Is A Super Hard Bench Really Wise?

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Forum topic by Alan S posted 08-25-2011 08:44 PM 1635 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Alan S

181 posts in 3342 days

08-25-2011 08:44 PM

So, I don’t have a real woodworking bench. Much of my bench work is done on my table saw. I’ve been working with mahogany recently and am having to be very careful how I place my workpieces on the cast iron saw table so I don’t dent the wood.

Traditional workbenches seem to be made of hard maple or ash or something that is a hard domestic wood.

Is this really the best idea? I would most certainly want to dent my bench before I dent my workpiece that I’ve spent hours working on. Obviously I’m questioning lots of years of tradition, but what do you guys with real benches think?


15 replies so far

View BobTheFish's profile


361 posts in 2577 days

#1 posted 08-25-2011 08:49 PM

Before you get all crazy about it, keep in mind that maple and ash are harder domestic woods, but are in no way as hard as iron or steel. And very rarely will you come across someone with an ipe workbench, or one made out of lignum vitae. (can you imagine how much the latter would cost???)

Secondarily, if your project is going to dent on steel, then it’ll probably dent on the concrete floors, the metal tools, etc, especially if given enough force. So whatever you’re working with, my guess is either you’re handling it WAAAAAY too carefully, or you’re working with some rather oddly sensitive materials.

View Bertha's profile


13529 posts in 2718 days

#2 posted 08-25-2011 08:51 PM

Like my friends above, I don’t think a soft bench surface is the answer to your complaint. My prefered bench would be flat. My current soft bench is anything but; having suffered all manner of abuse over the years. Like Bob suggests, I’d love a cardinalwood bench; it’s my wallet that wouldn’t.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View Alan S's profile

Alan S

181 posts in 3342 days

#3 posted 08-25-2011 08:52 PM

I’m sure part of my issue is paranoia. I haven’t done any damage to my workpieces on the table. Now, a large piece of mahogany has fallen on the floor and dented in a corner, but that’s not the bench material’s fault. I guess I’m just nervous for my first large furniture project.


View Bertha's profile


13529 posts in 2718 days

#4 posted 08-25-2011 08:54 PM

Building a bench is one of the more personal projects you’ll undertake. It’s an opportunity for you to build something long lasting that suits your work. Some careful consideration is indeed in order; but it looks like you’ve got that part covered. Good luck!

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3140 days

#5 posted 08-25-2011 09:03 PM

there is people who had made workbenches with pine
but it isn´t as soft as many think it is :-) though it has other advances beside its
a cheep materiel , you wont cry when you ding it as if it was made of expencieve hardwood :-)
and it don´t has the same smooth surface like others where everything skate over to the other
side of the bench as soon as you tuch the workpiece :-)


View Manitario's profile


2630 posts in 2908 days

#6 posted 08-25-2011 09:08 PM

I agree with the above commenters. My balsawood bench seemed like a good idea, but really sucked in practice.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View Bertha's profile


13529 posts in 2718 days

#7 posted 08-25-2011 09:12 PM

^lol Rob. At least it was easy to move. :)

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View Jorge G.'s profile

Jorge G.

1537 posts in 2500 days

#8 posted 08-25-2011 09:21 PM

Benches made of hard woods was usually so that it would weight more, and was the cheap wood available. i made a bench out of oak and I hated it. If a piece I was working on slipped and hit the edge it would get a dent (usually on the edge, messing up the entire piece), now I have a pine bench and I love it. My advice would be to make your bench out of cheap pine and with the money you save on wood buy a LN Nº 8 Jointer plane. I can flatten my pine bench with this plane in 10 minutes.

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2801 days

#9 posted 08-25-2011 09:22 PM

I have a hard bench top and I use my table saw as a bench as well. When I do glue-ups I put a cloth drop cloth on the top of the bench or saw so I don’t mess them up (the bench and table saw).

If I have a really nice finish and I have isues about scratching, I put a moving blanket on the bench – HF $5-10.00.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View BobTheFish's profile


361 posts in 2577 days

#10 posted 08-26-2011 12:25 AM

For as long as I’ve done work and known others, and used other people’s shops, I still say rock maple has been the preferred material, and none of them have complained about denting their projects.

For the most part, you WANT strength on a table. you want a SOLID FLAT surface, more than anything else. You want to be able to hammer on its surface without denting the surface much (meaning it should be more solid and flat than your project), just in case you have some mallet work to do, and you want something that when it DOES take abuse, like the errant sander/drill/chisel/etc. does mar the surface, it’s not really going to impede its workability. In fact, that’s why you typically see side grain used on work tables rather than face. It’s not meant to be a desk or dining table that’s basically for resting a few things on. It’s a work bench, and it’s got to be strong enough to take some abuse.

Acutally, I just thought of it. Cover a portion of your workspace with a self healing mat. Something like this:

In addition to getting a nice “cushioned” mat, you also get a pretty spiffy work surface with premarked angles and measures. If it’s not anti-slip enough underneath, you can probably add a rug pad like this underneath:

That will also give a little MORE cushion, and because you’re using mats, you can have it so a particular small section of you space is semi-dedicated to working on the mat while getting the benefits of the whole super tough bench. And if you ever need the full bench to be utilized, you can just remove the mat.

Bertha, Cardinalwood eh? I see we have some similar tastes.

View Bernie's profile


422 posts in 2862 days

#11 posted 08-26-2011 05:02 AM

My work bench is a solid core wood door… very flat and the top layer is actually a 1/8 thick luan board. I’ve had it for over 10 years and every year, I think about a new surface (1/8 thick luan board, glue over the existing bench). One important added feature – the bench is resting on a 2X4 frame built into my floor. I’ve never had a problem with it.

One footnote – If you dent your workpiec3e for any reason, don’t panic. On a scrap piece of wood, give it a dent and have fun learning. Scrape and sand that scrap piece of wood, but flat sand, don’t try to sand out the evidence. Now try damping the dent. Don’ t soak the wood. After it dries, the dented area should be higher then the sanded area. Now you can plane and sand that dent away!

-- Bernie: It never gets hot or cold in New Hampshire, just seasonal!

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2801 days

#12 posted 09-07-2011 05:18 PM

I bought a sheet of cork at walmart, I put this on the bench to keep things from sliding around.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View parkerdude's profile


182 posts in 3476 days

#13 posted 09-07-2011 11:46 PM


How ya doin’.

I built my very modest bench from plans from the New Yankee Workshop 25 years ago and it was well under $100 back then.

A handful of 2X4’s, a few oak boards, (I’ll bet any decent hardwood would do), and some 1/4” hardboard. There’s a nice bench vice made from a veneer press screw, included in the plans.

I have a pretty small shop area, this bench has moved with me twice. It took about 2 days to build.

Give it a look !

Good luck!


-- dust control

View Bigrock's profile


292 posts in 2987 days

#14 posted 09-08-2011 02:58 AM

I have three Work Benches. One is a solid core door reinforced with 2×6’s a crossed it. The second is 1 1/2” Maple Bench with steel legs. The third is a 3 1/2” Solid Hard Maple Workbench. When it comes to chopping you want something hard as wood and heavy so you do not get any bounce when chopping. Denting comes from not being careful.
If you want a soft surface put cardboard on the top. Use a old blanket, but you want a good hard solid Workbench.

View maljr1980's profile


171 posts in 2481 days

#15 posted 09-08-2011 04:46 AM

well our benches at work are nothing more than 2 or 3 sheets of particle board set on top of beams on some saw horses or hydraulic scissor lifts, if im worried about something getting scratched then i put a furniture pad over my bench and work ontop of it

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