Wood for workbench question

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I'm looking to build my first workbench. I was planning to use the Bob Key style workbench plan in Popular Woodworking as a place to start.
My question is what type of wood should I use. Bob Key's original workbench page says that he went to a home center and got pine two-by stock. The Popular Woodworking article references Southern Yellow Pine.
I live in New Jersey, and so far I've found that the construction grade two-by stock that the local home centers carry are made of "Green Douglas Fir", which is not kiln dried. The local hardwood dealer carries kiln dried Eastern White Pine, which is much more expensive, and I am on a budget for this project.
My questions are:
1. Has anyone had failures using construction grade type two-by stock to make a workbench, and what type?
2. If I get the "Green Douglas Fir" and just let it sit around for a while, how long can I expect it to take to dry/acclimate to my basement?
Links for reference:
http://web.archive.org/web/20030621101324/www.terraclavis.com/bws/beginners.htm
http://www.popularwoodworking.com/features/fea.asp?id 69
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I would suggest making the top out of some kind of hardwood like beech or hard maple (not soft). I went through this process and ended up building the base out of pine 2 by material and just put a easily replaceable top on the frame made of plywood. By the sound of it your not shooting for a classical workbench so I would just use plywood.
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snipped-for-privacy@excite.com wrote:

I made my workbench top out of two layers of 3/4" hardwood plywood and surrounded it with redwood 2x4s. The idea was that if I bumped the bench with a piece I was working on, the bench edge would dent instead of the piece. After 15 years or so, the bench is still going strong, albeit with dented edges :-).
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I've used it with other projects with varying degrees of success.

It's hard to say. It depends on the current moisture content and teh humidity level and airflow in your basement. It's probably S-Dry which means it's somewhere between green and kiln-dried (can't remember the number right now, I want to say 16%). It will take a long time to dry though, think months. Maybe you should invest in a moisture meter. Or you could take your chances and do it now.
I wouldn't use 2x4s. If it were me, I would buy wide stock, like 2x12s, selecting boards with the pith in them, and rip the pith out of the middle (and throw it away) keeping 5" wide or so boards with vertical grain. Then dry them as much as possible. You'd end up with what is essentially quarter-sawn boards.
brian
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The green douglas fir was a tree two weeks ago. It will change dimension, warp and twist. Even if you let it acclimate in your basement for a few weeks, you'll have a bunch of acclimated, warped, twisted lumber. It won't be pretty, but could work ok for a bench frame if you're careful.
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Mike Berger wrote:

Douglas Fir is sold green because it is one of the few woods that tends to remain stable while it dries. I suspect that reputation was aquired by the old growth Doug Fir and the second growth stuff may more more.
But it won't be as bad as you'd expect compared with other woods.
Do you have a local bowling alley? Ask them who replaces their lanes when they wear out. A lot of people have made bench tops from recycled bowling alley by planing off the dented layer.
--

