White fir as workbench material?

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Forum topic by ScottStewart posted 03-04-2014 09:37 PM 2042 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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119 posts in 2127 days

03-04-2014 09:37 PM

So the Schwarz has let me down…

This bench is going to be my garage bench this summer and then moved to the basement in cold weather so I can be a 4 season ww. Next year I am going to make a lifetime bench for the garage out of hard maple, benchcrafted, etc., but this year I need something more economical.

Someplace Schwarz wrote to go to BORG and look at the wide SYP boards to make a workbench. I went to 2 of the local borgs and both of them have the ugliest stuff I have ever seen in the 2×10x10 and 2×12x10 bins.

The 2×6’s actually look decent. A fair number of small knots, is this a deal breaker? They are labeled as white fir. I have heard of people building out of Douglas fir, but is white fir close to the same working characteristics? At $5.86/10 ft board, I guesstimate it would take 17-18 boards to make a top and then the base materials. (24×96 top)
Figure $250-300 for wood materials using the white fir.

I can buy soft maple from wunderwoods for $3.00/bf (don’t know the grading, but I’ve heard good things about Mr. Wunder.) and bencrafted says they buy 200 bf to build their style bench, so around $600 in soft maple.


10 replies so far

View rance's profile


4258 posts in 3155 days

#1 posted 03-04-2014 10:02 PM

I think the White Fir would be just fine. I think you would be very happy with it. I can’t see the use in spending an extra $300 for the Soft Maple. I’d save that towards a nice Domino jointer.

I read that in his book too. It is good advice. I’m sure the galoots will step in and say you have to use hard maple, without having any background as to why. Schwarz tells you why to use SYP, and it makes sense.

I consider a bench to be a consumable tool. And I’ve NEVER seen any woodworker wear one out. They usually find out they built theirs wrong and don’t like it, or they’ve changed the type of woodworking they do and it no longer meets their needs or preferences.

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

View TerryDowning's profile


1077 posts in 2112 days

#2 posted 03-04-2014 10:31 PM

After doing some additional research on benches and bench materials most old timey woodworkers had no particular preference for hard vs. soft woods. For the most part they used what was available for the lowest cost. It’s a beat on tool meant to take abuse.

Joiners and Carpenters were small businessmen doing the best they could to manage costs just like today.

Go for it.

-- - Terry

View jmos's profile


827 posts in 2365 days

#3 posted 03-04-2014 11:12 PM

In Schwarz’s second workbench book he specifically says go with what is available; big, cheap and dry I believe were his criterion. He raves about SYP, but it’s not terribly available around me. I used LVL beams, which were made out of SYP, and cheaper than hardwood (on my blog if you’re interested.) Construction lumber will work fine; just try to pick the best boards you can get.

Make your bench too pretty and you’ll be afraid to use it!

-- John

View JayT's profile


5623 posts in 2206 days

#4 posted 03-04-2014 11:42 PM

I used SPF construction lumber for my first bench and have no regrets. My plan was/is to use the bench for a while and then either build a new bench or just replace the top with hardwood once I have a better idea of what features are working for me and what isn’t. If I don’t find any serious deficiencies, then I’ll just keep the current bench and not worry about how pretty or what wood. As Terry said, a workbench is just a large tool. If it works well, then who cares about the rest.

The only reason I want to go with hardwood is to add mass, but I’m finding that my softwood bench doesn’t move even under the heaviest planing and cutting, so that may just be a moot point.

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

View bondogaposis's profile


4723 posts in 2346 days

#5 posted 03-05-2014 12:01 AM

I used poplar and ash for my Roubo because I could get clear 8/4 cheaper than the knotty DF construction lumber available when you consider how much more waste there would have been trying work around all of those knots.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View firefighterontheside's profile


18156 posts in 1852 days

#6 posted 03-05-2014 12:26 AM

I believe white fir is going to be much softer than Doug fir, but I would not worry about that. My bench is made from a piece of bowling lane which is yellow pine. I would think it doesn’t matter in the long run. No matter what you use it’s gonna get dinged up. Spend a little less on it and more on a tool. Just my opinion.

-- Bill M. "People change, walnut doesn't" by Gene.

View djwong's profile


176 posts in 3215 days

#7 posted 03-05-2014 12:27 AM

I purchased Douglas fir 4×6’s from the Borg. I was checking in a couple of nights a week, for months, before an acceptable selection showed up. If you are not in a rush, then keep checking your local borg’s selection until something you can work with appears. If you don’t have the time, then spend the money at your local hardwood purveyor.

-- David W. Cupertino, CA

View Woodknack's profile


11608 posts in 2375 days

#8 posted 03-05-2014 02:05 AM

I built a small bench from Borg yellow pine 2×6’s and it has held up well going on 18 years. It ain’t pretty because I’ve haven’t babied it, but it has remained fairly flat and that old pine is fairly resilient.

-- Rick M,

View lightcs1776's profile


4200 posts in 1649 days

#9 posted 03-05-2014 03:38 AM

SYP isn’t available up here. I used 2×6 pine, which is listed as spruce-pine-fir, for my wife’s lathe bench. It worked out well. However, I did go with ash for the woodworking bench, but that was because I could get it at nearly the same cost, although it was rough cut as opposed to 4s4. I think you would likely do fine with the white pine.

-- Chris ** If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace. — Tom Paine **

View jdh122's profile


1008 posts in 2813 days

#10 posted 03-05-2014 05:04 PM

According to the wood-database, white fir is a fair bit softer than Douglas fir (Janka hardness 480 and 620 respectively, while SYP is closer to 870). So it’s a very soft wood – but I made mine out of spruce construction lumber (the only SPF that is available locally), and it only rates at 520, which pretty soft too. I find it works fine – it certainly never marks up any of my projects. I will have to do a re-flattening relatively soon, but that’s mostly because I chisel dovetails and other joints directly on the surface and have even been known to carve spoons with an ax without putting any protection down on the workbench.

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

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