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Forum topic by moke posted 03-01-2012 06:37 PM 2687 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View moke's profile


1187 posts in 2831 days

03-01-2012 06:37 PM

I will begin by apologizing for bringing up a topic that has probably been brought up hundreds of times, but…I am realtively new and have not really seen the answer to my questions…
I want to modify a bench to be multi purpose, for instance, it will have electricity, a pancake air system, dog holes, either a side or tail vise, and kreg clamp plates all built in. I have a stationery bench but this one will have the new Rockler wheels and be about 7’. So here are my questions…

1. I have looked at many different types of tops…maple is very expensive, so I have been considering alternative tops, whatever it is I would like to face all the edges with maple. Higher grade pine 2×4’s, mdf high density board and flooring have all been mentioned….can anyone comment….I just don’t want to wrap 300.00 dollars or more in a top….

2. Considering I have never used a hand plane and I am really scared of using one to screw up a perfectly good piece of wood, should I put in but a side and tail vise? If I do put in a tail vise for using dog holes, should it be a twin screw? I am assuming that for construction purposes they need to be put in during construction and not after the fact. Can anyone recommend a good brand?

Thank you for your help, I have what I think are good tools now and need to construct a couple of mobile tables.

-- Mike

15 replies so far

View KenBry's profile


484 posts in 2502 days

#1 posted 03-01-2012 07:01 PM Wood harness Chart, find a wood that is less than Maple but will work for you. Allot of folks lean to Yellow Pine or Doug maple for great alternatavies.

I too am nearing my first bench build and I don’t want to do it wrong the first time out the gate. I have been reading and gathering info for the last 6 months. I even bought a set of plans to give me ideas.

As far as the plane goes, Get one and PRACTICE on some lesser expensive woods. Learn how to use it with grain and against it. Again, there are You Tube videos, and tons of reading materialon the matter. Holding it is a matter of preference for what you are trying to achive. The required planing activity will decide for you how to hold the wood.

Once you see a few video’s online about planing you will see techniques people use and those will answer allot of your questions.

-- Ken, USAF MSgt, Ret.

View ChrisK's profile


1979 posts in 3136 days

#2 posted 03-01-2012 07:32 PM

The top for the benches either side of my chop saw and run out / assembly table are MDF. It is cheap, flat and and not so nice you are afraid to drill a hole through it. I am not sure that a dog hole would hold up in MDF, however, you could inlay a piece of maple or other hardwood with the dog holes in it into the MDF top. I used a semi gloss poly to seal the top so spilled coffee would not make the MDF swell.

-- Chris K

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4982 posts in 4015 days

#3 posted 03-01-2012 07:42 PM

Unless you want the bench to become a work of art, you could use a doubled up top from waterproof MDF. I have used Extira (brand). This stuff is heavy, tough, and waterproof. Can be machined, drilled, finished with shellac, and FLAT.
I have no connection with this product. Just a user.
It is dark brown, but who cares if it works. Look it up if ya wish.


View brtech's profile


1034 posts in 2977 days

#4 posted 03-01-2012 08:51 PM

Choice of top has a whole lot of variables, and therefore a lot of tradeoffs. No one can say “do it this way”.
MDF has been mentioned a couple times. It’s probably the cheapest and easiest way to get a flat, heavy top. The drawbacks are that dog holes dont last and it soaks up water. You can get around the former by putting in an insert for the dog holes. You can get around the latter by using waterproof MDF, or by sealing it real well. You want at least two layers of 3/4 and more wouldn’t be a bad idea. You will have to work around how to build a wagon vise if you want the kind that has a single screw and a moveable dog hole inside the top. Using an external vise, either a regular or a twin screw, with a built in dog hole, you trade off problems of cost, complexity, mounting, work support, size, etc.

An MDF top can’t really be resurfaced. You have to replace the top layer.

A couple folks have used MDF and then put down a layer of flooring on top of that. You get a hardwood, which can have some minor resurfacing, and at least part of the dog hole problem is solved. It may look better than MDF, and takes things like hammer blows better. You will need to flatten your top if you do this, because the flooring doesn’t come out dead flat. Pretty much limits you to doing it by hand, or use a router sled.

