Tommy Hall

Work Bench Top Thickness

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I'm looking to build a new work bench that my kids will be pleased to inherit.  I'm using a Hovarter wagon vice on the right side and a face vice on the left front.  I like hard Maple as I'm a abusive wood worker, and drop everything on my bench.  I'm using round dog holes and do not use hold down at this point.  My question to the group is the thickness of the bench.  I'm thinking of 2x6 Hard Maple and ripping it in half for a 2 1/2 thick top and 6 inch sides.

Tommy Hall  Amesbury, MA

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I have 3.875" think laminated ash top on a split top. I would rebuild the bench before I would give up any thickness on the top. 

 2.5 I'm sure would be fine for most jobs but if you're starting with wanting this thing to be an heirloom bench, I would go no thinner than 3.5" if I had the  initial width boards for it, I would have gone 4.5" 

The thickness comes into play for me while pounding mortises. The THUD that comes from hitting the top with a mallet barely transfers enough vibration to the legs to feel it with your foot on the bottom stretcher. I believe that is the mass in play.

My last bench was 2.25" think oak top. That didn't cut it.

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You also want to remember that if you end up with a ripped thickness of 2 1/2 inches, buy the time you glue them up and plane them flat, they won't be 2 1/2 inches any more.  Depending on how well you glue up goes, you could end up 2 inches or less.

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2.5" is pretty slim to use traditional hold-fasts, but more importantly, is thin enough to flex when pounding your motising chisel. You can get around that by working over the leg, but you also want mass to make it stable for planing operations. Again, bolting a lighter bench to the floor can work around that issue.

If saving mayerial is your goal, and you can live without using traditional hold-fasts, perhaps you could include a 4" wide board between ever 3 or 4 two inch boards in your lamination. That would at least give it stiffness. 

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Thank for the input.  Sounds reasonable. I've done a few piece of furniture and kitchens out of Ash but never thought of it for my bench top, any feelings on an Ash work bench visa Hard Maple?  Is the grain to open?  I'm not sure where they are cutting up the Emerald Beetle trees in MA yet but it would a nice idea to recycle the dead wood.

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Milne is hard maple 3" thick.  I have been very happy with it.

You mentioned 6" sides, does that mean that the outer laminations will be thicker?  Before you do that think about what happens when you wnat to clamp something rto your bench.  I would not amke the sides or edges thick than the rest of the table.  OR did I misunderstand?

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9 hours ago, Tommy Hall said:

... any feelings on an Ash work bench visa Hard Maple?  Is the grain to open? ...

I have seen several bench builds done in ash, should not be an issue.

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I can't speak for all ash, but my ash bench has served me quite well.

I will caveat with, I am very hard on a bench. I use it as a tool and the look is secondary to performance in my shop So, if I had the choice again, I would go hard Maple for the top over ash.   The reason is, when I chop into, cut into, ding decently the surface of the bench, I will drip epoxy in and scrape flat the next time I have some going.  My bench face has already had quite a few band aids out on it just in the year and a half I've used it. I think hard Maple would be harder to hurt, therefore making a little less upkeep.

Now, this could easily be resolved by working over a backer piece when you may screw up the surface. . I just don't. I guess I'm hooked on the pound of cure..

Either wood, of decent thickness will give you a nice top.

Attach135446_20180128_075317.jpg

Attach135447_20180128_075330.jpg

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Most hardwood isn't sold in stock sizes like framing lumber, and if it is they are probably charging a premium price for it. 

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29 minutes ago, wdwerker said:

Most hardwood isn't sold in stock sizes like framing lumber, and if it is they are probably charging a premium price for it. 

They closed a couple of years ago but we used to have a lumber yard here that did this.  Everything was 3/4 X 2", or 4", or 6" and so on, same with 1 1/2 " thick.  Everything was S4S almost to a point of being finish ready.  This was nice for people that didn't have a shop full of tools but man, was it expensive, last time I even poked my head in there was right before they closed.  Something like red oak was around $7 bd ft, walnut was almost $20 and you can imagine what some of he exotics went for.  

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1 hour ago, wdwerker said:

Most hardwood isn't sold in stock sizes like framing lumber, and if it is they are probably charging a premium price for it. 

Yep I ended up with quite a few 2" square cutoffs from my roubo build but saved them and have slowly been using them up. They make great end grain cutting boards.

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What is the feeling on a finish, if any, on a work bench.  Does it matter if you put rods through the top, I did it in one years ago but never felt it mattered.  My daughter has that one and I've not taken a good look at it's flatness in years.   It's top is more of a storage unit!  We are lucky around here to still have a lumber yard that sells all kinds of burls and woods, they mill the wood and only charge maybe 10 to 20 percent more.  It's really nice for sending your client to pick out their on wood.   Yankee Pine Lumber in Rowley, MA.   I like to mill my on stock though.

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On 1/28/2018 at 11:10 AM, Tommy Hall said:

What is the feeling on a finish, if any, on a work bench. 

Does it matter if you put rods through the top, 

I went Danish oil and it's really superbly ok. Nothing special, does it's job. I keep the left side of the bench pretty well waxed as that's where I glue up. Works well too

 

What do you mean?  I'm picturing boring through the now massive slab to clamp in some threaded rod. If so, that sounds like a lot of work for not much gain if any.

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If I wanted a hard wood bench this thick I would find a sawyer or saw mill and see what they had available. Some of these guys have kilns and could likely save you a lot of money over buying the same thing from lumber yards.

I'm not a neander woodworker, so I never felt that I needed a bench this heavily built.  I use power tools  for most heavy woodworking, so I have never found the need for such a heavy bench. I have a Leigh FMT Pro for all of my mortise and tenon needs, so no need for heavy pounding and chopping. I have a Leigh D4R for cutting dovetails too.

