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Thread: What material for a budget workbench top?

  1. #1
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    Default What material for a budget workbench top?

    I'm wondering if anyone has any thoughts on what materials to use to build a decent workbench for hand-tool use? I know Chris Shwartz recommends framing-sized SYP but that seems to be impossible to find in Ontario... All I can find is SPF which is both soft and splinters. Maple and Ash are possibilities but I'm working with a rather limited budget.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: What material for a budget workbench top?

    Try a double layer of 3/4" MDF topped by 1/4" tempered hardboard. The MDF will give you the mass and flatness and the hardboard will take a pounding but still be easy and relatively inexpensive to replace once it's been beaten up over time. That's what I used for my benches back home and what I'll be using here too.
    www.sppss.com
    "God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts!" Sign outside our Pentecostal church.

  3. #3

    Default Re: What material for a budget workbench top?

    Hi Graham,

    I have had pretty good success with heavy duty pallets used to move steel. Most of the times these pallets are vertical grain fir and true 4" square.

    Out here on the West Coast we sometimes have homes which are being demolished and you can grab old growth fir from them as well.

    Built my bench out of 4/4 birch and wouldn't do it again. The amount of money spent on glue and the extra wear on the planer knives wasn't worth it. Not to mention the time

    Just my two cents
    Dan Clermont
    Canadian Festool Dealer
    www.ultimatetools.ca

  4. #4
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    Default Re: What material for a budget workbench top?

    +1 on an MDF or hardboard top....you can flip it to renew the top when it wears, then replace it as needed. Build a frame around it from whatever you have available cheap.

  5. #5

    Default Re: What material for a budget workbench top?

    Check out David Marks or the wood whisperer's videos on Torsion Box Constitution its pretty cool man.

  6. #6

    Default Re: What material for a budget workbench top?

    My dad used left-over prefinished hardwood flooring on top of 3" fir for his top. I've always used a couple of layers of MDF with hardboard on top. I'm redoing my bench top and this time I think I'll use some 99¢ laminate flooring over the MDF for the top. I'll glue the sections together to form a big sheet and attach it with some screws. Super durable and it will look good...at least for a while. Easy to change when it gets to damaged.
    the other Ken
    ------
    I actually have enough clamps

  7. #7

    Default Re: What material for a budget workbench top?

    If you are actually using the bench for hand tools (ie hand planes) and plan to flatten wood on the bench stick to a material which can be flattened (real wood with grain).

    If your intent is to use the bench to clamp, pound chisels, etc then by all means use MDF or some other man made material and flip it once the one side gets worn

    My Two cents
    Dan Clermont
    Canadian Festool Dealer
    www.ultimatetools.ca

  8. #8
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    Default Re: What material for a budget workbench top?

    Common 2x4 in. stock covered with 3/4 in. plywood.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: What material for a budget workbench top?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan CLermont in Burnaby View Post
    If you are actually using the bench for hand tools (ie hand planes) and plan to flatten wood on the bench stick to a material which can be flattened (real wood with grain).
    I should have specified that I'm looking for solid wood. For a variety of reasons, I'm a hand-tools kind of guy. I do have a small table saw, bandsaw and a jointer/planer for bulk removal but really enjoy working with hand planes, chisels, gouges and rasps. The bench will either be a French 'Roubo' style or a continental European design (Klauz/Frid).

    My issue with wood sources is that SYP seems to be well suited AND inexpensive in the states... there are plenty of local hardwoods in Ontario that are well suited but prices for 8/4 and 12/4 stock would require me to re-morgage.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: What material for a budget workbench top?

    would it be possible to find some hardwood flooring that could be used. Sometimes the end stocks are a little cheaper.

  11. #11

    Default Re: What material for a budget workbench top?

    fine woodworking had a pretty net bench set up consisting of mdf and pipe clamps

  12. #12
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    Default Re: What material for a budget workbench top?

    I have used soft maple for my traditional workbench. It was not too expensive and I found it easy to work with.

  13. #13
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    Default Local Sawmill

    There are alot of small sawmills around. I would keep an eye in the pennysaver and call a few mills up to see if they have anything. Alot of maple has dark steaks in it and they often clear it out on the cheap.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: What material for a budget workbench top?