FF


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There are a few things to note about using bowling alley for a bench:
1. Most of it is nailed with hardened #12 or #16 spiral nails in a somewhat random pattern throughout the 41" width and whatever length you're using. This has some implications: a. The nails are next to impossible to remove without trashing the wood. The best bet is to work around them. Unfortunately, you cannot tell where they are in the middle of the alley. b. Use a junk carbide blade or "nail cutter" blade when cross cutting and ripping the stock. c. The alley will flex if it is not supported across its width by something. the actual alley has heavy angle iron supports screwed onto the bottom of the alley. I've had good luck with a piece of 3/4" plywood underneath supported by the bench trestles or however you're supporting the top. d. Drilling dog holes accurately is nearly impossible with the nails in the wood. As soon as the drill bit hits the nail, it attempts to move laterally and distorts the hole. Also, since the nails seem to be hardened, they are extremely tough to drill. I was standing on my bench using a 1/2" Milwalkee electric drill with a 3/4" HSS metal cutting bit and had difficulty drilling through them with all my weight on the drill. I weigh around 220 lbs. In the process of drilling the holes, only 10-15% were sucessfully drilled w/o hitting any nails. The holes were 6" on center in a grid on a 3' x 5' top (mainly for carving) I also had to resharpen the 3/4" bit every time I hit a nail. A carbide bit would be my choice next time.
2. The alley is around 2-1/4" thick. This is the limit of most 7-1/4" circular saws. Cutting requires multiple passes taking only 1/4" or 1/2" at a time. Wear safety equipment (glasses, hearing protection, boots, etc.) Sparks, smoke, and metal chips will fly. A sawsall works, but doesn't track as nicely. For ripping, cut within one of the boards that make up the alley. After the cut is complete, you can pry off the remaining scraps of wood on either side to get a flatter surface. I've found that an abrasive cutoff wheel (Dremel, air tool, angle grinder, etc.) works the best for removing the nail stubs.
3. Due to the nails, the best plan for dog holes would be to glue / fasten some clear stock between the sections of the alley where you want the dog holes. I'd recommend cutting, or drilling, and assembling them before atatching them to the pieces of the alley. An Ian Kirby style bench is a very attractive, alternative, approach to having a plethora of dog holes.
4. The nails are usually at least 1/2" below the surface of the alley. That leaves plenty of wood for surfacing.
5. Grain orientation of the boards in the alley is random. Planing across the grain and scraping are the best options here. A router, a la Tage Frid would work as well.
6. The wood is usually hard maple. It is heavy and hard wearing. All good characteristics for a bench, but when you have to slug an 8' or 12' piece around, the weight factor becomes readily apparent.
So that's my experience w/ bowling alley. Look for any local bowling alleys that are closing. You can get the wood for a song.
Good luck,
-- Blue
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wrote:

Your experience is pretty much the same as mine. I went through several blades ripping the lanes to width using a skill saw. After that I decided that drilling may not be answer for dogs. Instead, I drove the exposed nails in far enough to plane the sawed edges. I then glued maple pieces 3" long (the thickness of the alley) the length of the bench leaving a space between each for square dogs. I then covered that with another layer of maple. I mounted the vise on the end and set it up for the same dogs. I works great and will take about any kind of abuse I can give it.
The approaches were 12' long and maple but the rest of the lanes were some other wood. Fir I think. The price was right. I paid $12.00 a running foot for the maple and they wanted $8.00 a running foot for the fir. They helped me load two of the approaches in my pickup and with 4' hanging out the back, that truck was really sagging.
I also made a basement bar top out of a piece and intentionally left the dots and pointers right in the middle of it. That's the first time I knew that the markers go all the way through the thickness of the lane. I banded the exposed edges with new maple. Everyone notices it was a bowling alley.
Mike O.
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application. Southern Yellow Pine is a very different wood. It is hard and heavy. Jim
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Define failure. 2-by's are soft, but you're no going to get a hardwood top at your price point. They will be more likely to twist and move than cabinet-grade hardwood. But that's just matter of degree; all wood moves. It's not going to break of that's what you mean. I'm confident that you will find a "Tuba-bench" nearly as useful as a 150 kg euro-beast at many times the cost.

Does anyone else find that to be redunadant? Perhaps Economy vs. KD?

I think you will be fine with whatever you can get. KD is better as it is dryer but it will cost a little more. I would consider ripping larger stock (2x8,10,12) because it is usually clearer than the smaller stock.

I would immagine a few months, but I think that would create more problems than it would solve. If you laminate/assemble right away each peice will tend to hold the other in place. If you buy stock and wait a couple months for it to dry, you may end up trying to laminate pretzels.
Even a euro-beech behemoth runs the risk of moving a bit. Just get it as flat as you can. If is is problematically unflat in a year, relevel to top with a hand plane.
More reasons not to sweat this too much:
There is no perfect bench. Either you have a compromise or several special-purpose benches. The optimal bench is also a moving target. Built it and enjoy!
-Steve
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

usability once it is built. I used that as the starting point when I built my second bench--improving and complicating it some, but still much easier build than a full Klausz type bench.