 For me, the best work bench that I ever made was built from a commercial smooth faced solid core door about 2" thick. I trimmed off the hinge and door latch areas and mounted it on a heavy construction lumber frame.  I think I had about $40 invested in making it, but this was about 35 years ago.  I left it behind in my prior home, because it was too large and heavy for me to get out of the basement shop by myself. I was downsizing my shop in the move as well, so left it behind for  the new homeowner. Not every woodworker needs a workbench with a 3 or 4" thick hardwood top or can even afford the cost of building one this heavy duty.

Charley

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1 hour ago, CharleyL said:

Not every woodworker needs a workbench with a 3 or 4" thick hardwood top or can even afford the cost of building one this heavy duty.

Charley

In theory I agree, but of all the wood workers I know, I've never heard one say their bench was too well built, too sturdy, or regret a thicker top. I'm also not convinced it needs to be hardwood. Lots of guys work on thick SYP tops and love them at a lower cost to build

On the other hand, I've read dozens on here complaining about their thin work surface, moving sawhorse/door bench while building a beefier one.  Maybe it's trendy but looking back at some old, actual heirloom benches, I don't see many with a 2" top

It's obviously one of those, no right answer as everyone's different.

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36 minutes ago, Brendon_t said:

Lots of guys work on thick SYP

I hate mine. It's 4" thick and has not stayed even remotely close to flat. It's a frown with 1/4" drop from center to both sides. it was an M before i took a hand plane to it.

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1 hour ago, Chestnut said:

I hate mine. It's 4" thick and has not stayed even remotely close to flat. It's a frown with 1/4" drop from center to both sides. it was an M before i took a hand plane to it.

And is that a fault of the wood species, construction, or material prep? If properly dried and laminated, I don't think you can blame the wood. There are thousands of pieces of furniture across the southern US made from it back to the early settlements and I've never heard that they won't stay flat or stable. 

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5 minutes ago, Brendon_t said:

And is that a fault of the wood species, construction, or material prep? If properly dried and laminated, I don't think you can blame the wood. There are thousands of pieces of furniture across the southern US made from it back to the early settlements and I've never heard that they won't stay flat or stable. 

Maybe it's the huge humidity swings in the midwest winter is 10% summer 70% @65 degrees. I don't think the south is anything other than humid. Also you say furniture, they made furniture with laminated 4" thick tops? Also i don't think it's fair to compare today's plantation pine to yesteryears old growth pine.

If you want to question my construction or material prep go for it but i won't recommend pine tops any more.

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I made mine out of SPF(I think it's spruce based on the grain).   It's stayed flat...   I do see some movement winter to summer, but it's mostly with the width as I notice the legs stop being flush in the front by about 1/8".

But mine is in a basement with humidifier and dehumidifier so relative humidity is pretty stable at around 30-40% year round.

 

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1 hour ago, Chestnut said:

 

If you want to question my construction or material prep go for it but i won't recommend pine tops any more.

Reread. I clearly asked You where the fault lies. I don't know your bench and would be stupid to speculate but if you want to damn an entire very common wood species because your top moved, you should expect it to raise an eyebrow. This is a forum, not everything said is gospel and too many pass opinion off as fact so my question was intended to help find out what YOU thought. 

It seems you believe that SYP in general is not suitable to be glued together because it won't stay flat. Is that correct?

I built the above with Ash, dried myself and had to flatten after a year. It's not the ash fault. It's mine because I built too soon.  

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Even the Schwarz has said he has to flatten the top of his SPF benches more than once...but he also said it is less work each time as it continues to stabilize/dry more and more.  It will eventually stay mostly flat, but as usual it's a tradeoff between the cost of the material and the value of your time.

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2 hours ago, Brendon_t said:

Reread. I clearly asked You where the fault lies. I don't know your bench and would be stupid to speculate but if you want to damn an entire very common wood species because your top moved, you should expect it to raise an eyebrow. This is a forum, not everything said is gospel and too many pass opinion off as fact so my question was intended to help find out what YOU thought. 

It seems you believe that SYP in general is not suitable to be glued together because it won't stay flat. Is that correct?

I built the above with Ash, dried myself and had to flatten after a year. It's not the ash fault. It's mine because I built too soon.  

Oooo sorry rough day at work was a little defensive from the get go. Thatn's no excuse for not reading properly though.

Umm i think the biggest downfall is consistency of material. I should also specify not SYP probably more construction lumber. Some of the boards were tight grain others were 3 rings an inch. Combining the inconsistent material in the top i think is the issue the slower growth boards have expanded and contracted less. If i went out and bought all select pine i don't think it'd be any different from buying hardwood, probably more expensive though. Good quality pine ain't cheap.

I enjoy working old VG fir, and some of the old pine I've had is awesome stable. I lumped an entire species and that isn't fair. I don't think it's a great idea to build a bench from construction lumber unless you let it dry for a long time before you build with it or you'll run into issues. I can't remember what the cost was for my bench but buying some of the cheaper hardwoods and getting a decent bulk price It's worth what ever the cost difference would be. I remember i paid at least $100 for the pine I could probably make a pretty rough cheap top from hardwood for not much more. If i bought from cremona probably equal.

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For what it's worth, I talked to Jay Bates about his opinion of the two Roubo-ish benches he has built. First was box store SYP from 2 x 12 stock, the second was hickory. 

Not accounting for the pain of milling and building with hickory, he said he preferred to work at the pine bench. Slightly softer and grippier surface, far easier to flatten when it was needed. A little 'deader', less likely to bounce when striking a chisel.

Having said that, Jay found cleaner, clearer SYP stock from his box store in MS than I have seen anywhere. Ever. Maybe not the tightest of rings, but not bad, and I don't think there is a knot to be found.

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