Then there is the pine on edge crowd. You use 2×4s or cut up 2×6s and laminate them. You end up with a 2.5 or 3” thick top. Pine comes in lots of flavors. If you can get Southern Yellow Pine, you can make a pretty strong, beefy top without a whole lot of cost. The problem is flattening the laminations. You can do it with a hand plane, a router sled or you can make it in 12 or 13” widths and run it through your planer. With a little work, a “split top” bench can be made using that technique and only require either some minor shimming or some small planing work to get flat. Dog holes are simple, and reasonably long lasting. Also simpler to build in the wagon vise.

Then there is the hardwood crowd. Buy a whole boatload of 12/4 hard maple and go to town. Actually, lots of folks us other hardwoods, and soft maple is pretty reasonable as is beech, birch or others. Has all the lamination issues of the pine top.

For vises, it’s mostly budget tradeoffs. If you can afford it, the Benchcrafted stuff is really, really nice.

There are also the wooden vise crowd who make leg vises and sliding deadmen using Erie wooden screws.

I’m partial to getting the guts from Lee Valley and building in a wagon vise and a surface vise. Cheap, effective, strong.

Lots and lots of other choices. Record external vises, Harbor Freight external vises, the list goes on.

If you have not got hand plane experience and you do have a lunch box planer, and your budget is a lot closer to $300 then $600 or $1000 or more, then let me suggest you do a split top pine, you put in a LV tail vise and side vise, wrap it with maple if you wish (I wouldn’t bother), and then think about the base. About the only other big decision is whether you want a sliding deadman, or the dog hole on the side plank to hold up boards on edge for handwork.

View SteviePete's profile


226 posts in 3358 days

#5 posted 03-01-2012 11:15 PM

Try the book rack. I liked Schwartz, Schleining, Tolpin or Landis. The earlier books about Roubo are good too. It will take 80+ hours to build. Research, goals and design process will (should) take you ten times that. Work harder at the design——much more satisfied with what you do build. (p.s. Don’t forget the patternmakers vise.) s

-- Steve, 'Sconie Great White North

View moke's profile


1187 posts in 2831 days

#6 posted 03-01-2012 11:58 PM

If I was to use the waterproof mdf is it available in big box stores or strictly lumberyards?
great info…keep it coming….

-- Mike

View moke's profile


1187 posts in 2831 days

#7 posted 03-02-2012 12:04 AM

Maybe I was confused in my research, I think what I really want is an end vise, not a tail vise…

-- Mike

View Rxmpo's profile


268 posts in 3800 days

#8 posted 03-02-2012 03:41 AM


Do not be afraid of the hand plane. I asked for advice here on LJ about a hand plane 2 weeks ago and as usual, I got great advice. Get an old Stanley plane for a fraction of the price of the Verita or LN and bring it back to life. I was VERY hesitant as I didn’t trust myself with “restoration work”, but I took the advice and was shocked at how easy it was to get great results.

Point is I just got an old #7 Stanley plane off Craig’s list last Saturday and spent $80. Spent a couple of hours removing rust (Naval Jelly) , sanded the sole and sides flat using sandpaper on a piece of glass, and sharpened the blade. (Tutorials on all this info is blogged on this site already) I had made a 2×4 lamination “benchtop” that I would just put on top of a bench I knew wasn’t flat to get a flatter surface, which still wasn’t 100% flat. So I took the new/old #7 and planed the top and bottom of that 2×4 bench till it was dead flat on both sides. Better yet, it was easy. The pine cuts like butter b/c soft, but the plane is almost 22” long so it only hits the high spots. Plane at a 45 degree angle across the top and you will have a flat top in no time. THIS WAS DONE BY A HAND PLANE PSEUDO-BEGINNER. (Total experience-Had a Veritas BU Jack for one year) If you can sharpen a blade you can use a plane. Just takes patients and what in woodworking doesn’t take that?

My 2cents, build it once. Yes you will need to resurface a HW top down the line, but imagine what a PITA it would be to have to replace a 3/4” layer of an MDF top because it can’t be resurfaced?

Good luck with whatever you decide and I hope you post your experience with which ever benchtop you use.

View Quanter50's profile


278 posts in 2351 days

#9 posted 03-02-2012 04:06 AM

Sears has “Craftsman 8’ Butcher Block Work Surface” 24” wide and 1-1/2” thick for $160. I am planning on building a workbench also and have been looking around for a top. I might plane down some oak I have that dried kind of twisty in spots. I’ll work around the twists hopefully.

