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Help with type of wood for workbench top?

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Forum topic by Tugboat706 posted 06-26-2012 04:50 PM 11341 views 1 time favorited 49 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Tugboat706

39 posts in 887 days


06-26-2012 04:50 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question

I’m getting ready to begin work on a for-real wooodworking bench, want to go with gluing planks together to build up a thick, solid-feeling top. Trick is, I live in rural southeastern Georgia where there are precious few places to get more than what Lowes or Home Despot sells. The Lowes in town has red oak, poplar, and pine, and some stuff labelled ‘white wood’. They also have some very very knot-ridden cedar.

I’m new to ‘real’ wood working, and I’m not sure what type of wood is a good choice for the workbench top. I have a 6” joiner, a tablesaw, a bandsaw, and a big-ole planer (someone gave it to me, it weighs a LOT, haven’t used it yet).

Any advice on what wood I should go with will be gratefully accepted. Thanks!

previous work is mostly making wooden warship models from plywood with a scrollsaw, and a bookcase that is functional but not pretty (relegated to the shop :)

-- Clark in Georgia


49 replies so far

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Mainiac Matt

4351 posts in 1053 days


#1 posted 06-26-2012 05:02 PM

If you’re going to build an heirloom type of bech, I’d make the trip into the city to buy hard maple.

But there are plenty of guys around here who have laminated up bench tops from construction grade SPF (spruce-pine-fir) that is readilly available from any lumberyard or big-box home center. If you pick straight grained 2x boards that have minimal knots, you can knock the slightly rounded edges off when you join them. If this is to be a “first” bench and skill building project, I think that’s a viable option. You’ll get a heavy solid bench. Simply not one that will be hard (resist dents and dings).

Poplar is a non-coniferous tree, so it’s technically a “hard wood”, but it’s softer and lighter than many softwoods. So I’m not sure I’d pay a premium to use it on a bench.

All the oak at the big box stores in these parts is milled into 1x (3/4”) boards…. and they are way overpriced. So I’d make the trip to a hardwood lumber dealer b4 I paid a premium for 1x red oak.

-- Pine is fine, but Oak's no joke!

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jmos

681 posts in 1094 days


#2 posted 06-26-2012 05:20 PM

To paraphrase Chris Schwarz; big, dry, and cheap. Anything can work just fine. Is there anything you can get in thicker/larger sizes; 4×4, 4×6, 6×6 (I’d avoid pressure treated though, but some have used that as well)

Schwarz raves about southern yellow pine; I thought you were in a good part of the world for that; might even be the white wood at the big box store.

Lots use sheet goods for the top; a few layers of MDF or plywood can make a good top. I used LVL with some maple banding for mine. (in my blog if you’re interested)

Don’t use wet, or poorly dried wood. And thicker boards can reduce your workload (gets tedious milling and laminating .75” boards)

-- John

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Tugboat706

39 posts in 887 days


#3 posted 06-26-2012 05:55 PM

Definately a skill-building project :) But at the same time it’d be nice for it to hold up for 5 or 6 years :) The nearest ‘big city’ to me is Savannah, GA, I’ll have to see if there is a lumberyard that I could use in the area.

I’ll look at your blog jmos, thanks :)

-- Clark in Georgia

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Smitty_Cabinetshop

10219 posts in 1343 days


#4 posted 06-26-2012 05:59 PM

^ What John says re: SYP. The big stores you mentioned will have SYP in your area as larger 2x material (2×10s and/or 2×12) and will work great. Good luck!

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

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thedude50

3528 posts in 1202 days


#5 posted 06-26-2012 06:24 PM

If I lived where you do and if this is a bench you want to look good and to preform well I would go with Southern Yellow pine. IT SHOULD BE PURCHASED KILN DRIED AND IN 2X12 12’ LENGTH THIS WILL YIELD THE STUFF YOU WILL NEED AT A Great price. Other than this affordable choice any Maple will be fine. I love the silver Maple I am using to build my benches with it machines much better than hard maple and is easier on the tools than the hard maple or ipie. The classic choice is beach, but I suggest you get the syp it is cheep and it is strong and it looks great. I was going to drive to Texas to get me some then A LJ named John Ormsby sold me some Maple thanks to Medic Ken and the rest is history. The Schwarz made his French Bench out of Syp so Syp does not suck.

-- when I am not on Lumberjocks I am on @ http://thisoldworkshop.com where we allow free speech

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lysdexic

4888 posts in 1347 days


#6 posted 06-26-2012 06:31 PM

Clark, I’d check your sources in Savannah. When it comes to the choices at Lowes, I’d avoid anything other than SYP. I have stared at the stacks of 2×12’s and decided culling and process that crap was not worth it. I never really saw the clear dry SYP 2×12’s that people talk about. It was always knotty and wet. However, my lowes has nice 5/4 SYP over by the hardwood section but not in the big stacks of lumber. That SYP is good picking but it is expensive and at 5/4 will take alot of work.

If you can find kiln dried SYP 4×4s or 6×6” that would be ideal.

Hard maple is a popular choice but around here is $5 -6/bdft. I went with a common soft maple (which is still hard BTW) at $3/ bd ft.

Let us know what you decide.

-- It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe. - Muhammad Ali

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Tugboat706

39 posts in 887 days


#7 posted 06-26-2012 06:40 PM

So many choices :) I’ve been going through the huge ‘Workbench smack down’ thread and looking at people’s benches. There are a lot of really nice benches. I see a few that are like SSNVet mentioned with an MDF laminated top. I’m not sure what MDF is, but does it hold up well? (Be gentle, I’m new to anything beyond aircraft birch ply and whitewood :)

Another question: I understand dog holes and what they’re for, but I’ve seen round and square ones; does the shape matter?

