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top 2x4 lamination on edge rather than face, bad idea?

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Forum topic by Spikes posted 10-24-2018 01:03 AM 455 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Spikes

71 posts in 216 days


10-24-2018 01:03 AM

Hi,

I threw this question in another post about 2×4s frames, but it didn’t make sense so I’m asking it again on its own, may be of use to someone else in the future.

I’m putting together a workbench and strongly considering one of those 2×4s lamination tops. The thing is, I noticed everyone laminates the 2×4s on the face, not the edge, but nobody says why. I don’t have a lot of money and a 2×4 is already 1.5” deep, which is the same as the sturdy tops laminating two pieces of plywood I’ve seen as an alternative.

Hence the question, is there a reason why people laminate the faces and, more importantly, would be laminating the edges a mistake?

thanks,

Spike

-- Don't worry about making progress, worry about practicing. If you practice you will make progress even if you don't want to.


15 replies so far

View JayT's profile

JayT

5925 posts in 2381 days


#1 posted 10-24-2018 01:34 AM

Is there a reason why people laminate the faces? Yes, strength.

Would laminating the edges be a mistake? Not necessarily.

Somewhere in the bench, you need to build in stiffness and strength. That can either be in the top, the base or both. With the 2×4’s laminated face to face, the strength and stiffness is in the top and you can have a base that just supports the top in two places. If you go with a 1-1/2in thick top by laminating the 2x’s on edge, you are going to have to support the top with a stronger, stiffer and more elaborate base that supports the top in multiple locations.

Since mass is also an advantage to a bench, most people laminate the faces to kill two birds with one stone—more weight and the stiffness. It is also much easier to build a base for this type of construction because you have enough thickness to make the bench perfectly flat by planing the top. Roubo and Holtzapffel benches are examples of this philosophy of heavy, thick top. So is the Paul Sellers bench.

If you build the top by joining on edge, you will have to build a base that is very flat so as not to induce twist into the top, since you really don’t have enough thickness to remove much trying to get the top flat. Yes, people do laminate two sheets of 3/4 ply, basically creating a 1-1/2 thick sheet of plywood. Because the plywood is glued with alternating grain direction, it is much stronger and less likely to warp than a single layer of 1-1/2 thick SPF lumber. Nicholson style benches support their thinner stops by using multiple supports and wide aprons.

There are also benches out there that combine the two ideas. The front 12 inches or so where most of the work will take place, especially the impacts from mallet blows and hammering, is done as a thicker piece, like laminating the faces. The back part of the bench, which is mainly used to support wider stock, can then be made of thinner material, as long as the base is built to accommodate.

If you are working mostly with power tools, a lighter bench with a thinner top may be fine. If working with hand tools, and especially if using hand planes, you’ll need a heftier and heavier bench. For a limited budget, you might also look into building a torsion box bench. It uses less material than a laminated bench top and is very strong.

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

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WoodenDreams

206 posts in 81 days


#2 posted 10-24-2018 02:25 AM

The laminating of the face and edges is a personal preference. My 2’x8’ workbench is 1 1/2” thick and laminated. I use it only to clamp my glue-ups. Any glue the drips onto the laminated surface easy scrapes off, not requiring to put down protective paper over a workbench. My main workbench is 4’x4’, has 4×4 legs, 2×4 framing, with 4 2×4 runners directly supporting the 3/4” MDF table top. or every 8 inches the top is 4” thick. This workbench was built 2 years ago, and still flat. Using power & hand tools. the extra weight of the bench is from the storage shelf under it, storing 3’ through 4’ boards. because of the weight, you cannot pick up any corner of the workbench, so the workbench does not move on you with force.

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Spikes

71 posts in 216 days


#3 posted 10-24-2018 02:42 AM

@JayT, thank you for the very good explanation, it makes a lot of sense, and I really like the idea of a mixed bench. That said, after reading what @woodendreams wrote I’m wondering if I’m best served by having two benches: a larger and lighter one, to be used as outfeed table and power tools table, and a narrower and beefier one to use with handtools, hand planes etc.

@JayT, as to the torsion box, I’ve seen those designs and it was interesting as people seemed to leverage it for under-the-table storage including building a down-draft sanding table around it, but I don’t really like to work with MDF and plywood around here is substantially more expensive than 2×4s even if a lot less work.

thanks again for the comments, I’m gonna play around with the space and see if I can indeed fit two benches, otherwise I’ll look into a mixed, or maybe spicy it up with magnets/something to build a modular design that can span 8’ if I need to.

