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Thread: Building new workbenches - need ideas for suitable worktops

  1. #1

    Building new workbenches - need ideas for suitable worktops

    Hi all,

    I am in the process of redesigning my workbenches, already know how I am going to build the frames but would be interested to hear opinions on possible options for the tops? Needs to be affordable!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    No, not all of SoCal is Los Angeles!
    I did not really consider cost (well, a little of course) on my latest workbench and I stuck with laminate sheet goods. My previous bench was 4 layers of 3/4" MDF well supported below. I wanted greater open span on the new bench so I used two laminated layers of 3/4" BB play (the ply is better at self supporting) laminated to two laminated layers of 3/4" MDF.

    The previous bench was in use for 8 years and the MDF top looked like this the day I loaded it up to take it to its new owner:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    I have been using the new bench for about 7 months now and I would be hard pressed to find a reason to use another material for the top unless it was for looks or tradition. The reduced footprint from my previous 'as-big-as-I-could-make-it' bench has worked out very well. The twin screw vise is a dream to use and hold well in any location without racking issues.
    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
    - Arthur C. Clarke

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Austin, Texas
    The one thing I learned not to do is what Glenn recommended! My work table (to call it a work bench gives it too much status) has a top of 3/4" MDF laminated to 3/4" plywood. The flatness changes with the weather - not a lot, but sometimes it is slightly convex, other times concave.

    I made a small Latta stand up bench (the first that should have the status of "workbench" ). The target thickness of the top was 2 1/2 inches to support the vice my wife gave me for Christmas, so is laminated with 2 sheets of 3/4" MDF and two sheets of 1/2" MDF. It is working great, including bench dogs and hold-fasts.

    Be sure to laminate whatever layers you use - 2 sheets are twice as strong/stiff as one, but 2 sheets laminated together (now one sheet twice as thick) are 8 times as strong/stiff. If you don't have a vacuum bag, just screw the layers together from the bottom (with lots of screws) while the glue dries, then remove the screws.
    Charlie Plesums, Austin Texas
    (Retired early to become a custom furnituremaker)
    Lots of my free advice at

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    The Gorge Area, Oregon
    Even cheaper, but more of a pain to build.

    my one bench top is laminated 2x3 "white wood" from the local borg. They cost $1.50 per piece and I needed 15 of them for a 20" wide bench that ended up about 2.6" thick (after planing them down a smidge to get something almost square and one reject) so the total cost was about $23 at the time. I think the boards have gone up a wee bit since then.

    The good
    • really cheap
    • has held up pretty well (a couple of pieces split out around
    • won't ding your work
    • looks like wood (hey its intangible but I'm doing this because I enjoy it..).
    • fairly heavy

    The bad
    • it shrunk a bit over 1" across the width in the first 6 months so mount it accordingly (appears to have stabilized after that). Careful alignment of the grain to have countering forces meant it stayed pretty flat though.
    • minor pain to make sure the edges are aligned. If you don't get that right you're in for a world of hand planing hurt. If I was doing it over I'd do it in several glue ups (2 or 3 pieces) and run them each through the planer to normalize before the final glue up.
    • knots, cheap wood has knots! I managed to bury most of them on the downside and careful selection minimized the problem but the couple that remained made flattening much worse.
    • not as heavy as I'd like, I might go with 2x10's ripped into 2x5's next time both because you get better wood and imho a heavy bench is a happy bench. The one downside of that is that holdfasts (which I love) don't work very well on thick tops so you need to relieve the bottom of the holes for them. My current one at 2.6" is on the upper end of what grabs real well.
    • It will ding up - fir would be a bit better but soft wood will ding up. I prefer this to having it harder than the work though.. the bench is a tool.

    I can't say its any better in use than Glenn or Charlie's setup and it is a lot more work to make.

    My other bench is a reclaimed bowling alley. DON'T DO THAT. It works.. okish.. but they are often not well glued (or glued at all? if there was glue it was long gone) and are held together with spiral nails which means that you have to take them apart to reglue and they are very difficult to get apart. The actual sections of wood are often moderately short as well so subsequent glue ups are a bunch of 3-4' chunks. It seemed like a nice way to get a big chunk of maple but ended up being a ton of work to get somewhat apart and re-glue and it hasn't really held up all that well because the glue joins were still cruddy (I ended up deciding it wasn't worth running through the planer as it would have killed several sets of blades given how much crud was in there so just wire brushed it).

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2010
    Northern CA Bay Area

    Cheap Work Bench Top

    I used 16 - fir 2x4s turned on edge to make my work bench top. Once glued together I made a sled for my router and leveled it, then covered it with cheap laminate flooring Home Depot was closing out, about $18 for a box. The flooring is tough and glue and paint scrape off it easily. It can also be easily replaced.
    Click image for larger version. 

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  6. #6
    My bench is made of 2x4s, face glued, for a total thickness of about 3-1/4". I don't know what the wood is, probably some species of pine - white wood, as it's known these days. It's soft, I know, but I prefer it that way. I've made lots of furniture, projects, tools on it, plus sharpen lawn mower blades, rebuilt motorcycle engines and carburetors, serves as a lathe bench, and lots of other things. It's not a show piece and I don't treat it as such. OTOH, it's lasted for 30+ years and I have no intentions of replacing it. I used the plans from one of Tage Frid's books, including both tail and shoulder vises.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Tellico Plains, Tennessee
    Being a wood turner, I don't do any of the heavy wood working you guys do, so my work bench is just a shelf running around one end of my shop and turned in an "L" under the window on one side... the frame work is 2x4's on 2' centers with a single layer of MDF on top. It's built at a height (about 37 or 38 inches) so that I don't have to bend any at all when working at it. The work shelf was built mostly for assembly of pens (when I was still doing them) and pepper mills,etc., plus a place to set work that is in process of being finished.
    Tellico Plains, TN
    My parents taught me to respect my elders, but it's getting harder and harder to find any.
    If you go looking for trouble, it will usually find you.

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