I am building a workbench and am trying to decide if I should spend the
extra time and money to build an all hardwood benchtop or go with three
layers of MDF.
My concern with the hardwood benchtop is getting the wood to line up
properly during glue up and preventing warping. I have read several
articles and they all made it sound like glueing up this much would is very
difficult and not as simple as it looks.
Looking for tips and advice from those who have done it already.
I bought maple top for less money than the maple would have cost to make
it. The top is dead flat and a real pleasure to use. It is a Jorgeson top
and it came from The Cutting Edge in Houston. It is a 24"X72"X 1 3/4" thick
I'd rather build rocking chairs than plane a top flat. If I had to make one,
I would probably take it to someone that has a wide sander and let them
flatten it after I got through with the planing.
These testimonials just piss me off. How many people are standing
between me and the source that it must cost as much as a manufactured
item just to get it to me?
I was looking around the web and noticed that the big mills don't sell
much smaller amounts than say 3000bf. So that makes the next part
rather more difficult in a small community, but:
Why aren't woodworkers in organized groups using their combined
resources to purchase wood direct from the mill?
Where do you store it all?
Who gets first pick of the pile?
Who ensures that enough of the 3000 bd/ft meets grade?
Who unloads it?
Who holds the cash?
The wholesale / retail chain actually has a valid place.
Why would anyone want to be bound by the wishes of a group with respect to
wood type, quality, location of the mill, etc.? Why would I want to be
responsible for helping to load/unload/stack wood for everyone else? I
don't have enough to do now?
It's all got to be delivered somewhere, and chances are the guy who
ordered 600 bd/ft will be out of town that day. <G>
So then no one gets exactly the wood they need. I actually buy my
wood with parts in mind.
Go to a good sized dealer and watch the way an incoming load gets
inspected as it's put away. It's really not like buying a bundle of 2
by framing stock. Loads vary in quality and grading is an inexact
science, there's even different definitions for different grading
bodies and species.
It's not unheard of to get a large amount of grade-legal, but UGLY
wood in a single shipment. Since it's rough, the mill dosen't know
how many really good boards are in a bundle. It's up to the retailer
to figure that out. You just paid $1000 for a buttload of back,
bottom, and corner brace stock, with very little suitable for stuff
like table tops or drawer fronts. Now what happens?
Have you ever seen 3000+ bd/ft? What if some of the members are old
and frail, or young, soft and fat, or even disabled. Should they pay
more 'cause they can't help?
Remember, YOU have to get it off the truck. Hardwoods and high grade
sheet goods are typically not delivered by Hope Depot style delivery
rigs, but the rigs that deliver to Home Depot. They expect retailers
to own fork lifts. The truck will not sit there while you take 4
hours to unload it board by board.
I'm really not trying to break 'em off on you. Cheaper wood would be
a great thing. It's just that I've actually witnessed some of these
issues and wouldn't want to be the mediator of a dispute. <G>
Good retailers actually add some value to materials by making them
much easier for the small shop / hobbyist to deal with.
Last but not least, there's TAX! The wholesaler needs to sell it to
someone who will collect sales tax on the product, as he dosen't do
that. More work, bother, confusion, and in this case, possible legal
Ask around this group about a guy who thought shellac was overpriced.
I've got both types of benches. As a woodworker, I can honestly say
both work exactly the same, but there's some sort of panache to the
hardwood bench. I also have outfeed and router table tops that are
MDF with laminate surfaces, edged with hardwood.
All that said, the MDF bench can actually be very useful building the
hardwood bench. <G>
As far as the glue-up goes, jointed and planed maple will go together
fine and should stay quite stable, if the lumber was properly dried to
begin with. Biscuits can help align everything during the glue up,
as well as shop-made clamping cauls.
Once the bench is built, if the top goes a tad out of flat a few
months later, simply plane it back to flat!
I think it depends on what your goals are for the workbench. If you are
trying to refine specific skills that the bench requires, or are using your
bench as an example of the type of work that you can do go for the solid
wood. I have both types and there is no difference in the type of work that
I can do. If I was starting from scratch I would use the Festool tables.
I glued up separate stock pieces. It took a long time to line
everything up and to get it flat. I used biscuits which helps the
alignment. The issue with this is that periodic sanding, flattening,
and finishing is necessary.
With MDF you might just replace the top MDF or flip it over when it
gets messed up.
I compromised on mine. Most of the bench is MDF (melamine on the top)
but I ran a narrow hardwood section with dog holes down one side. I
figured I would do most of my work on the hardwood part and just
assembly on the MDF part. I screwed up somewhat and put the posts at
the joint between the two so the hardwood part is cantilevered out too
much and I don't have a great connection between the two. So the
hardwood part is a little bouncy. It's been like that for a year, and
I've just been using the MDF side for everything but hand planing.
Eventually I'll get around to fixing it, but I'm too busy doing
If I had it to do over, I would just inlay hardwood strips in the top
and bottom layers of the MDF for the dog holes and be done with it.
I used 3 layers of 3/4 MDF. Did it about 3 years ago. I followed the
Shopsmith plan.The top is starting to show wear, but I can always flip it
over. It is really flat which is great. Of course, you can't pound on it
like you could maple, for example. It works for me.
If you use MDF put quite a few coats of poly or varnish on it to protect it
from solvents, and so glue won't stick
I'd do it again. It was fun making the bench and it was one of the best
things that I did in the shop.
My first bench I went with 3 layers of particle board and hardboard
top. It was a good top, I still have it, and it takes alot of abuse.
But I could never get the thing flat. I spent hours with a belt sander
trying to flatten it. My top now is 2 layers of Birch (blue box)
plywood and a layer of ash. It was almost flat from the get go, just a
little planing. And it seems easier to work with, though that could be
my imagination. So, IMHO, go with a wood top. At least you can plane
We have a surplus building supply place nearby that provided the parts
for my bench. They get building materials from structures being torn
down and contractor surplus. The bench started with a solid core door
with rock maple flooring glued to the top then edge banded with a strip
of rock maple. The base is 4x8's legs and 2x8's stretchers.
Everything was surplus and cost ~$40. I found an old bench vice at a
garage sale for $10 that's been working well. If I were to build it
again I'd take the top to a cabinet shop to run through thier wide belt
sander to flatten the thing out, planing it by hand is quite a workout.
It's not the perfect bench but it certainly does the job.
MDF is a total waste of effort - it has neglible creep resistance and
you _will_ get sagging, no matter how thick. Far better would be to go
for a couple of lams of 3/4" plywood (even the cheap stuff) covered by a
lightly-glued layer of 4mm MDF and replacing that after a few years'
HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here.
All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.