ....not so cheap

Birch, last choice purely because its ugly.

In the end I doubt it matters what wood you use as the important part isn’t what goes into your bench, rather what comes off your bench : )

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 3170 days

#5 posted 03-16-2011 08:45 AM

”In the end I doubt it matters what wood you use as the important part isn’t what goes into your bench, rather what comes off your bench : )” I like that.

I ran across a design I liked for a bench made of plywood.. Not plywood boxes like cabinet cases, but plywood cut into strips and glued into laminated timbers for the legs and stretchers. Since the legs are made in layers it was easy to make mortice and tennon joints. I started like this, then added hardwood faces. I used red oak faces for the legs. My legs are 3 1/2” square. The top is 3 1/2” thick. The very top working surface is a replaceable sheet of hardboard held down by carpet tape. The top is banded with a facer board of hard maple. Based on the Roubo design from Schwarz’s book I made the band around the top and the faces of the legs all flush. I like everything about this design. It looks good and works great. It took 3 full sheets of 3/4” sandply, 6 BF of hard maple, and 8 BF of red oak to build it and it’s heavy, perfectly flat, and renewable.

View ScottN's profile


261 posts in 2878 days

#6 posted 03-16-2011 12:57 PM

I have a 4’x8’ heavy duty table I made out of 2×4’s and 3/4” ply. I also have a 1/4 sheet of hardboard that lays on the top and when it gets all marked up and discolored or just tired of looking at it I just flip the sheet over and ta da… a new work bench again.

-- New Auburn,WI

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3273 days

#7 posted 03-16-2011 03:22 PM

There are really 2 questions here – what material for the frame and what material for the top. For the top, I am quite different than most because I really like bamboo. If not bamboo I would use MDF.

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

View mnguy's profile


201 posts in 3597 days

#8 posted 03-16-2011 03:31 PM

I am not familiar with the Schwarz book, so I comment at the risk of sounding like an ass :) But, I agree with Rich; this is a 2 part decision. One is the top, with the construction techniques and materials being influenced by the vise configuration you want, etc. The base is mostly there to hold the top steady at the right height. I used 3 torsion boxes for my base, two ends and a long middle box. A threaded rod runs down through the long box and out through the end boxes, drawing them all together. Rock solid and can be tightened. But, very utilitarian and it does limit storage.

View Dadoo's profile


1789 posts in 4189 days

#9 posted 03-16-2011 05:33 PM

Mines made from 3/4” floor grade plywood cut and laminated to make a bench top 2’x6’ long. My idea is it’s easily and cheaply replaceable because I am quite abusive to it at times…Added a rubber mat and also use it to overhaul boat motors, auto stuff, lawn mowers, etc. I built it in 2006 and it’s still flat and going strong. When the top is “picked” I just need to flip it over and I’ll have a new, fresh side up. I also put it on heavy duty casters so I can put it anywhere in the garage to accommodate any size project, then stow it against the wall to allow her car to be parked in there. It’s also electrified, has drawers and massive tool storage which allows for weight and extra stability. It’s on my profile page. So if you want it cheap, try plywood. Keep your eyes open for bowling alleys too…they make the best bench tops!

-- Bob Vila would be so proud of you!

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