where he found SYP tubafors. He said to just build with whatever the best studs were that they had. Good advice for the "good first bench" of his plan. I found SYP only in 2x6, 8, 10, and 12. I bought wider boards and ripped down to about 4.5" width. I also found that after drying I had 2 2x12s that remained nicely flat and straight. So I changed the design somewhat, laminated these together to form a 4x12, and used that for the back slab of my bench.

specific gravity (as a proxy for hardness and strength): Eastern White Pine is about .34, about the same as basswood or cottonwood, and softer than butternut. SYP is .56, about the same as walnut, harder than cherry and nearly as hard as ash. (sg at 12% moisture content, from chart on pg 12 of Hoadley's _Understanding Wood_).

built a sharpening station with a top out of on-edge 2x4's that were "premium studs" (SPF, if I remember correctly). While it does not have the mass or hardness of SYP, it has remained nicely flat. The base of my bench is also made from "premium studs", with each member being a tripled stud, and all mortises "cut" as gaps in the center board before glue-up. Been through one year's seasonal movement cycle and have had to tighten the wedges holding the knock-down stretchers once.

The first time I ripped a 2x8 for my top (on my bandsaw, since I didn't have a tablesaw at the time), the piece I cut off would have made a good shepherd's crook! I was very discouraged, and went on to other projects as I left my stash of SYP stickered in my shop. Six months later, I had no problems--whether because of the extra drying or the initial one just having internal stresses that I relieved upon sawing, I don't know. I've currently got some studs cut to approximate length for another project, drying in the shop, and am monitoring them with a moisture meter.
You might do well to get a copy of Hoadley's _Understanding Wood_ and read the chapter on drying.
One thing I don't believe that Key mentions, but I found very important: mark each board edge (the potential top surfaces of your bench) for grain direction, indicating the desired direction of planing. Then you have a little puzzle trying to get the best edges all oriented the same direction (for planing right to left if you are a righty and plan to hand plane) while hopefully also alternating boards between outside of tree forward and inside of tree forward (for studs that don't include the pith. Orientation for planing is important, since tear-out can be pretty bad, particularly during aggressive initial planing.
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That's good advise. I wish I had known to do that when I assembled mine..... maybe next time.
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material for the top. The one difference between it and your plan was we went and purchased the lumber from a demolition company. They had a bunch of 2x4, 2x6 4x6 and others. We picked up the oldest looking material, close grain fir stuff. After pulling the nails and other junk, we cleaned them up, ripped and planed to final size, 1-1/4"x 3", glued them up and its a real nice, hard and heavy bench. Total cost of lumber, $40.
Look into local for places that are demo/remodeling old buildings or homes and pick that stuff up.
Dave
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Here's another Bob's workbench to look at for some ideas. I designed this about 6 years ago when some others were also looking for a low-cost but sturdy workbench that could be built with minimum tools. Bernie Hunt has had this on his site for a long time and there are both CAD formats (dwg and dxf) and 2 PDF files that he has posted there for anyone that wants them.
http://www.huntfamily.com/work_bench.htm
Drawings show all the dimensions and some notes. I used to have some posts saved that described alternate suggestions with one being about the top. I've made several hobby and craft benches (L-shaped, benches with shelves) since this original bench using 2x4 lumber and found a top solution that works very well. For pounding work, you do not want a top that has "spring" to it. I've made frames from dimensioned 2x4 lumber that have cross-bracing dodo's to the side rails every 16" and then topped with a sheet of 3/4" PDF cut to overhang the top by 3" all the way around.
The MDF is then drilled for 2" long screws and countersunk at about 12" intervals all along the frame rails and cross pieces and screwed to the frame which acts like a torsion box - solid as all get-out. The MDF top is then covered with 1/4" tempered hardboard screwed down and countersunk at 12" intervals all around the outside edge. I have coated the tempered hardboard with poly and it has lasted over 10 years before I recoated. The hardboard is scratched, gouged and well bruised but still does not need replacing.
Under the overhang, I used some 3/4" x 3" wide pine glued and screwed to the underside. This provides a thicker edge plus it can be used for clamping etc.
I then used a 3/4" x 1-1/2" hardwood edging, mitered on the corners, glued and screwed into the pine. If you want to screw into the MDF edge, use a 3/8" drill and drill some 2" deep holes perpendicular to the top and then tap in some 2" x 3/8" hardwood dowels coated in glue. Make sure the dowels are grooved to allow glue to push out and so you don't split the MDF edge. Cut the dowels flush to the edge. Now when you install the hardwood edging, drill small dia hole for the screw to go thru the edging and screw into the dowel. You can countersink these screws and use tapered plug to cover the screws. Obviously you need to mark where the dowels are and do your layout carefully.
The MDF/tempered hardboard screwed to a rigid frame is a solid surface to work on that is tough, impervious to spills and absorbs hammer blows without bounce much like a maple top. The plans I made were fashioned from a workbench design in FWW that used all hardwoods and a pre-made maple top with a cost of nearly $1,000 by the time it was built and a shop full of tools. Mine was made from the best 2x4's I could find (rift sawn) which were 20% kiln dried. I placed them in my basement and stickered them to dry for about 3 months. They got down to 12% after a few weeks and to 10% after turning my dehumidifier up a couple of notches. Summers in upstate NY are humid.....
The plans show a top made from 2x6's and after making several tops as described above, I think you would be better off with the MDF/tempered hardboard top. It's flat and solid with no expansion or contraction with weather changes and uses low-cost readily available materials.
Bob S.

