Tommy Hall

Work Bench Top Thickness

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Mine is 1 1/2" thick, MDF over plywood. It works, was cheap, could be better but can also easily be replaced with something "real" some day. Meanwhile it takes a lot of abuse and I don't care too much if I ding it. I envy the maple benches though, tbh.

I did edge it with white oak for sturdy edges, as spf and plywood suck on edge strength.  You can kinda see it in this pic...

C244A00F-D278-4FA1-AC0E-1BD214B8AF0E.jpeg

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I just built a new bench this summer. The base of mine is hard maple, but I did a 3 layer MDF top (edged in 2. 1/4 " wide Maple). Its super flat, very heavy, and very durable. I think it's a perfect compromise of "new" and "old" school.

I installed a Veritas Twin screw vise on the end, and its very versatile!

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I'm about due for a bench upgrade.  I need better work holding options, as I really only have a homemade "twin screw" pipe-clamp vise ala Jay Bates.  I have dog holes that I use bench dogs as planing stops and such.  My current bench is only two layers of ply.  I'm not sure if I will go all out Roubo, or if I will do a LOT of laminations of ply or MDF.  The thought of spending the money for Roubo materials isn't appealing to me (I know, lifetime bench, yada yada yada), but I do know that I will go at least 3" thick for the top, 4" if I do a BC end vise, no matter what style bench I do.

 

 

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I've got a ~10 year old plywood bench that has it's deficiencies for handwork especially (not completely flat, vice not flush with legs/apron, ...).  While I'd like a Roubo if it magically appeared in my shop, one intermediate thing I've been thinking about doing is building a Shannon Rogers style joinery bench instead for the handwork I actually do, leaving the plywood bench for machine work, assembly etc type stuff. Having experimented with dimensioning wood entirely by hand I know I definitely don't want to do that, so I'm just looking for a good system for joinery type handwork.

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13 hours ago, bleedinblue said:

I'm about due for a bench upgrade.  I need better work holding options, as I really only have a homemade "twin screw" pipe-clamp vise ala Jay Bates.  I have dog holes that I use bench dogs as planing stops and such.  My current bench is only two layers of ply.  I'm not sure if I will go all out Roubo, or if I will do a LOT of laminations of ply or MDF.  The thought of spending the money for Roubo materials isn't appealing to me (I know, lifetime bench, yada yada yada), but I do know that I will go at least 3" thick for the top, 4" if I do a BC end vise, no matter what style bench I do.

 

 

I would definitely spend the money on the leg vise. Never on the tail vise. 

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My particular workflow favors a smaller workbench for joinery, with a large assembly surface, usually ply over horses. My bench top is laminated SPF, and performs well in most regards. The only downside I find in such a soft bench is that holdfasts tend to wear out the holes easily.

Next one is likely to be SYP. I talked with Jay Bates after he built his second bench from hickory. He claims to prefer doing hand work on the SYP bench. The hard hickory bench has too much "rebound" against mallet strikes, resulting in more hand fatigue.

Also, I use the double pipe clamp vise design, and really like it. Having the width to drop vertical pieces between the pipes is great, as is the flexibility of letting it rack to hold odd shapes.

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11 hours ago, Brendon_t said:

I would definitely spend the money on the leg vise. Never on the tail vise. 

The end vise there's more options. The one piece of BC hardware that is required is the criss cross mechanism. Everything else you can decide whether you want to go for higher quality or for lower cost. I've been pretty happy with my improvised vise hardware, although I'm not going to kid myself that it's as nice as the bench crafted stuff. I could always switch later if I really felt it was worth it.

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17 hours ago, pkinneb said:

All I'll say is I went 30 years without a proper bench and after building the BC split top Roubo probably $2K all in I would let go of a lot of tools I spent way more on before the bench would go. Along with hand tools It's totally raised the quality of my work, more than any other tool in my shop. Oh and just becuase I love this pic here it is again :) 

991940792_WBFc1.thumb.JPG.716851d766572ea427521dc43b5cf43b.JPG

It's a beautiful bench! I like the picture too! :)

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One thing worth mentioning is the thickness should depend a bit on the size of the bench. The 3 or 4 inch thick tops make the most sense for benches that are around 8 feet long, if you have a shorter bench, you can get equivalent stiffness with less thickness. My crude little bench is 4 feet long and has a top of 2 sheets of laminated 3/4” plywood. Stiffness of the top has never been an issue, though it does have many other issues, as it was one of my first projects and I built it before I knew what a proper workbench was. 

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1 hour ago, Isaac said:

One thing worth mentioning is the thickness should depend a bit on the size of the bench. The 3 or 4 inch thick tops make the most sense for benches that are around 8 feet long, if you have a shorter bench, you can get equivalent stiffness with less thickness. 

Good point. Traditional benches were overly thick according to your statement for two primary reasons. The first was available holding devices (holdfasts.) The second was the number of times the bench could be resurfaced and milled true before it was too thin for those devices or it potato chips on you. That is often key with monolithic slabs.

This is a long game calculation and not necessarily a consideration here.  I just want to keep these conversations more complete.

Anymore, we have tremendous work holding options that don’t need the thickness and we don’t often need to correct glued up slabs. We also tend to beat them up less in our power tool friendly work flows. 

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Isaac, your comments about thickness on a smaller workbench is very reasonable.  My concern is about weight of a small workbench particularly for planing wood.  Right now I have a kind of a 2' X 3' torsion box out of 3/4 plywood on plastic sawhorses.  I have to butt it against a wall to plane anything.  Do you have any similar issues?

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2 hours ago, Peepaw said:

Isaac, your comments about thickness on a smaller workbench is very reasonable.  My concern is about weight of a small workbench particularly for planing wood.  Right now I have a kind of a 2' X 3' torsion box out of 3/4 plywood on plastic sawhorses.  I have to butt it against a wall to plane anything.  Do you have any similar issues?

My bench has a large drawer directly below the work surface, and then a lower shelf. I load the lower shelf with my bench top style planer, jointer and my hand planes. I'd estimate the total weight of all that at about 120lbs, which gives the bench a fair amount of heft, So I've never had any issue with it moving on me. 

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