Workbench - plywood or laminate lumber


I'm looking at building a woodworking bench for myself and have familiarised myself with the plans that are sold on the internet. All the Kits and commercally availiable, ready built benches feature fine lumber of 3+ inch thickness for the top - be it birch, beech or other.
Since I am operating on a smaller budget, I was wondering what reasons are there why a sheet of plywwod - 3/4" or 1" oak or birch supported by doug. fir (4x) lumber would not be used?
Would the plywood warp over time? Is that the reason? I'd rather learn the answer from someone knowlegable now than build it and learn the hard way.
There must be reasons for the choice of real lumber for these workbenches I see foir sale (other than they are beautiful).
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As somewhat of a beginner I'll just say that making mistakes and learning from them is part of the process.
Mike
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Ben wrote: > I'm looking at building a woodworking bench for myself and have > familiarised myself with the plans that are sold on the internet. All > the Kits and commercally availiable, ready built benches feature fine > lumber of 3+ inch thickness for the top - be it birch, beech or other. > > Since I am operating on a smaller budget, I was wondering what reasons > are there why a sheet of plywwod - 3/4" or 1" oak or birch supported by > doug. fir (4x) lumber would not be used?
If you want a relatively low cost bench, built like a brick out house, let me suggest the following:
Build a frame with doubled 2x6's, then covered with two (2) layers of 1/2", 4 ply, CDX.
Cover the CDX with a sheet of 3/4" MDF followed by a sheet of 1/4" hardboard which is considered expendable.
Build the legs with doubled 2x6's, then bolt to the frame using 3/8-16 bolts, nuts and fender washers.
Angle brace the legs with 1x4's, bolted in place.
Keep it dry and it will be around longer than you will.
Lew
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Ben wrote:

Actually, engineered sheet goods would be more dimensionally stable over time than solid wood, I'm pretty sure.
You can make a fantastic cheap bench top, in my opinion, out of el crappo OSB or other sheet goods laminated on both faces with hardboard (Masonite), tempered side out. You can trim it out with dimensional lumber or even hardwood, which will stabilize the nasty plywood edges and give screws a place to go when you attach stuff like vices.
The top will be slick, smooth, dead flat, and hard as a freaking brick. If you gouge it totally to hell, you just glue on another layer of hardboard (instead of weeping over your destroyed heirloom).
I made a 24"x48" top like this out of a 1/4 sheet of 1/2" A/C ply and some Masonite and rigged it up to clamp into a Sears-brand Workmate clone. Drilled a load of 3/4" dog holes in it, stuck in a lower shelf made of particle board scraps, and weighed the whole thing down with about 120 lbs of rocks. My "tail vise" is a clamp-on job. The threaded bolt and guide rods ride over the top of the bench, so I made a little block to go over the ends of them, and with the vice pushing closed, this does the same thing as a dog on a tail vise, if you can picture it.
I can take it all down and throw it in the truck in less than 5 minutes and set it back up anywhere in the same time.
I did this because I'm currently stuck with just about the smallest workshop possible. Otherwise I'd slap together a permanent base out of 2x4s and make the top longer and out of thicker sheet goods. I'd still weigh that down with a couple bags of Quikrete.
Here's a pic of the top before dog holes (with only the front edge trimmed out) and another of the cleats-n-wingnuts assembly for clamping it under the Workmate jaws.
http://i16.photobucket.com/albums/b5/boorite/worktop_over.jpg
http://i16.photobucket.com/albums/b5/boorite/worktop_under.jpg
It works. Still, I drool over the Sjobergs Elite 2500.
--Scott
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Many good benches have been made from plywood and/or MDF. Not a thing wrong with it. The only real downside is reflatening it if there is a need but, if built right and not damaged, there likley would not be a need. A common technique is using two layers of 3/4 MDF for the top and covering that with 1/4 masonite. The masonite is easily replaced if damaged.

