Bench top material

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jonnyfontaine

New User
Jonny
Sorry this is kind of a dumb question but what is the better top material for a work bench hard maple or soft maple(seeing as it would be easier to reflatten) and what is a good thinkness like 2 1/4" or 3" or just 2" with a 3" skirt. Anyway thanks so much
 

redknife

Chris
Corporate Member
Johnny, I'm going to try to channel Chris Schwarz to respond. Any wood that is sound will work for a workbench. Thicker stock is better. 3" thick top is generally better than 2 and it is better to have the edge the same thickness as the middle (increase clamping options).
There are exceptions and certainly there are members who have very nice workbenches that defy these opinions- these are general guidelines based on Schwarz. I'm also making some assumptions about your design.
I am just starting my real workbench after relying on half-baked substitutes for years. Here is my haul of soft maple from yesterday:
Soft Maple for workbench.jpg
I'll let it acclimate to my shop, then I will be making a 3" x 20" x 72". Very similar to Mike Davis' recent build. Stout legs will be flush with table edge. Front leg vise, sliding deadman, and end vise. I chose soft maple because it was about $1 less per board foot than hard maple. I chose soft maple rather than ash because the stock available looked better in person. Finally I chose 8/4 rather than 12/4 because they only had one 12/4 board and had a nice stack of good looking 8/4.
I think it is really helpful to read through Schwarz's workbench book because it potentially saves you from making mistakes in design that you'll regret later.
 

obxdiver

New User
Bart
I'm in the process of building a workbench myself. I'm using ash for the top with a hard maple skirt. My thoughts were to make it strong and durable, and I never really considered ease of flattening. Considering it now, I think it could go either way. The softer wood would be easier to flatten, but it would have to be done more often. Guess it comes down to whether you want a difficult job you do occasionally, or an easier job you have to do more frequently.

I don't want to hijack the thread, but since my dilemma is closely related and may be a question the OP encounters as well, I'll post it here.

Right now I'm working on designing the vises. I'm going traditional, with the exception of an acme threaded rod in place of the wooden screw. I'm thinking about lining the clamping surfaces with bubinga, since Woodcraft has it on sale right now for 1/2 price (7/8 x 4 x 24) and I can use the cut offs to make planes and other tools. Got a router plane and shoulder plane in mind already. (Been watching too many Paul Sellers videos.)

However, now I find myself wondering whether the vise jaws should be hard or soft wood. This is all speculation on my part, but I'm thinking a softwood may grip better and have less chance of it marring the workpiece. Hardwood, on the other hand, would be more durable, possibly stronger and more rigid, etc...

Thoughts anyone?






Working wood with wedge and edge, catching fish with feathers and fur... -Roy Underhill, with addendum by me.
 

Pop Golden

Pop
Corporate Member
​I am finally finishing my work bench design after 5 years of designing and redesigning. I've gone through many ideas: variable height adjustment, tool tray or no tool tray, construction material, construction methods, vise types and location on the bench etc.

Here's what I've come up with. Total width around 2 ft. X length 6 ft. Height ? I'm 76 years old and have some back trouble. I'm thinking of a beach that can be used standing or in a chair. It will have a larger tool tray to allow for a drawer set under the tray. 2 vises 1 heavy duty (Rockler) on the front left end and a carnage vise in the right end. No dog holes. I using a miter track with clamping stops. I'm including a Record hole down around a foot in from the right end. A drawer system under the main bench for clamps. Now, for your question. I'm using construction grade pine. Why? I have around 600 BF. of it. So, how to have the top surface that stands up to working. I will use an epoxy or other wood hardener as a top finish. There you have it. I'm still working on the height problem. I'm leaning towards a lower bench.

Pop
 

frigator

New User
Robin Frierson
I guess I cheated a bit and bought a premade hard maple top for my bench, 2 1/4 thick. It was all clear and long lengths, not shorts glued up like the Grizzly tops. I priced the lumber and the top was only about 15% more than the cost of the lumber. Had it 20yrs and still going strong. Only downside was I had to drill the dog holes rather than making the square ones during the glue up.

I like working with soft maple.
 

Mike Davis

Mike
Corporate Member
My top is hard maple, the framimg is a mix of hard and soft maple. I made my top removable so I could move it ( ha ha) and so I can run it through a drum sander when it needs it. Not as young as I once was...
 

Hmerkle

Hank
Corporate Member
I'm in the process of building a workbench myself. I'm using ash for the top with a hard maple skirt. My thoughts were to make it strong and durable, and I never really considered ease of flattening. Considering it now, I think it could go either way. The softer wood would be easier to flatten, but it would have to be done more often. Guess it comes down to whether you want a difficult job you do occasionally, or an easier job you have to do more frequently.

I don't want to hijack the thread, but since my dilemma is closely related and may be a question the OP encounters as well, I'll post it here.

Right now I'm working on designing the vises. I'm going traditional, with the exception of an acme threaded rod in place of the wooden screw. I'm thinking about lining the clamping surfaces with bubinga, since Woodcraft has it on sale right now for 1/2 price (7/8 x 4 x 24) and I can use the cut offs to make planes and other tools. Got a router plane and shoulder plane in mind already. (Been watching too many Paul Sellers videos.)

However, now I find myself wondering whether the vise jaws should be hard or soft wood. This is all speculation on my part, but I'm thinking a softwood may grip better and have less chance of it marring the workpiece. Hardwood, on the other hand, would be more durable, possibly stronger and more rigid, etc...

Thoughts anyone?






Working wood with wedge and edge, catching fish with feathers and fur... -Roy Underhill, with addendum by me.
Just my opinion here - but you will likely line the jaws with leather or ??? for gripping your clamped material - so other than aesthetics, I am not sure it matters... again, just one opinion here.
 

obxdiver

New User
Bart
Just my opinion here - but you will likely line the jaws with leather or ??? for gripping your clamped material - so other than aesthetics, I am not sure it matters... again, just one opinion here.
May be just an opinion, but it's well informed and makes a whole lot of sense. Thanks a bunch, Hank!

The light bulb started to flicker on last night when I came across material specifically for lining vise jaws while browsing the Woodcraft site. Now, it's shining brightly. :widea:
 

KenOfCary

Board of Directors, Secretary
Ken
Staff member
Corporate Member
Most of the advice that Chris Schwarz shares in his several books about workbenches and building them is very valuable. Worth spending the money to buy his books. There is also a tremendous amount of information in his blog at Lost Art Press. He recently posted a blog entry about selecting 2x12's at the big box stores to glue up a work bench top.

My bench is Roubo Style based on his book, Hard Maple and is about 4" thick top by 18" by 8' long. The legs and stretchers were all cut from the same tree as the top. Built in 2011, the top is probably still drying near the center of it.

I started to flatten it by hand with a #8 plane, but ended up making a router jig to do the rough flattening and finished with hand planes. It had a significant cup in the center of the top.
 

bluedawg76

New User
Sam
At 2-3" thick it doesn't really matter what type of wood it is. Mine is SYP from the BORG (3"+) ripped from 2x 12s. It's held up fine (~6yrs). No finish either -honestly not sure why anyone would put a finish on it. I think total cost for all of the lumber (including legs and stretchers) was about $70. It's 30x72". Much easier to flatten than hard maple or ash plus it doesn't damage my projects b/c the top has more give than hard maple.
 

Roy G

Roy
Senior User
Paul Sellers has a series of youtubes about building a workbench out of construction lumber. Not too expensive and it looks like it's sturdy enough for planing and chiseling.

Roy G
 
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