Flatness of workbench top?

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Forum topic by Mark Colan posted 06-30-2013 02:21 PM 2944 views 0 times favorited 24 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Mark Colan

211 posts in 2871 days

06-30-2013 02:21 PM

I bought a slab of butcher block from IKEA to be used as my new bench top. I got the wider one (37”) which required trimming the width to fit, and also allowing the trim to be used for aprons in front and back.

To my dismay, I noticed after cutting it that the top is not as flat as I had hoped. It’s ok on one end, but on the other, putting a straightedge front-to-back, I measure about 1/16” from the straightedge to the bench in the middle – that is, it is bowed with the edges higher than the middle. Even in the middle the bowing is noticeable.

I have not contacted IKEA, but I assume they would not be happy to accept a return for a countertop that has been cut.

In all resources I have read on workbenches, there has always been an emphasis on having a perfectly flat bench top, as anything less would telegraph errors to workpieces.

is the 1/16” error I measured going to be a problem, or is it too small to worry about?
any ideas on how to correct the error (I don’t have a jointer or planer)?

As an aside, I had planned to attach the top to the bench using screws only in the middle along the long ways. My thinking was that if I attached it on the sides, or attached aprons on the ends (which might flatten it somewhat), seasonal humidity changes could cause the bench top to crack.

-- Mark, hack amateur woodworker, Medford (greater Boston) MA

24 replies so far

View JustJoe's profile


1554 posts in 2064 days

#1 posted 06-30-2013 02:27 PM

If you don’t have a jointer or planer, then you probably don’t surface your boards by hand – one of the big reasons for having a flat surface. What do you use your bench for, and is the 1/16” dip going to interfere with that? If not, why worry about it? If so, then you can use a router and a home-made sled/rails to flatten it. Here’s one to give you an idea, it’s really just a matter of putting a temporary rail on each side and making a small sled to hold the router and ride on the rails:

Edit: You said you don’t have a jointer or planer. I read that as you don’t have a jointer plane. But if you meant you don’t have an electric jointer and power planer, then does that mean you do have handplanes? But if you had handplanes you wouldn’t ask how to flatten your benchtop?

-- This Ad Space For Sale! Your Ad Here! Reach a targeted audience! Affordable Rates, easy financing! Contact an ad represenative today at JustJoe's Advertising Consortium.

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Jim Bertelson

4179 posts in 3190 days

#2 posted 06-30-2013 04:29 PM

I remember someone else had a similar problem a couple of years ago, so you might do a search on LJ’s. If the top is not too thick, you could also try to bolt it down flat, perhaps into angle iron fixed to the supports to assure flatness. You can plug any holes you make for the bolts…......and it will look decorative….........(-:

For my little shop in my Washington vacation home shop I got a cheap solid core door, and have sheathed it with plywood. I am in the process of making a couple of long narrow torsion boxes there to use on supports for larger work that requires a bigger workbench. That shop is in a garage, and a car has to be removed to do any bigger stuff.

We are having a very nice summer in Anchorage for a change, hope you are as lucky there in Maine.

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View Loren's profile


10476 posts in 3674 days

#3 posted 06-30-2013 04:36 PM

Every few years I flatten my bench with a jack plane.

The reason you want a flat bench is to you can
flatten a board, flip it over and it will be flat against
the bench… then you know you flattened it

I don’t have much trouble with the corners of
my bench anymore, but it is currently a little
swaybacked. This doesn’t usually interfere
with work on the bench, which is why I
haven’t got ‘round to planing it out.

View JayT's profile


5675 posts in 2237 days

#4 posted 06-30-2013 04:36 PM

I’m in agreement with justjoe. What all are you going to use the workbench for?

I want mine flat enough to hold pieces stable as I am planing, cutting or chiseling. My bench is not an assembly table, so being ever so slightly out is not a big deal—it is flat enough that seasonal changes will probably cause more deviation than the top is out right now. if 1/16 is too much for your peace of mind, use a hand plane or router sled to take down the high spots. Word of caution, I would do this AFTER attaching to your base.