-- Don't worry about making progress, worry about practicing. If you practice you will make progress even if you don't want to.

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LittleShaver

411 posts in 790 days


#4 posted 10-24-2018 12:36 PM

If you decide to go the multiple bench route, I suggest you keep all the heights the same. I set all of mine to the height of my table saw. That lets me use any as an infeed or outfeed table if needed. When I bought a benchtop planer, I set it up so the tables on the planer matched my existing benches.

I should also mention that I have a tendency to move to a different state every 6-10 years, so I keep everything flexible as I never know what my next shop will be.

-- Sawdust Maker

View bondogaposis's profile

bondogaposis

5043 posts in 2522 days


#5 posted 10-24-2018 12:54 PM

One reason is to get a thicker top than 1 1/2”. If you plan on using dogs and hold fasts a 1 1/2” top is pretty thin. I didn’t use 2×4”s but the top on my bench is 3 1/2” thick. Mass is your friend when it comes to work benches.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View rwe2156's profile

rwe2156

3133 posts in 1651 days


#6 posted 10-24-2018 01:15 PM

1. Strength and mass are primary considerations for a bench top. You’re not going to get that with a 2×4 laid flat.

2. There are also less issues with movement across the width.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

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Spikes

71 posts in 216 days


#7 posted 10-24-2018 02:02 PM

thanks all, at this point I’m convinced face lamination is the way to go, and to make it work with my budget and space I really like the route of two benches, keeping the laminated 2×4s narrower and using the 4’x8’ mdf/ply one for assembly and outfeed table.

One question coming out of that, is there a recommended width I should aim for?

I see some of the fancier benches are around 30”, which seems more than reasonable, even if I had to do a large top with intermediate laminated pieces I don’t think any single one would exceed a couple feet so I’d have enough space to plane it.

-- Don't worry about making progress, worry about practicing. If you practice you will make progress even if you don't want to.

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DBDesigns

156 posts in 168 days


#8 posted 10-24-2018 02:28 PM

Spike,
I built a work bench about 20 years ago out of scrap yellow pine. Since it is old wood, it has a reasonable density to function as a good base for what I do but if I had it to do over again…
First, I would want it to be heavier so it can resist the force I put on it planing, sawing, hammering, and generally beating the crap out of it.
Second, the height would match the height of my table saw so it can serve as a outfeed table as well.
Third, I would be more careful about vise placement and type so it fits my shop space better.

Generally, only you can answer the question of size and weight but I recommend you consider the work you expect to do carefully before you configure the bench. I also recommend using recycled materials because they have major advantages. (Mostly they are cheap and readily available.)

Good luck with the project.

-- I remember when Grateful wasn't Dead

View JayT's profile

JayT

5925 posts in 2381 days


#9 posted 10-24-2018 02:53 PM

One question coming out of that, is there a recommended width I should aim for?

I see some of the fancier benches are around 30”, which seems more than reasonable, even if I had to do a large top with intermediate laminated pieces I don t think any single one would exceed a couple feet so I d have enough space to plane it.

- Spikes

30in is a very wide hand tool bench. Unless you are frequently working on large panels or from both sides of the bench, you don’t need one any wider than you can comfortably reach. My current bench is 24in wide and I am in the process of building another bench that will be ~20in wide and that will be plenty. Much narrower than that and you start to worry about the legs being far enough apart for stability.

Edit: Something jiggled in my memory, so looked it up. Some of the benches from the original French Oak Roubo project (Google it up, but only when you have time and a rag handy for all the drool that will result) were only around 18in wide. Here is Jameel Abraham’s bench from that project.

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

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Woodknack

12398 posts in 2550 days


#10 posted 10-24-2018 04:16 PM

I didn’t read the other replies but people laminate the faces because they want a thicker top, that’s the only reason. I’ve have a bench with 2×6 edge glued and it’s very sturdy.

-- Rick M, http://thewoodknack.blogspot.com/

View bondogaposis's profile

bondogaposis

5043 posts in 2522 days


#11 posted 10-24-2018 04:29 PM

Thirty inches is really wide for a bench, 24” is better. All the work occurs along the front edge, the back of the bench only serves as a place to lay stuff down.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile

Smitty_Cabinetshop

15641 posts in 2789 days


#12 posted 10-24-2018 04:51 PM



thanks all, at this point I m convinced face lamination is the way to go, and to make it work with my budget and space I really like the route of two benches, keeping the laminated 2×4s narrower and using the 4×8 mdf/ply one for assembly and outfeed table.

One question coming out of that, is there a recommended width I should aim for?

