Elm for a Workbench?

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Forum topic by CartersWhittling posted 02-08-2012 06:31 PM 4608 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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453 posts in 2636 days

02-08-2012 06:31 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question elm workbench splitting


I have been doing some thinking about workbenches and I was going over different woods that could be used. I was trying to think of wood species that have the characterists that would be suited to a workbench. One of those characteristics was resistance to splitting, and the first species to come to my mind was elm. As far as I can think, elm would be great for a workbench, especially one with holdfasts.

Besides being a difficult wood to handplane, is there any other reason that would make elm unsuitable for a workbench? Can it be found in thick long boards?

-- And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord... Colossians 3:23

12 replies so far

View Mauricio's profile


7144 posts in 3114 days

#1 posted 02-08-2012 06:36 PM

Here is an Elm workbench from DonW.

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

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7980 posts in 3338 days

#2 posted 02-08-2012 06:58 PM

I’ve worked with red elm on a couple of occasions. The grain can be insanely beautiful IMHO, but the pieces I’ve worked worth were more prone to movement than others I’ve worked with. Perhaps it was just my pieces, or perhaps it’s the nature of the beast, but it is workable with the right preparation. It’s important to let it acclimate….I found that if I pre-dimensioned it just a bit oversize, and let it acclimate for another day or two, then shave it to final dimensions it stayed put better. It’s also prone to getting stiff sharp fuzzies on the ends of cuts, even with sharp blades and cutters….don’t underestimate the stiffness of those fuzzies or they’ll grab your skin. Good luck, and please post pics of your bench if you proceed.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

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10244 posts in 3610 days

#3 posted 02-08-2012 07:13 PM

The more successful bench tops are generally laminated so they
are in effect quartersawn, or slabbed from the center of the tree,
making them quartersawn.

I wouldn’t be wild about a bench top made from an open-pored
wood because the fibers will tend to lift. I am biased towards
maple, cherry and similar small-pored hardwoods for a bench top.
A lot depends on your goals as a craftsman and of coarse if you
can get elm cheaply in your area it might be good choice for you.

Benchtops require periodic flattening so woods that plane well,
generally those without a lot of interlocked grain, make the
work go faster with less scraper work. I confess however that
I neither scrape nor sand my bench. I plane out the distortions,
rub some linseed oil on it and get back to work.

View Mauricio's profile


7144 posts in 3114 days

#4 posted 02-08-2012 07:28 PM

Carter you already have an insanely awesome workbench! Are you building another one?

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View SteviePete's profile


226 posts in 3265 days

#5 posted 02-08-2012 08:58 PM

Learned a lot about wood movement, glue strength, wood defects (shakes, splits and bark occulsions) using white and red elm. All by experience- not all the teacher its claimed to be.

Slow learner—sawed half a semi of red elm two years ago. Properly stacked, stickered and supported on ties/cement blocks. Not a board is flat and square but boy is that red elm grain beautiful! Made some small tops and utinsels from the slab wood – works, sands and finishes beautifully. I will be trying the resaw for quarter sawn grain for table tops. The cathedral grain (sometimes double or triple) will look great on treen ware and small cabinets. (Cut it all 5/4 to 10/4 to be sure I’d have a board after planing/sanding it four times.) The guy I got the sawlogs from told me his family (140 years on the property) used it only for firewood. He was subdividing the last of the pasture land where trees that grew in the open grew best. I have American Hop Hornbean (Swede Ironwood), Red Elm, Butternut and Basswood from that pasture. I think if I used Red Elm again I’d use truss rods on the ends and 2’oc. to keep it square. Good luck with it

-- Steve, 'Sconie Great White North

View CartersWhittling's profile


453 posts in 2636 days

#6 posted 02-08-2012 10:55 PM

Nice find Stevie. Thanks for the comments guys. I have plans on making a website in the future and to pay for some things I may sell my workbench and build another (not the same design).

I wouldn’t be worried about an open pore wood for a bench top, espcially if its elm which wouldn’t slit chunks off as easy as ash or oak. As long as the top showed the radial grain, the texture of the top would be consistant (no large patches of early which tend to dent easier). I thought elm would at least be a better choice of lumber for a part with a nut tapped in it that is close to the end of a part, less likely to split, though I doubt it would.

-- And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord... Colossians 3:23

View crank49's profile


4030 posts in 2933 days

#7 posted 02-09-2012 04:14 AM

As far as I have always been told, elm is a beautiful wood, too bad it won’t stay flat. At least that’s what my dad told me and he made his living working with wood for over 60 years. If you just want a part for threading that won’t split it would be okay I would think. Black gum is another wood that won’t split.

View dubsaloon's profile


621 posts in 2756 days

#8 posted 02-09-2012 09:37 AM

IT could double for a kitchen island. Very nice.

-- The works of evil people are not the problem. It is the "Good" people standing by and watching not speaking up. Dubsaloon

View benchbuilder's profile


284 posts in 2413 days

#9 posted 02-10-2012 04:17 PM

I found this from Chris Schwarz blog on translating Andrea Roubos woodworking books, I think you may find it usefull.

Menuisier, I. Part. Chap. V
Third Section
On tools for cutting and preparing wood

The workbench is the first and most necessary of all tools for “woodworking” see translator’s note No. 1 below). It is made up of a top, four legs, four rails and a bottom. The top is made from a sturdy plank or table of 5” to 6” thick by 20” to 25” wide; its length varies from 6’ to 12’, but the most common length is 9’. This table is made out of elm or beech wood but most commonly from the latter, which is very stout and of a tighter grain than the other.

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453 posts in 2636 days

#10 posted 02-10-2012 07:18 PM

Thanks very much for the post. It is interesting that beech and elm were mentioned over others. I will have to find out why exactly. Perhaps it was the most common wood in his area that was suitable and available in large planks.

From what I am hearing, elm is not very stable. I want to find out if that is true, or if it just needs to be seasoned properly. With a bench top as thick and simple as Roubo’s even if you had to flatten it more often it wouldn’t be a big deal. Its not like you will plane the 5” away any time soon haha, and a dead flat workbench really isn’t necessary.

-- And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord... Colossians 3:23

View benchbuilder's profile


284 posts in 2413 days

#11 posted 02-10-2012 10:56 PM

Yes it is about drying time plus letting it set in the shop for a week or so after drying and before working it. I believe if it is laminated together into a workbench top, splitting and movment is going to be very little. Just be very selective about buying ready dried elm. It is a very heavy wood and I believe thats why it was one of the two woods suggested, as well as being availible. If you have time, you might find it interesting to read chris schwarz interpation of roubos book, just search “chris schwarz translation of andrea roubos books”.

View rance's profile


4255 posts in 3123 days

#12 posted 02-12-2012 06:03 PM

>”...and a dead flat workbench really isn’t necessary…”
(within reason, of course)

Interesting comment, coming from a hand tool guy. :) I share the same sentiments but I get dinged because I’m primarilly a power tool guy.

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

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