-- In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. Thomas Jefferson

View steliart's profile


2700 posts in 2714 days

#5 posted 06-30-2013 04:47 PM

Two ways to flatten that a jack plane or a router fixed on a leveling jig.
As for attaching your top, I would use fasteners that will allow movement. 2 cents from me :)

-- Stelios L.A. Stavrinides: - I am not so rich to buy cheap tools, but... necessity is the mother of all inventions

View Mark Colan's profile

Mark Colan

211 posts in 2871 days

#6 posted 06-30-2013 09:30 PM


My woodworking experience to date has been more about power tools than hand tools. Building this bench is part of getting more experience with planes in particular, and I don’t have much experience there beyond a block plane. Using a plane to flatten a bench is daunting to me with my current level of skills; I would not know how to approach the problem, even which plane to use. I read the article on using a router (THANKS!) and I think I could do this.


I envision using the bench for holding pieces while I’m working on them, using dogs and vice, or clamps or jigs, for both electric and hand tools. I had also expected to use it for assembly, but I do have an MDF bench that is much more flat that could be used for assembly.

-- Mark, hack amateur woodworker, Medford (greater Boston) MA

View Mark Colan's profile

Mark Colan

211 posts in 2871 days

#7 posted 06-30-2013 09:34 PM


The base is a very solid steel base with a well in the middle, which now has supports in the form of a grid of plywood slats, torsion-box style. I drilled holes through the center-lengthwise piece for holding the top down from below.

steliart said: “As for attaching your top, I would use fasteners that will allow movement.”

Can you be more specific about that? I could see drilling the holes in the base frame a bit larger than the screws that might allow some movement.

Since wood moves seasonally, I thought I should avoid attaching it at the edges, shiming instead of it is not perfectly flat onto the support. Do you agree?

-- Mark, hack amateur woodworker, Medford (greater Boston) MA

View 404 - Not Found's profile

404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 2995 days

#8 posted 06-30-2013 09:38 PM

Does this have a finish applied? If it has, does it have the same amount of finish applied top and bottom?
What’s the material, what’s the thickness? Have you tried pulling it flat with cramps?

View Mark Colan's profile

Mark Colan

211 posts in 2871 days

#9 posted 06-30-2013 09:46 PM

It is a new bench surface that has no finish yet. I have the option to apply finish to top and bottom and probably will. It is beechwood in butcher block, 1 1/2” thick. I have NOT tried pulling it flat with clamps; I’d rather not have to do that.

-- Mark, hack amateur woodworker, Medford (greater Boston) MA

View 404 - Not Found's profile

404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 2995 days

#10 posted 06-30-2013 10:01 PM

Take it back to Ikea. It’s not fit for purpose. Tell them you got it for your kitchen.

Just a thought, did you have it stored for any amount of time on the flat? This may have allowed uneven loss of moisture from it.

View NiteWalker's profile


2737 posts in 2603 days

#11 posted 06-30-2013 11:24 PM

What renners said.

-- He who dies with the most tools... dies with the emptiest wallet.

View Douglas's profile


424 posts in 2586 days

#12 posted 06-30-2013 11:32 PM

Mark, flattening a bench top with hand planes isn’t hard, it just takes some grunt work. For me, setting up a router and sled etc etc seems like a lot more work than flattening with planes. Chris Schwarz has a few videos, and of course a book, on benches in general and flattening in particular. He explains it all in about 5 minutes, and it;s really that easy. Get a #5 jack plane, a #7 jointer plane, and a #4 smoother. Those are all you need to deal with your bench, and 95% of all planing for projects.

see this:

After that, you’re all set to start working on your bench, and you have some experience fiddling with your planes.

But as others have said, 1/16th isn’t that big a deal, but if it were me, I’d take down the high spots with planes.

Good luck!

-- Douglas in Chicago -

View Dakkar's profile


324 posts in 1953 days

#13 posted 06-30-2013 11:36 PM

I would look into the router planing method. With the right wide bit, it looks quite doable. Watch this video on it:

View onsecondthought's profile


4 posts in 2077 days

#14 posted 06-30-2013 11:41 PM

I recommend you invest in a couple of hand planes and begin the true study of learning how to flatten a board. If you intend to become a woodwork, this is an excellent place to begin. As an aside, you might try mounting the top with the crown up and attaching as planned with screws in the middle… a dollar on a dime it will draw down if your base is substantial enough. Personally, I would not live with a top out that much.

View floyd1365's profile


29 posts in 1873 days

#15 posted 06-30-2013 11:43 PM

if you are more comfortable with power tools there is this also

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