View exelectrician's profile


2328 posts in 2482 days

#10 posted 03-02-2012 06:04 PM

Craigs list has free furniture, I searched for maple, solid, after 2 years of collecting I had 42 boards 3” wide around 3/4 thick put them on edge and now have a solid maple bench. Cost me around 100 bucks in gas!

-- Love thy neighbour as thyself

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4982 posts in 4015 days

#11 posted 03-02-2012 06:15 PM

“If I was to use the waterproof mdf is it available in big box stores or strictly lumberyards?”

Moke, I bought Extira from a local cabinet shop.
It has become my “go to” product for jigs, etc.
My bench top is made from a bowling lane, but if I were to build another bench, this is what I’d use.


View Bob, Oregon's profile

Bob, Oregon

93 posts in 3446 days

#12 posted 03-02-2012 06:27 PM

I have to agree with SteviePete…try looking at some books.

Schwartz “The Workbench Design Book” and;

Landis “The Workbench Book”

Worth spending the few bucks on them and they’ll answer a lot of your questions PLUS open your eyes to new ideas and concepts.

I know that’s what they did for me.

I made my bench almost totally out of Doug fir 2 X 12’s ripped down. Fewer knots and tighter knots (an idea from Schwarz). It has survived for almost a year with no warping, twisting or gaps. MY thoughts are that I am GOING to put dings in the thing. It’s the way I work and I make no apologies. So why not use what’s available (and cheaper) in the Northwest? I did use hard maple for the vise chops. I am absolutely thrilled with my bench (see my “Projects”) and it brings a smile to my face every time I see it.

If you want to use dog holes, I’d steer clear of MDF. It simply will not hold up to that kind of stress. MDF is great if you are looking for flat and straight. But it will fracture and crack a lot more easily than any solid wood, plus it’s challenging to assemble and requires specialized tools and fasteners.

As far as vises are concerned, it will all depend on how you work and what you intend to build. This is an area where the above-mentioned books will give you LOADS of information.

I had never used a handplane to flatten or level ANYTHING, but when I followed the advise of Schwarz and Landis on “how-to”, it was quite doable and the top turned out very nicely. I used a #6 (carefully sharpened) to flatten it.

-- 73, Bob

View andy81563's profile


22 posts in 2339 days

#13 posted 03-04-2012 07:01 PM

Moke, I am glad you asked the question so that I didn’t have to. I also am in the process of designing and building a work bench. I have a huge pile of maple flooring (3/4” x 3-1/2”) we harvested from an old textile mill years ago. I am thinking about stacking a bunch of these together to make a 3” thick top. As far as planing the surface, I do not own a plane presently nor do I know how to correctly use one, so this will be a learning experience.

View TechRedneck's profile


768 posts in 2912 days

#14 posted 03-04-2012 07:20 PM


Here is what I came up with after a lot of research. I built just the “business” end of a traditional hand tool bench and bolted it to my torsion box assembly table. The whole thing fit through my power planer then was finished with my #6 plane.

I have since added a set of drawers and doors, but the table holds a 12 gallon compressor, a hose reel, the nail and staple guns, glues, doweling jigs,and most anything needed for assembly. I use that end vise all the time, the leg vise is also very useful. Both benches serve as outfeed tables for a jointer and planer. This saves a lot of space.

-- Mike.... West Virginia. "Man is a tool using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.". T Carlyle

View moke's profile


1187 posts in 2831 days

#15 posted 03-05-2012 07:04 PM

Thanks to all that responded…I got a boat load of great info! I think I might first take the advice of SteviePete and bob,oregon and get those books and plan a little better. I have so many things I want it to do, I think stepping back for a week or two and doing so research is prudent.

The Doug Fir right now is leading the choices, but I sure can change my mind. I have a Jet 16” surface planer. I though of making 2 -15” sections and biscuiting it together….what do you guys think of that? I have, however, been looking at some of the Grizzly tops, they look as they are cheaper than I can make a maple top. Maybe $300 to $400 is unavoidable.

The vises look like they are better prices for the medium range at Woodcraft, and Woodcraft has been good to me in the past.

Ken Bry, thanks for the Janka chart site, I have printed out and put it in the reference section of my “Important Book” It will be very handy and is interesting too.

Rxmpo, BillWhite….I bought an old Stanley plane and had an used book in my library about tuning it….I will give it try.

BillWhite..I have contacted a local lumberyard and ordered a couple sheets of Extira. I buile a lot of jigs and it will be very handy…Thanks

Thanks to everyone else who took the time to give me advice…I can use it all

-- Mike

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