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Selecting wood for workbench: new oak, fir or reclaimed oak

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Forum topic by toddbeaulieu posted 10-17-2012 11:37 PM 1904 views 0 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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toddbeaulieu

413 posts in 1750 days


10-17-2012 11:37 PM

Topic tags/keywords: workbench

Well, once again I seek the wisdom of a fantastic group of wood lovers.

I’m looking to make my first bench. Bought the Schwarz book. I’m still trying to decide between a shaker bench and a bare rubo, but … Wood choice! Hoping you have some opinions on this.

Here’s what I have “in stock”. Plenty of each to build several benches:

1. Very old (pre 1700’s) oak/hemlock beams. Lots AND LOTS of nails in them. Mortises. Cracks. Etc. And 20+ ft long. So, a lot of work! Not to mention a metal detector on the wish list. Probably 8×8 or larger. Obviously this would mean lots more layers.

2. Rough sawn white oak. I bought a bunch off CL for short change. All split down the middle so I ripped them. I’ve got more than enough to glue up. 5/4+. I jointed two edges of a sample. Besides trashing my knives, wow! I love the old stuff. Lots of cracks, so it would mean lots of epoxy. But a good story and a great use for 300+ year old wood in a 150+ year old barn attached to a 275 year old house. These are hand hewn. Ax marks galore. Definitely 10x the work involved to mill this.

3. Fir. I have some big ol’ fir beams that were used to support the barn floor before I rebuilt it. They’re modern. Probably 6×8 or 7×8? I don’t know what fir looks like milled down, as far as character. I’m guessing nothing special.

Of course I could go buy something, but I’d rather use what I have.

What do you think?


16 replies so far

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sixstring

296 posts in 989 days


#1 posted 10-17-2012 11:47 PM

That’s some amazing material you’ve got to work with! Part of me thinks you need to use the old stuff but part of me thinks that it should be saved for something amazing… Then again, what’s more amazing than a kick@ss bench, right?

The nails would scare me while resawing. I suppose a metal detector is the answer, but still… That’s a lot of work man.

On the doug fir… if it’s old growth quartersawn, with vertical grain on what would be the top, it could look pretty cool. I’ve been working primarily with old growth doug fir myself and it’s pretty easy to mill down. If it’s new growth (wide rings) then I’d say forget it. The challenge with DF is the sap. There’s less if it’s really old and dry, but it’s still there. Invest in good blades and be sure to keep them sharp.

Hell, you could sell that old wood at a hefty premium and pay for all kinds of goodies.

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

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Brandon

4145 posts in 1697 days


#2 posted 10-18-2012 01:01 AM

Any of the three would work well for a bench. That said, I’d love to see the old oak used in your bench, even though it’d be a lot of work.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

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Moron

4723 posts in 2639 days


#3 posted 10-18-2012 02:42 AM

I’m gonna stay true to my guns in that I could care less what a bench is made from as I care way more about what leaves a bench cuz at the end of the day………. no one else will revere your bench like you do ; (

what comes off it is the prize

As much as I miss mine, not having it, has yet to stop me from putting smiles on faces who paid me, be it by cheque or sincere huggs.

At this point in my life, I have to wonder why I built one 30 years ago when a set of saw horses would have done the same thing. Funny thing……15 years ago, I would have asked an apprentice to make his “bench” and I would have given him a week to do it with wood provided. I knew then, that it would forever remind him to be humble.

Now, I give them 1 hr to build a set of saw horses that will last just as long.

If you pick the one with nails, the old stuff you will race to the finish line with far less cash in your wallet then you started but your brain will retain ? the memory and the result will be questionably beautiful

The other 2 pics of wood will keep more cash in your pocket but the memory wont be there

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

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mloy365

435 posts in 1876 days


#4 posted 10-18-2012 12:11 PM

I built a new top for my bench about a year ago. I used white ash because I can get it @ a reasonable price (4/4 s&b: $1.45, #1: $1.17, 8/4 s&b: $2.09), I love the look and it is very, very tough. I had a similar situation to yours, but after thinking about the reclaim process I decided to go new. I would do the same if I was to starting over again today.

-- Mike - Northern Upper Michigan

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toddbeaulieu

413 posts in 1750 days


#5 posted 10-18-2012 12:39 PM

Thanks guys. I went out this morning and milled a sample of the old oak to check it out.

Besides the minefield of hardware, I’d also have to navigate the mortises and notches, while minding the splits. Ha. I started picking through the pile to see what would be good candidates if I went that route.

This piece has some good splits in it. If I wanted to stand it on edge for a 5 inch top it would be pretty good stuff.