I see some of the fancier benches are around 30”, which seems more than reasonable, even if I had to do a large top with intermediate laminated pieces I don t think any single one would exceed a couple feet so I d have enough space to plane it.

- Spikes

In general, you’ll get better stock for bench top material purchasing 2×10s and ripping them. Or even 2×8s vs. using 2×4s. Extra effort ripping them, but so is getting rid of the rounded corners of 2×4s to get a seamless benchtop. On bench top size, 24” is fine for just about everything AND it’s easy to reach to the back of it.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

View Lazyman's profile

Lazyman

2556 posts in 1558 days


#13 posted 10-24-2018 05:13 PM

If you are planning to use 2-bys for the legs, one nice thing about face lamination is that you can create a mortise for the legs during glue up by just leaving a space where the legs will be if you want to go that route. A lot easier than chopping it out after the glue up.

BTW, in case it hasn’t occurred to you, you will likely wind up with slightly smaller boards because you should be planning to joint and plane your lumber to make sure that it is flat and straight. When you say 2×4s, I assume that you are talking about something like a stud which usually has rounded corners so at a minimum you’ll need to remove those.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View Spikes's profile

Spikes

71 posts in 216 days


#14 posted 10-24-2018 08:20 PM

thanks all, lots of good insight, there seems to be a lot of consensus that 24” would be enough which works for me. The only doubt is because I’m building this space not just for myself so I’m wondering if a 30” bench could more easily accommodate two people working.

@Smitty_Cabinetshop , I thought that may be the case and yes, I’d have to remove the round edges anyway so it makes no diff to work with 2×10s, the issue has to do with availability. Around here there aren’t any mills, only two bigbox stores and one has only 2×4s and the other has 2×10 in doug fir but it’s all green wood and I don’t think that’s appropriate.

@Lazyman, yes and yes, I accounted for the smaller dimension and design, in fact the link I posted in my other thread about “one 2×4 frame to rule them all” was just about that, using 2×4s to cheat on the joints. Here it is again in case you care to comment on it:

https://lookinto.com/home/48842/diy-workbench-you-can-build-for-under-100-home

the main question I have about that design was prompted by @LesB regarding lateral stability. He suggested cross braces or plywood sides, but I’d really like to keep it all open to maintain access to the storage underneath.

what do people think?

-- Don't worry about making progress, worry about practicing. If you practice you will make progress even if you don't want to.

View MrRon's profile

MrRon

5130 posts in 3414 days


#15 posted 10-25-2018 01:11 AM

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is to alternate the end grain of each 2×4 when laminating. That minimizes the tendency for cupping over the full width of the bench. The way I do it is to drill a hole through each 2×4 about 6” from each end and 1 or 2 spaced evenly between the ends, depending on the overall length. A 1/2”” hole is good with a 1” counterbore in the outer 2×4’s for a length of 1/2” all thread rod with a flat washer and nut on each end. This clamps the 2×4’s together, making for a more rigid top that won’t twist on you. Don’t forget glue between the 2×4’s. The top can be covered with a piece of hard board (Masonite), screwed to the top, so it can be replaced when it gets all chewed up. A 1x can be wrapped around the edges of the bench to make it look nice. Four 4×4’s for legs and 2×4’s for an apron; 2×4’s 6” to 8” above the floor will strengthen the bench, eliminating any rocking or movement with a sheet of plywood creates a shelf. Such a bench will have plenty of mass and weight to withstand hammering, pounding or planing.
When buying 2×4’s, if you want the bench to be say 6’ long, buy 12 footers and cut them in half. You need to plan so you don’t waste material. Buying an 8 footer for a 6’ long bench would waste 2’ off each 2×4.
A bench can take many forms. It all depends on the type of work you will be doing. The Roubo style bench is a suitable type of bench if you are doing woodworking with hand tools, while a deep bench may suit the large project. As a model maker, I don’t require a very large bench as I mostly sit at the bench and have everything I need right there. It is always a good idea to keep the tools you use most within easy reach of the bench. Drawers in the bench provide that convenience.
I’m sure this won’t be your only bench. I have built many benches and modified them to suit the work I’m doing at the time. When I built my 1200 sf shop, 16 years ago, I built over 20’ of wall based bench with many drawers. To this day, the benches have been used as storage, mostly for junk. The bench I use exclusively is 6’ long x 30” deep with small parts cabinets along the back. As i mentioned, I build models and this bench suits me just fine. If it were larger, things would get lost. The bench is also heavy enough for the rare instance I have to plane some wood or have to pound some sense into a stubborn car repair.

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