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Make that dado's - not dodo's.....
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Here are some plans for a 2x4 bench I built from lumber I got at Home Depot. The wood wasn't as dry as I'd like, but I haven't had any problems with it so far.
http://wuudchuck.com/2006/04/15/simple-workbench /
By the way, the top is made from a solid core door. I managed to find one at Home Depot that had a couple gouges on one of the corners and talked the sales guy into giving it to me for 20 bucks.
snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

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Wow. I did not expect so many replies, and a lot of useful information, besides.
I think I'm going to go ahead with the green douglas fir for my Bob Key style workbench. At one of the local home centers they had a decent supply of 2x8, 2x10, and 2x12 boards, which I will cut down to size. Thanks for the suggestions about going for larger boards and cutting out the straight parts.
I have thought about plywood/MDF for the top, which definitely would be easier, and probably more stable, but I also want the face jointing/gluing experience. Gotta learn sometime. If the top becomes uneven, handplaning it flat is definitely something I think I can do. I squared up a board by hand for the first time two weekends ago, and I have to say, it was better than crack. I'm more concerned about the glued up top coming apart on me, but it looks like this won't likely happen, assuming I use good boards to start with.
And for posterity, since Bob Key's original webpage seems to have disappeared:
Bob Key's Good, Fast, and Cheap Bench:
http://web.archive.org/web/20030621101324/www.terraclavis.com/bws/beginners.htm
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

or 2 layers of 3/4 plywood on top. A shelf on the bottom is a good idea too. Attach a vise on the front, and you're good to go. If you put two layers of plywood, you could probably have enough thickness on the top to use benchdogs. At least that was my plan about 15 years ago, although I've never gotten around to doing it.
Advantages: 1. cheap 2. you don't worry about getting stain, paint, etc on it. 3. you don't feel bad about on the spot mods.. like bolting a mortiser on it temporarily, etc. 4. You can get it done fast, and work on furniture.
No offense to the guys that built a solid maple wonder bench, but if you've got limited time and money, in my opinion, you're better off just banging something together so you can start to work on the projects you want to.. Although I can respect people that want a furnture grade workbench that they can be proud of... I just have a different opinion.
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You should check out the bench the original poster is talking about. Same objectives as yours. Just a different route to the same (or similar, since it is more traditional) destination.
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How about hickory? Has anyone used it in a workbench and if so, how did it work out?
TMT
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