Hey moron, (that’s awesome) you sound a bit dark, I must say. Don’t forget that newbies don’t only need tools and benches, they also need practice and lessons from which to learn. I’m still (and will be for some time) building my workshop. I have a lot of infrastructure to build out. But I enjoy it! I am in heaven out in my barn, trying to figure out what to build for wood racks, a miter station, wall cabinets, etc. And I feel good about cutting my teeth (and flesh sometimes) on shop projects, instead of on the shutter panels the Mrs. wants for the living room. I’d rather keep my mistakes locked away in my sanctuary while I learn how to chisel and mortise and dovetail. It’s all good!

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JayT

2611 posts in 957 days


#6 posted 10-18-2012 02:11 PM

Here’s my take. Since this is your first workbench, build it out of new construction lumber. No matter which bench design you choose to start with, you will most likely find features you wish you had and other you have that aren’t needed as you use it for a while. After you have really settled what you need in a workbench, you will likely want to build another designed around how you work and can use the reclaimed wood at that time.

The original bench will still be useable, so you will have two benches with slightly different features. You state you have enough wood for several benches, but why use a bunch of it to build a bench that isn’t really what you need, when it could be used for both a workbench that is exactly right for you and some other projects, as well.

Using construction lumber will also allow you to work on the skills necessary to build a great bench. The wood will be easier to work than the reclaimed stuff and if you make a mistake, so what? You are out a few dollars and some time, but the wood can be replaced at the lumberyard, unlike the fixed supply of old oak and fir.

-- "The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money." Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835

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sixstring

296 posts in 989 days


#7 posted 10-18-2012 07:16 PM

I agree with JayT. Built mine out of construction 2×4s and MDF. Glad I didnt spend too much money and effort on it because I immediately started coming up with upgraded designs when I started using it… Now if only I could find a deal on a suitable top?

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

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teejk

1215 posts in 1430 days


#8 posted 10-18-2012 07:32 PM

construction lumber works for me (including the top which I do with 2×6…I don’t feel so bad when I drip stain or whatever, knowing that I can change them out when necessary). I keep a stash of 2×4’s and 2×6’s around to see which ones want to become skis and which ones are very content to stay straight and flat. 2×4’s nailed at a 90 make a very solid leg and provide enough room to attach cleats for shelving.

I’d save nice lumber for something your guests might “ooh and ahh” over.

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toddbeaulieu

413 posts in 1750 days


#9 posted 11-09-2012 01:02 AM

While I continue to work on the shop itself (finished the last interior wall this weekend!) I’ve been mulling over the bench project and thinking about all the feedback, which is great.

I had to laugh when I picked up a large stock of rough sawn cherry this weekend for $100. I could only imagine what you’d say if I asked about using that. In fact, I found a conversation on another forum about it. People get a little jumpy when you talk about using good lumber for a bench! ;)

I’m 99% sure I’m going to build a shaker bench. Chris Shwartz has a different first choice in bench style (from his book), but we’re all different a just love the look and the storage of a shaker bench. That said, I can bring myself to build one from pine. I think the cheap load of white oak that I have will be a fine material and look a lot better than pine. I’ll probably stick with poplar for the storage underneath, since the idea is to paint it. I do like working with poplar.

I think my biggest hesitation is laminating 5/4+- strips. I just don’t like that look. I wonder if I could do a two ply top with the edgewise oak as a substrate and wider pieces placed on top? I wonder if that would cause problems with movement? Makes me wonder what happens with the laminated pieces on edge with movement, since that would move vertically, disrupting the flatness of the top.

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exelectrician

1749 posts in 1173 days


#10 posted 11-09-2012 01:36 AM

I would choose hardwood for the top and the fir for the base.
After using a 3’ by 8’ sheet of plywood on plastic saw horses for two years. This is my maple top with construction lumber base workbench.

I love working on this bench and although it was lots of hard work I learned a lot and am thankful to have it.

-- Love thy neighbour as thyself

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Moron

4723 posts in 2639 days


#11 posted 11-09-2012 04:35 AM

a picture perfect example of why men live

without a bench

we starve

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

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Moron

4723 posts in 2639 days


#12 posted 11-09-2012 04:36 AM

what next ?

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

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Moron

4723 posts in 2639 days


#13 posted 11-09-2012 04:38 AM

goals r important

once achieved

only mountains remain

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

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Moron

4723 posts in 2639 days


#14 posted 11-09-2012 04:43 AM

i cant imagin havn a wife

who couldnt cook

how does yer wife gain an inch by this guy ?

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View exelectrician's profile

exelectrician

1749 posts in 1173 days


#15 posted 11-09-2012 09:59 PM

That oak is big and wide, you are one lucky fellow to have that gorgeous wood at your disposal. If you don’t use it you loose it!

-- Love thy neighbour as thyself

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