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CW wrote:

The cool thing is, making a new one is probably less trouble or expense than reflattening a solid wood top.
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Ben wrote:

The classical woodworking bench is designed for use with hand tools. This means that you generally have substantial vises that need to be mounted, that you'll be pounding with a mallet on the bench, and that you'll be using bench dogs.
These are all more convenient if you have a heavy, strong, solid top.
That said, you can certainly get away with laminating sheet goods for your top. I'd suggest at least two layers though, and three would be better.
Chris
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Ben wrote:

Because it's too thin. Laminate two sheets of 3/4" ply together and then you're talking. Cheap spruce shuttering ply is the best deal. Stick some 4mm MDF over it with double-sided tape, wax polish the top and you have a couple of years' life replaceable top to take all the chisel slips.
This is regularly discussed - seach the archives.
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What I've seen recommended instead of something like a 4x is a 2x12. Rip off two pieces from the outside of the board and discard the middle. This gives you a much better grain orientation for stability.
The problem with putting plywood over it would be different expansion/contraction than the doug fir under it. You'd be better off with just a piece of replacable hardboard.
Layers of MDF would give you more mass for less work on the top, but require more support underneath.
-Leuf
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Thanks everyone - some great tips, I'm happy now to have a go without the worry that I'm on a fools errand. I think I'll try layering some Plywood/OSB and creating a raised edge around so there is enough room to place a sheet of 1/4" Masonite in the 'tray' created. With some doble sided tape to hold it in place I think it will suit my purposes well. Thanks again.
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Ben,
Ernie Hunt still maintains this site where he posted some work bench plans I made up a few years ago. Someone asked how to make a workbench with specific tools that they had available to them and these plans, based on a FWW design, were the result.
http://www.huntfamily.com/work_bench.htm
I've made several workbenches and hobby benches for others and a good solid - bounce free - top can be made by making a frame ( milled 2x4's), screwing 3/4" thick MDF to that and then screwing down tempered hardboard on top of that. A well made frame with cross-pieces every 16", dado'd into the sides and screwed together will make it rock solid. The MDF adds the heft and gives a nice flat surface. The 1/4" tempered hard-board can be poly'd to help it resist absorbing finish materials or water rings from your cans of ---- soda.
The plans are in both formats for AutoCad or in PDF format. Use them as a guide and modify as you see fit. Consider them a starting point and adjust the height of the bench accordingly to suit your needs. You can Google and get a zillion hits on articles that discuss the height of a workbench. In the end, it's what suits you but if you make the height the same height (or slightly lower) than the height of your tablesaw, it makes for a handy outfeed table too.
Bob S.

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BobS wrote:

Very cool plans. In the interest of speed, laziness, and general ineptitude, I can't resist the urge to offer for consideration a dumbed-down but still solid version. Mainly my goal is to rival the simplicity of butt joints while avoiding horrors like putting screws into endgrain. Wondering what you'd think.
So... for the frame, I'd glue and screw the rails straight to the edges and faces of the legs, thus avoiding my inevitable struggle with M&T joinery. The result wouldn't look like an heirloom, but it would be just as sturdy, I think.
For the cross-members, I'd think about cutting notches in the rails 1 1/2" deep by 3 1/2" wide to receive the 2x4s on their faces. Or maybe I'd notch both the rails and the cross members 3/4". Although that's twice as much work, it's still butt simple compared to M&T. Cross laps aren't as nice as M&T, but glued and screwed in, they'd sure stop the frame from ever twisting or racking, and they'd take the bounce out of any top you attached.
Even if you wanted to place the cross members on edge for even less bounce, I guess you could still cross-lap them. I suppose I'd counterbore the hell out of the screw holes so I could use shorter screws. Seems like this design wouldn't resist twisting as well, but with the top attached, it's not going anywhere.
Those are my so-called thoughts on how to do this with less time and no skill. I'd be interested to hear if you think it'd work.
Thanks for the neat plans.
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You're welcome but to clarify a point.... the workbench plans and my post about making a top (essentially a torsion box) really do not relate to each other and the frame in the plans does not lend itself well to adapting to a framed top without a lot of modification. Two different designs but....
The M&T joinery as shown in the workbench plans is butt simple too. The lower frame is made by laminating milled 2x4's and 2x6's (nice flat surfaces), gluing them together and then cutting the M&T's using a tablesaw. Racking is a big concern for any workbench that isn't attached to a wall and the joinery shown in the plans is designed to prevent that - for the long term. Yes, your ideas will probably work but not having any details other than your explanation - I would say the joints you propose will not last for the long haul.
I made a version of that workbench for my own shop and it's now over 15 years old and still standing strong. I've had a ~ 300lb jointer plus me on top of it and no racking or wiggling at all. I have two vises mounted on it and can take a long board and hand-plane it and that bench doesn't move. As I said, the design came from a FWW article way back when and they used solid hardwoods - throughout, and not laminated 2x4's and 2x6's. The cost to build it back then with a maple top was over $600 for the top alone plus another $200 or so for the frame as I recall. The design is simple and has stood the test of time and some hard use over the years.
You can research the relative strength of almost any joinery technique you want to use but you will find that most of the time, M&T is selected because of it's strength. You can certainly use other techniques, such as those you've pointed out. Do you think it will hold up to hard use or will you be building another one 6 months from now? A workbench is a really good project to start learning with. It's a workbench - nobody will notice the mistakes or care but you will learn a lot by making it the best you can - and it will serve you well for many, many years to come.
Bob S.
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BobS wrote:

Good points all, and it sounds like what you have is a bench that really is solid as a rock and a good learning experience as well. Thanks for the posts.
--Scott
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You've gotten lots of good advice here about building of a bench top with sheet goods, but not much in the way of answer to this question. I'll chime in with my $0.02. Yes, beauty is one of the reasons. Secondly, these benches are optimized for traditional methods, and those using such methods have an affinity for solid wood, and tend to eschew MDF, plywood, and the like. Most of the practical advantages of a solid top (such as stiffness) can easily be compensated for in the proper design of the sheet good top. On the other hadn, you can't easily put a shoulder vise or European tail vise on a plywood top, and the skirt needed to properly stiffen the plywood may interfere with easy clamping of goods to the top (especially if, like I, you fail to anticipate that need in building your base).
I built a traditional bench a year ago and just love it. But I will not allow any electrons to be consumed in work at that bench; it is strictly for my hand work. I have that luxury because of my first bench, which is a bench made of material not yet mentioned in this thread, a solid core door. For an only or first bench, I'd suggest a solid core door or a sheet good (doubled or tripled 3/4") bench. You'll give up a little convenience when you plane or hand cut dovetails, but will benefit more with the larger surface for glue-ups, etc. In fact, I just had to draw an ellipse. Thought nothing of taping some construction paper to my old bench top then stapling string at the focii to draw the ellipse. If all I had were my new traditional bench, I'm not sure how I would have done it, since I am sure I would not approach it with a staple gun!
--
Alex -- Replace "nospam" with "mail" to reply by email. Checked infrequently.

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alexy wrote:

I've seen people leave the hinges on and attach them to a cleat on the shop wall. Add gate legs, and it's a fold-away bench.
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Neat idea. Kinda heavy to lift, but if space is at a premium...
--
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Tue, Sep 5, 2006, 3:15pm (EDT-3) snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com (Ben) doth posteth: I'm looking at building a woodworking bench for myself and have familiarised myself with the plans that are sold on the internet. <snip>
Plenty of free plans out there too. I'd have no problem with making an entire workbench out of laminated plywood - it's actually laminated to begin with. All my stands I made from plywood. Actually, if I could get some help moving it, I've got an old dresser, with 9 drwers in it, that I could put against the back wall and use as a workbench.
If your bench sits against a wall, don't make it wider than you can reach. If it'll stand in the open, Id say don't make it so wide that you cen't reach half-way across from either side. If you want to collect sawdust, I'd say put in one of those tool troughs. I'd probably drill round holes for bench dogs too - I'd go for round top AND square top dogs, never can tell. Make a drawer under the top to hold the dogs. I'd say make it as long as you have space for, but that's your call.
JOAT I am not paranoid. I do not "think" people are after me. I "know" damn well they're after me.
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