Plywood or MDF bench top


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 I'm building a workbench and I am planning on using four layers of 3/4 MDF or four layers of 3/4 plywood as my top, but I am wondering as to how MDF/plywood will hold up as a work surface, or should I top the MDF with a layer of 1/4 in. Hardboard to protect it! I'm gonna wrap the edges in Oak or Maple. I would love to build a traditional bench but cost is the major factor here. I'm thinking that if I go with the Hardboard top at least I can remove it and replace it should it gets too beat up. One of my concerns with using MDF, the lag screws for my vise will not last. I plan on using the bench for both hand and power tools, and there will be dog holes.

What do you think?

Thanks in advance.

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One of my concerns with using MDF, the lag screws for my vise will not last. I plan on using the bench for both hand and power tools, and there will be dog holes.

I have to say that I'm running in to this problem right now. MDF is easy to cut and get a flat surface, but when drilling in to the material it is questionable.

My 7" inch Jorgensen vice pulls away from the face of my bench when I have material clamped using bench dogs. If you plan to make wooden jaws for your vice

with dog holes that you line up with dog holes on your bench, then in my experience plan to see your vice pull away from your bench face when clamping material

that runs horizontal (i.e. parallel to the bench top).

I can't say I know exactly what is to blame here, maybe I just built a poor bench, but I have a bench with a 1.5" MDF top and a vice attached with lag screws and there is

a noticeable amount of "give" away from the bench face when applying clamping load. Either my vice mounting technique was bad, or MDF just doesn't hold a lag screw

very well. Either way if I built it over again it would be without MDF, FWIW.

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I have to say that I'm running in to this problem right now. MDF is easy to cut and get a flat surface, but when drilling in to the material it is questionable.

My 7" inch Jorgensen vice pulls away from the face of my bench when I have material clamped using bench dogs. If you plan to make wooden jaws for your vice

with dog holes that you line up with dog holes on your bench, then in my experience plan to see your vice pull away from your bench face when clamping material

that runs horizontal (i.e. parallel to the bench top).

I can't say I know exactly what is to blame here, maybe I just built a poor bench, but I have a bench with a 1.5" MDF top and a vice attached with lag screws and there is

a noticeable amount of "give" away from the bench face when applying clamping load. Either my vice mounting technique was bad, or MDF just doesn't hold a lag screw

very well. Either way if I built it over again it would be without MDF, FWIW.

In my experience MDF doesn't hold certain screws that well so it's entirely possible the screws are pulling loose from the MDF.

I think MDF makes a great top for an assembly table but for a workbench if you can't go for a laminated wood top, ply makes more sense. If you put a couple of layers of MDF under the ply, you should still get the flatness and weight of MDF but without the downsides (screw issues, fuzzy edged scrapes, fine dust when drilling holes, etc) If you get a scrape or gouge on ply, you can hit it with a random orbit sander and get rid of the edges pretty quick, MDF never seems to work that way for me and I end up with a fuzzy circle.

I used MDF for my router table with oak edging and a a plastic laminated hardboard top layer. Dead flat, no fuzzy scratches, and I can clean it with soap and water and put a layer of wax on it to make stuff slide across it.

Just some random thoughts for you. :)

-Jim

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My current workbench has a 1.5" laminated MDF top. I haven't wrapped the edges in hard wood yet, or waxed the top. (or, for that matter, completed the bench.) I can say that it's a great surface to put mid-size tools that have larger vibrations on, due to the weight/density of the material. So if you are planning a base for a mortiser, or oscillating spindle sander, I'd say go for it. If you plan on anything that can stick to it or gouge it, if it's light duty, put a 1/8" or 1/4" hardboard/masonite on top of it. (Something easily replaced.)

If it's for anything else, I would recommend at least 1.5" of actual wood, not compressed dust and glue. Nothing against MDF, because they are making some wonderful disposable furniture from it, but if you want it to last, you need at least plywood, if not actual boards.

(By the way, I do consider plywood to be real wood. But when I state the term "real wood," I'm thinking of boards of wood, even if they get cut and laminated. Gee, isn't that what plywood is defined as? Maybe I'm being too hypocritcal in my thinking...)

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My bench top is 2 1/4" of MDF. I pieced together the cutoffs from the outer layers for the middle layer and glued the whole mess together with titebond. When I built it, I embedded an oak board between the outer layers with carriage bolts where the vise would be mounted. This solved the problem of screws not holding in MDF.

In the 2+ years it has been in service it has remained dead flat. The original surface did get a bit ugly so I used contact cement to add a 3/16" masonite top and edges. A couple of coats of oil/varnish and I am back in business.

The top weighs over 200 pounds so I didn't fasten it to the base. I added 4 dowels between the top and base to keep it from sliding around and it remains exactly where I put it.

I don't see where plywood would give a more durable surface. As with MDF or Masonite, when it gets scarred up you either have to replace it or cover it over. Unlike a solid wood bench that can be resurfaced, a bench made of sheet goods can only be rejuvenated by adding another layer.

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