Hard vs. soft workbench top


The recent topic on woods to use for a workbench brought up a question I have had for a while.
Why is the common advice to use a hard wood for the bench top?
It seems to me that you would want your workbench top to be softer than whatever you are working on. Then when you bang the piece around, you are less likely to leave dents in the piece. I'd rather have dents in the bench than dents in the piece I'm building.
My bench top is made from Borg 2x4 studs and is pretty soft. It shows a lot of wear, but then it looks like I actually get things done in the shop!
Mark
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If your benchtop is flat, other than literally crushing your workpiece, how can you put dents in it other than hitting it with something? In reality, you're never going to get any working surface soft enough to prevent some kind of damage. Ideally, you want your working surface solid enough to properly support your workpiece and then it's up to you to control how hard you bang it around. That's my take on it anyway.
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I'd guess 1) mass 2) firmness of backing (less give=energy absorbed when hammering on a chisel) 3)durability.

Well, the Borg also sells 3/4" sheet styrofoam. Very unlikely to damage your work pieces, and will show lots of wear very quickly!
While that was obviously a tongue-in-cheek suggestion about taking the "soft-is-good" idea to extremes, some of the same issues appear with a soft wood bench, just to a much smaller degree.
To be fair, think about taking the bench to the other extreme--an iron or granite top. Fans of hard bench wood would probably see those alternatives as good except for the issue of dulling tools. Hard wood is about as hard as you can get without risking too much damage to tool edges.
Then there's always the intangible of the pleasure of working on a nice wood surface.
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For granite, ad an element of brittleness as a negative, but it is not unprecidented.
Tom Plamann has some granite-topped assembly tables (arguably special purpose benches) which, if you'll pardon the pun, rock.
-Steve
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alexy wrote:

If you need a soft surface you can always throw a piece of carpet on it. Carpet isn't too good for pounding and getting things square tho.
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For years, I've been using 4'x8'x3/4" MDF Sheets on top of woodbench.. I'd always flip the sheet over its' renew life.. MDF sheet are very excelent piece for my wood working!! For soft issue, use the pool table sheet over the sheet or thin felts on it..
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Mark Wells wrote:

My bench is made of doug fir tubafors on edge and bolted together with threaded rod. It is flat but as it accumulates paint spills and scratches, I will hit it with a coarse grit in the ROS. When I need extra protection, I put down one of those foam or rubber pads.     mahalo,     jo4hn
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Mark Wells wrote:

One reason you want the bench hard is so that saw dust and little splinters don't stick in it (become embedded). Embedded stuff and really mar the piece you are working on. You want to be able to swipe a brush across it and be sure than nothing is left.
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wrote:

Wears better. Throw a blanket (or corrugated cardboard) over it if you need it soft.
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Andy Dingley wrote:

Make friends with a bicycle shop for unlimited large sheets of cardboard. <G>
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Mark,
I side with "nwwoodturner's" response about using MDF for a workbench surface.
I built my workbench from premium grade pine 2x4s scored, glued, and screwed to form 4x4s for legs, laid out premium grade pine 2x6s accross the top of the frame I had run through the jointer and planer to get a flat sub surface, scored, glued, and screwed those in place as well. I left some overhang on the right and left sides and the front for mounting a vise and clamping.
Like nwwoodturner I cut a piece of 3/4" MDF to fit for the top and just nailed it down with finishing nails and counter sunk them. When it gets old, I toss it and cut a new top for about 15 bucks. The whole bench cost about 80 bucks to build, not counting my vise, and it is rock solid.
Be glad to post the plan & pics on < alt.binaries.pictures.woodworking > or email on request.
RangerPaul
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Please do post them. Or you can email me at j dot broekman at verizon dot net
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