Dhall65

optional wood for bench top

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Well it's time to make a work bench top. I've been looking for some soft maple but here in Santa Barbara California, that seems to be unavailable .

Every local saw mill says to use poplar . Can't say I would like a green bench top. Has anyone used Doug fir?

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You can use whatever wood you want but some are harder to dent than others. On the Janka scale Douglas Fir is a softer wood that will dent. Poplar is not listed in Schwarz's Workbenches from Design & Theory, p17. He uses wood like Southern Yellow Pine but says any wood can work. Ash, White Oak, & Hard Maple are much harder, but likely more expensive.

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I wouldn't use poplar...too soft, around 500 on the Janka scale.  I'd go with something between 800 and 1400...around 1,100 would be ideal IMO.  I built mine with soft maple which is between 700-900 depending on the species...I wish it was just a wee bit harder.

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In my personal experience, poplar has been easier to dent than Douglas for. But either will make a fine workbench. You're going to beat it up anyway, right? For myself, I chose to use construction grade lumber. I don't expect to use this bench forever, so spending money on nice hardwood would just be a waste. Maybe later, if it appears a later generation might want to use it, I would build a show-piece bench.

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==> Every local saw mill says to use poplar

find a new mill... :)

 

How much do you use hand tools and with what type of wood? If you pound-out mortises in Hard Maple or exotics, then I'd suggest you go for a harder top (think Hard Maple). If you primarily need the bench to hold stock while you use a router, then a softer top is just fine (think SYP).

 

Chris recommends the 'use what you have' school of bench building... But Chris is the The Shwarz (said in a hushed tone).. When his benchtop gets banged-up, he'll just resurface it in about 10mins... Or just build another one in a weekend... We mere mortals normally strive for something more durable...

 

One point here, while Chris does use what ever he has lying around to make benches, if you follow his blog, he's had to repair several of his benches for splits, cracks, general failures, etc. Some of the issues are down to taking his benches on the road for shows, some to folks misusing his bench at demos and some are down to the wood. If you read his bench books, you'll see some pretty creative wood selection, but if you read the fine print, you'll see that he reports issues on several of these after six months use...

 

If cost is an issue, I'd go Ash. Due to an extreme supply/demand imbalance (created by insect activity and govt subsidies), Ash is at all-time lows (usually well below $3/bf and on-par with SYP)... At this point, most dealers won't inventory Ash (there's only one dealer within 50 miles that has it, but he stores it in a separate shed at the edge of his yard) but most dealers will order it in. My local guy keeps Ash inventory for cabinet shops that need to match existing... It was popular around here to make kitchen cabinets in the the '90s...

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Having grown up and lived in California, I'd say you shouldn't have too many issues finding a source for oak.  It may be more expensive but it would supply sufficient hardness to make a good working bench that will last.

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If Santa Barbara has no wood, consider ordering wood in Burbank, may be the San Fernando Valley has a big lumber supplier where you can buy any species  you want.

Worst case scenario, go to Los Angeles ... can you visit a supplier during normal business hours?

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==> Worst case scenario, go to Los Angeles

 

Most benches require between 130bf (say Roubo/English/etc) to about 220bf (Shaker) -- The rest are in between... These are approximate cutlist numbers, so you need approx 20% over that for rough stock...

 

Point is, at that quantity, you can mail order from someone like Bell Forrest Products and the shipping fee is amortized over a larger order... They also have pre-picked kits... I think HM, SM, Ash and SYP.

 

http://www.bellforestproducts.com/exotic-lumber-projects/roubo-workbench/

 

Bell's core business is Maple, I'd go with that... If you're looking to save a few $$, Ash or SYP is the way to go...

 

I've ordered figured maple from BFP and got some really nice sticks...

 

Worth a look...

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The poplar would be fine. Even chopping dovetails, you press the board on the table, then start chopping, so the hardness shouldn't really be much of an issue. My first bench was poplar and while I had issues with that bench, hardness was never one of them. The green turns a really nice brown over time. Use oak or something harder for the first few inches (or even the whole front slab) of the bench, and poplar for the rest if you are really worried. I never quite understood why people feel they need a super hard bench.

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"Super hard" isn't something I would want or need, but poplar is so soft...you can dent that stuff with your fingernail.

 

A bench is a bench, it's gonna get beat up, it's a tool and not a piece of furniture...all that cliche stuff that I generally agree with.  But it's still a massive project and a very cool fixture (the coolest fixture) in your shop.  And to me a rite of passage and an expression of yourself as a woodworker.  I went into my bench project expecting it to be the last one I'll ever build.  Ever.  So a project that you want to live with for the rest of your life...that's a long time...I think deserves a little extra consideration and investment on the front end.  No, a workbench isn't a piece of fine furniture (though some look just as nice), but it isn't a throw-away jig either.

 

Anyway, that's just one opinion.  Some people have no emotional attachment.  And it's not that poplar wouldn't last a lifetime...I just personally wouldn't want it to. :)

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I've used Douglas Fir on my last two benches, and is now the wood of choice for my benches. It's "cheap", stiff, stable, and it also looks great as it ages.  As far as I'm concerned, dents don't effect bench "performance".  Having a wood that is easy to plane is a big plus, when it comes to flatting your top.

 

Mike

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I built by current bench, an 8' modern split top, ~ 5 years ago from ash.   It's been terrific!

 

At my local dealers here in Connecticut ash is pretty cheap, ~ $.05 bd/ft more than poplar.   If I were doing it all over today, I'd still spend the extra $10 (using 200 bd/ft as a constant) to use ash again, as it's harder, heavier, and looks better to my eye than poplar.

 

Poplar, and many other woods, will all work...   So use what makes sense in your locality.

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Following Christopher Schwarz's advice in his book, I looked for the cheapest, most readily available wood in my area.  In the Pacific  Northwest that's Fir.  So that's what I'm using and judging by the other comments here, I think it will be fine.  One advantage is that it is soft enough so that my projects will probably dent the bench instead of the other way around. that also makes it a very workable wood.

 

Because I'm building my bench based on Chris' book as well as Jameel's plans and Marc's videos, I bought 12' 2X12s.  After milling I'm able to get a finished thickness of 1 3/8" which just means on extra lamination per side.

 

At Woodworking in America in Pasedena last year, Roy Underhill worked on a bench made by a local woodworker.  Made of VG Fir it was a work of art.  I'm sorry I don't remember the name of the owner--do remember his fabulous mustache though. :)

 

Ted

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I'm in the PNW as well and lots of folks use fir. It's a trade off of softness - for the reasons mentioned above - and weight. Heavy benches are better - imho. A friend has a large fir bench with two 80 lb bags of concrete resting on the bottom shelf. Bam problem solved. I've used his bench and I'll probably do something similar when I need a new one...perhaps I'll find some of those weights farmers use on their tractors for a more interesting look and feel.

Sent from my KFTHWI using Tapatalk HD

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