-- Clark in Georgia

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lysdexic

4888 posts in 1347 days


#8 posted 06-26-2012 07:05 PM

Round vs Square. Ford vs Chevy. Apple vs PC. In the end I don’t think it matters. But basically…...

Round holes are easier to install and can be installed into a bench as a retrofit. You can drill a 3/4” anywhere, no? There are more after market accessories that fit round holes. Some are concerned that they may go out of round over time.

Square holes are harder to install and pretty much have to be done during the initial build. The dogs are easy to make and replace. They hold you work square. They are considered more traditional which some consider “cool.”

Clark – if you are heading into a bench build, I and many others will recommend you read the workbench design book by Christopher Schwarz.

-- It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe. - Muhammad Ali

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jmos

681 posts in 1094 days


#9 posted 06-26-2012 07:29 PM

Clark, MDF is wood fiber and glue. Man made product, very flat and stable (doesn’t expand or contract much). Very heavy. Not very expensive. The standard stuff does not like water; even a little and it will swell. There is a version that is coated with something, I believe it’s used in concrete forms. It will hold up pretty well ,and if you build the bench right, you can replace the top sheet when it gets too beat.

lysdexic nailed the dog response; not much to add. I went round for ease and convenience, but the square are pretty nifty too. He also nailed the Schwarz recommendation. I recommend his latest book (maroon cover), he covers more bench types and styles than in the first book. I hear the first book is also excellent, so I don’t think you can go wrong.

-- John

View richgreer's profile

richgreer

4525 posts in 1799 days


#10 posted 06-26-2012 08:05 PM

My bench is quite novel. The surface is bamboo flooring. It is very hard, stable and durable surface. I have 2 layers of MDF under the flooring. The second layer is probably overkill.

I invite you to see a picture in my shop pictures on this site.

I mention this because it is an option you could probably pursue at your local Lowes or Home Depot.

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

View sixstring's profile

sixstring

296 posts in 968 days


#11 posted 06-26-2012 08:06 PM

Built mine using melamine, and while it’s fine for now and I had it available at the time, I plan on upgrading to something beefier like you mentioned. So I found this guy on Craigslist selling bowling alley/lane material for $15 per linear ft. It’s 2.5” thick maple and should require no additional finish on the top. Solid, reclaimed goodness that will get the job done in spades.

Another thought is to use a solid core door but as you mentioned it’s a skill builiding thing… then it’s like cheating I guess. I avoid buying wood from the big box stores though, mostly cuz I’m cheap but also because the quality can be a crapshoot. You can find tons and tons of free wood available that would otherwise end up in landfills. With enough pallets, you could laminate yourself a killer bench so there’s another option.

-- JC Garcia, Concord, CA : "It's easier to ask forgiveness than permission..."

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Tugboat706

39 posts in 887 days


#12 posted 06-26-2012 08:28 PM

I have two solid core doors that I got from an old house that was being demolished. No idea what kind of wood they are, but they’ll get used for something someday. I do intend the workbench to be a learning project. So far in a few days on this site, I’ve learned a great deal and gotten some good ideas, too.

-- Clark in Georgia

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AandCstyle

1424 posts in 982 days


#13 posted 06-27-2012 12:00 AM

Clark, based on the machines you have it sounds like you are serious about woodworking. If that is the case, you will need to develop a relationship with a hardwood supplier at some point in time. Check out woodfinder.com to see if there are any retailers close to you. Otherwise, you will need to use mail order sites to get decent stock for projects. Regarding your bench project, I agree that MDF (medium density fiberboard) would be a good choice for your bench top. I would seal it to avoid the potential for water damage and would wrap it with a hardwood for aesthetic reasons. HTH

-- Art

View crank49's profile

crank49

3481 posts in 1695 days


#14 posted 06-27-2012 12:03 AM

My bench top is 4 layers of 3/4” sandply plywood. The 7 lamination type. I have a sacrificial (and replacable) Hardboard top and then a 3/4×4” band of maple around the edge. This thing is a beast and looks good as well.

I think SYP would be great as well. I know The Schwarz recommends buying 2×12 stock because, in theory, the best material is milled into this size. When I look at what’s in my local HD I see the best, tightest grain, and straightest stuff is 2×6 x 16 ft. These are usually used for rafters and therefore they try to stock straight, relatively knot free lumber for this application. In any case you will need to rip it down to about 4 inches for a bench top.

-- Michael :-{| “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” ― A H

View Greg3G's profile

Greg3G

815 posts in 2810 days


#15 posted 06-27-2012 12:55 AM

I would send or call the guys at Highland Woodworking. Their store is in Atlanta but I would think that they have a few customers from your area and may know of a good wood dealer in your area. http://www.highlandwoodworking.com/ is the url to their site. They also have an great newsletter you can sign up for. They have a good selection of selection of accessories.

If you decide to go with the laminated solid wood top, I would recommend that you glue up in sections narrow enough to make through your planer. You can then use dowels or even biscuits to help align the sections when you do the final glue up. They won’t provide any additional strength but will help keep things lined up.

I personally would use a threaded rod or bench bolts to connect the stretchers on the base. That way you can tighten it back up if it starts to loosen in the future.

I agree with most people in that it doesn’t really matter what you build it out of…it just needs to be heavy…BUT if you do use MDF, seal it with something. I had an MDF top and it doesn’t take much moisture to cause it to swell and that will be a problem. I speak from experience on that one.

I would also recommend taking the vises you plan on using into account when you design the bench. Going heavy is a good idea here as well.

Good luck on your adventure and keep us updated on your progress.

Greg

-- Greg - Charles Town, WV

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