Workbench top materials


Tom Cancelleri
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I'm gonna be working on a bench suited for woodworking versus my current work bench situation. I'm aiming for a it to be used as an outfeed for my table saw as well. I tossed around the idea of using framed MDF for the top, but not so much a good choice if I'm gonna have holes for dogs, and I want it solid and go 2" thick top. I'm thinking the following:

 

Beech

Maple

Ash

 

I was also thinking maybe maple for the frame and beech for the top. I can get beech for around $3.00 per bf. The table top will be around 6 feet long and 40 inches deep. Style will also be a modified Roubo style bench.

 

What are your thoughts on bench top materials?

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All good choices.  I'd use hard maple instead of soft if you go with maple.  Mine is soft and I kind of regret it.

 

Don't listen to that lunatic who drives nails into his bench.  That's crazy talk.

 

I'd go with closer to a 4" slab...thicker the better.  Build it once.

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Thanks for asking this T.  I was in the process of ordering the Roubo package from Bell Forest.  I was debating soft vs hard maple and was leaning towards soft maple based on comments here and elsewhere  that softer material was kinder to your workpiece.  May just have to change my choice.

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Any reason you couldn't go multiple sheets of hard wood plywood? Just thinking I'm not ready for laminating yet.

Depends on your needs. If you do mostly machine work, a heavy bench isn't as critical, and a plywood top would be fine. Hand tool work uses the bench as a work-holding device, so it needs mass for stability. As for wood species, my bench is made from construction lumber, and I find it to work well. Plus I don't mind dents, dings or spills. My bench is only 5' x 22", I've not found a need for larger yet.
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Thanks for asking this T.  I was in the process of ordering the Roubo package from Bell Forest.  I was debating soft vs hard maple and was leaning towards soft maple based on comments here and elsewhere  that softer material was kinder to your workpiece.  May just have to change my choice.

 

Dave, there's a lumber place called Eco friendly lumber which is in Catharpin VA, and tons of people on Craigslist selling lumber. They have some pretty good prices. Usually the more you buy the lower the board foot price. If you're interested, we could go in together and double our order and get a better deal on the wood. 

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I vote for spruce/pine/fir framing lumber for the top.  Ask yourself, when you are holding up, and admiring that nice piece you are working on, and it slips, what do you want it to land on.....Maple, which is harder than the piece, or softwood, that is, well, softer than the piece?

 

A very valid point Jim. However I use padded router mats on my current bench when working on guitars and the give in the pad keeps things protected.

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I vote for spruce/pine/fir framing lumber for the top.  Ask yourself, when you are holding up, and admiring that nice piece you are working on, and it slips, what do you want it to land on.....Maple, which is harder than the piece, or softwood, that is, well, softer than the piece?

 

I used to hold that theory, too, but I've changed my mind.  I've dropped bubinga on my soft maple bench, and guess what?  They BOTH dent.  The bench takes the worst of it, but the workpiece doesn't come out unscathed.  Best approach is to not drop your work pieces. ;)

 

My bench is starting to show its age.  That's okay, it's a bench.  But I think in the long, long run, a harder bench is better.  I'll never build another one unless my shop burns down, but if I do, it will be hard maple.

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My benchtop is 3 layers of MDF, with a 1 x 3  hard maple banding.  This thing is dead flat, HEAVY, and has held up very very well.  I got the plan from FWW a few years back.  The base is all maple, so that also adds to the mass.  Its not a roubo or super fancy, but it is SOLID, durable, easy to build, and can be modified easily.  I added a few different vices than the author, and added a storage shelf underneath.

 

http://www.finewoodworking.com/item/42784/build-your-first-workbench/page/all

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I'm gonna be working on a bench suited for woodworking versus my current work bench situation. I'm aiming for a it to be used as an outfeed for my table saw as well. I tossed around the idea of using framed MDF for the top, but not so much a good choice if I'm gonna have holes for dogs, and I want it solid and go 2" thick top. I'm thinking the following:

 

Beech

Maple

Ash

 

I was also thinking maybe maple for the frame and beech for the top. I can get beech for around $3.00 per bf. The table top will be around 6 feet long and 40 inches deep. Style will also be a modified Roubo style bench.

 

What are your thoughts on bench top materials?

T Can.....of your choices, I think I'd do the ash.  Some wworkers like softer materials like soft maple because it dents more easily and instead of the piece you're building.  I kind of like the durability and look of ash.  I did notice  you're saying you'll build your bench 40" deep.  That's really deep.  Since it's doubling as an outfeed table (and not against a wall), reaching across it won't be an issue to get tools; but what you may consider (since you're building a Roubo bench) is have one slab of the top 25" wide and the other 14" wide allowing 1" between the slabs. Put the wider slab away from the table saw and as you're working, you'll have 25" to work on but the full 40" will still be available for assembly situations.  At 60" in length, only part of the bench would truly be used as outfeed table so on the other end, you could have a vise and a place to store hand tools between the slabs as you work. At 25" & 14" wide, you could still reach them.  I've never seen a Roubo style bench like this but I don't see why it couldn't work.

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