    Use the SPF lumber. It works very well, durable...sure, it isn't as pretty as some of the boardroom tables/workbenches that you may see people make, but you won't feel bad drilling into it accidentally.
    You can plane them flat with handplanes...what else can I say. Cheap as well.
    I don't recomend using 2x4s however. Buy 2x10s and rip them down to 3" widths. The 2x10s are straighter and not nearly as wet as 2x4s.
    -------
    Cheers,
    --Rick

  15. #15
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    J.P.

    Default Re: What material for a budget workbench top?

    I'm a scrounger and a bit of a pack rat so my three benches were built at no material cost.
    The first bench I built was about 20 years ago. I used that bench in my old shop and recently set it up in my new shop as a metal working bench.
    DSCF7716.jpg
    It's constructed from recycled pallets. I don't know what kind of wood it is but its hardwood. It has sagged about 1/32" in the middle but that may be a result of being stored outside for a couple years. The 2"X6" cap on the end (originally part of the end vice) is what I started with for the whole bench.

    My other two benches are long narrow benches. The tops are made from a solid core door (found) and covered with 1/4" mahogany ply (reclaimed packing material).
    All are solid as a rock. The wood one is thick enough to be resurface a number of times if needed and the others I can replace the ply when it gets worn. I would have used masonite(hard board) for the tops but the ply was free.

    Look around in industrial areas. Particularly if there are any metal working companies around you. They use hardwood pallets. Not skids, pallets. I got my pallets at a metal stamping company. They were all 8' 2x6. The pieces all contained the pith which was ripped out and discarded. The remainder was laminated on edge so the top is all quarter sawn grain.

    FWIW
    J.P. Rap Mount Hope Ont.
    Carpe Ductum (Seize The Tape)


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  16. #16
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    Default Re: What material for a budget workbench top?

    ....I echo the advice from Jim......

    ... a dozen years ago when I built my maple workbench I looked in something like the "buy n sell" and found people out in country who had woodlots and found a stash of seemingly forgotten maple; not all rail straight or unstained but cheap (I think I paid a couple of hundred and filled my full size F150; enough to make three benches) and the stuff cleaned up easily with the 6" jointer and a 10" planer I had at the time....

    ...if you go the big box store spruce route, pick up a $20 moisture meter from Princess Auto to dry the stuff out to about 10% before you do the glue up .....

    good luck

    michael

  17. #17

    Default Re: What material for a budget workbench top?

    I'd go for the mdf , with or without the sacrificial hardboard top. It gives a very solid, heavy bench which will stand up to a lot of use. I have three benches all with 3/4 mdf tops.
    Glenn

  18. #18
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    I.B.Woodworker

    Default Re: What material for a budget workbench top?

    I just went with the standard construction wood method. As suggested, O splurged and went with 2x8 as they had the best bang for the buck. The grain is pretty much all pointing in the right direction and didn't warp to hell when I left it in the garage for 3 weeks to get them to dry out for a bit.

    Took them over to the table saw and ripped them in half. Some glue, clamps and a whack of caulls to keep them all lined up, and a bottle of Titebond with a brush to put the glue on and away I went.

    Glued up about 11" thickness of boards together so that I could run it through the planer to get it closer to the flafness that I would want. Then took 3 sets of boards and glued them together.

    Some work with a LV bever up jack plane to get it back to being as flat as I needed. This has been a good work surface for me. and a good learning point for when I do get around to making one from real hardwood.



    As with any surface in my shop.. if it's flat then it will get covered with something. I need to get a better tool organization system going I think.

    Matt.

  19. #19
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    Steve Morris

    Default Re: What material for a budget workbench top?

    i just picked a couple of hundred bdft of white oak, a mixmatch of sizes, some 4/4 some 7/4 at a dollar a bdft, the guy also had tons of red oak at 50 cents a foot

    i cant remember the location, i'll have to check it out if your interested, he's an hour max south and west of you

    i built my frid style bench with white ash a few years ago

    of course you'll need jointing and planing facilities!!

    http://www.canadianwoodworking.com/c...il.php?id=2805
    Last edited by stevem; 06-26-2009 at 06:22 AM.
    my shop is a beaver lodge
    steve, sarnia, ont

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