Hi, I'm a total newbie and trying to set up a first workshop on a
budget. I'm building a workbench and came across a relatively low cost
birch countertop that Ikea sells and thought of using it as an initial
top for my workbench. I know that its not ideal given some of the great
examples I've read about here on the rec and in The Workbench Book.
But, I'd like to use it until I can afford a better set-up. The
construction method I'm using would allow replacement of the top at a
later date. My other option is to use a double thickness of 3/4
Any thoughts on the suitablity of this birch material as a bench top?
If so, what would you recommend for finishing it? Thanks in advance for
any suggestions to this somewhat confused newbie.
Here's is a link to the item which is solid birch, 1 1/8 thick and
available up to 69 1/4 length X 25 5/8: http://tinyurl.com/n46ml
Thanks for the Numerar lead. A possible advantage is that beech and oak
are slightly harder than birch, but maybe not enough to make a
difference. See, for example:
Post a cost on that for us too, if you would. BTW, this is probably
sacraligious for many but I would tack down a tempered hardboard top on that
birch for a protection. Love it or hate it seems to be the opinion range.
Why not try using a solid core door? They're cheap and readily
available just about anywhere. I've used one in the past with great
success. In fact I think PlansNow has some "weekender bench" plans that
use a solid core door as the top.
http://wuudchuck.com - Free Woodworking Plans
Personally, I think you're concerned about the wrong thing. If you're
trying to set up a shop on a budget, it probably won't make a difference if
you're using a double-thickness of plywood or 1" thick birch. So long as
it's flat, of course.
If it was me, I'd either go for the solid core door that someone else
suggested, or buy a sheet of 3/4" birch plywood (cut in half, and doubled
over, if you want the extra thickness). Spend your time and money making a
solid base that you can later add a fancy top if you like. Your projects
won't turn out any better when made on a curly maple workbench than on a
solid core door, IMHO. But if you make them on a workbench that's flopping
around as you try to use a hand-plane (DAMHIKT), you'll be frustrated.
Throw on some sandbags on the base, if you need extra weight.
Dive in; make a bench. Consider it a prototype to help you get closer to
your ultimate bench. Get something pretty darn functional for minimal
investment and use it.
Don't sweat the "perfect bench" for a couple of years. This will serve you
NewsGuy.Com 30Gb $9.95 Carry Forward and On Demand Bandwidth
Wow! Thanks to all for the great responses! Seems that there's a range
of possible ways to do this.
One question on the solid core door -- the standard length is 80" and I
would need to cut it down to about 65" due to space constraints. Is
this possible, is it really solid or will I find the whole thing coming
apart once I slice into it?
By definition a solid core door is just that. The reason the surplus outlets
were suggested is that there you are likely to find the doors that are solid
wood as well as those employing an MDF (or similar) solid core and most
reasonable prices. Indeed, you are likely to find wood core and MDF core
doors priced about the same in many surplus stores.
On the MDF core doors, there is a larger solid wood member across the top
and bottom than the vertical edges in most cases (to allow for trimming).
So, you might plan on removing a bit off the top and some off the bottom to
see if you can preserve this and still achieve the desired length. If you're
chopping it off significantly, leave the one end alone and plan on gluing a
one or two inch chunk of two by four on the cut end to aleve your concerns
and improve the appearance.
See also my longer initial post suggesting a solid core door as most
suitable for your purposes at a cost that's hard to beat. The $79 IKEA top
is pretty and would certainly work and if the cost is not an object . . .
One task a woodworker might want to master is flattening a surface. If you
are up for this, joint several 2x6 or 2x8 (maybe bore across the width to
allow use of a threaded rod through at several points along the length to
tie them all together) to serve as a top. Then get yourself a plane or two
and work the top flat. Now, that would be a project worthy of expending a
few dollars on the wood.
There is, of course the problem of the veneer. Pound on it a few times, and
What do you have against two pieces of MDF tacked together?
If you use a door, use some tempered masonite for a disposable top. Shellac
it well to shed glue drips.
MDF doesn't really have much strength. You'd have to support it better
than you would with solid wood or plywood, otherwise it'll sag or bounce.
I have a wall-mounted particleboard workbench with continuous support
along both long edges as well as cross-members every few feet. If I
pound on it with a hammer everything on it rattles and bounces.
I like the solid exterior doors at the local Habitat Recycle store (salvage
stores, too.) for a sturdy bench top. I can get them for between five and
fifteen dollars. A three-Oh door is 357/8" wide or there about and can be
cut down to remove the holes for the hardware and still leave about 30" in
depth for the bench top. At 84 inches in length, there is a possibility you
might want to shorten it a bit, too.
While there, look around for a sheet of laminate to make yourself a surface
as cool as IKEA - albeit with a little more work. But Sanding the surface
and finishing with varathane or similar should suit you fine.
Make a frame and legs out of two-bay's - do you have a vise to add - and
you'll have fine old work bench. Think, too, of storage. You might want to
design a "cupboard" and drawers into the supporting stand as it will take up
as much as twenty-one square feet of floor space if you don't cut it down.
Also consider moving it about the shop. Maybe "gliders" on the bottom of
each leg or even wheels on two of the legs (lift and pull to new location).
Also, consider the height of your stationary tools. Adjusting the height of
your bench to match that of your table saw, for instance, can prove
"supportive" when cutting large pieces. Or, if you have a power planer . . .
Laminate as workbench surface is not really the best thing, as it
tends to be slippery, making the use of hold downs difficult; a thing
I learned the hard way by using a leftover of kitchen counter top for
my workbench, which has only front legs and at the back is screwed to
the wall (this ensures also that my wife is able to count every beat I
inflict on my work...)
I have to put in my two cents here...
I use high density particle board for my bench tops. A double layer of
3/4, laminated together and substrated with a one-by apron assembly,
has great tensile strength that allows you to hammer without bounce.
When I want to set up a fixture, I can fasten it to the top. If I slip
with a gouge, it takes the cut. I can set doweling stops wherever I
want. It absorbs spilled stain. Glue chips off easily. When it gets
too many holes in it, I make a paste of glue and sawdust, fill the
holes and belt-sand it clean. It's as good as new.
Put function into your base assembly and load it with your handtools,
clamps, and small electrics (not because I am telling you what to do)
but every bit of weight that you put into the base makes it a better
"There is nothing worse than straining against your work and having
your work bench walk away from you..."
But, if all you've got is a wobbly card table, that's where you should
work wood. <g>
I used something similar for my bench. I picked up the returns
and scratch 'n' dents of the formica countertops at the local
yard and pieced them together into one long bench surface. The
surface lasts a long time, drill holes in the backsplash and you
have easy pencil/small tool holders, and a space behind the
backsplash makes a good storage place for glue bottles and the
like. Plus, they have a lip in the front that keeps things from
rolling off. I had to destroy portions of it for my vises, etc.,
but it's still a good deal. Easy to clean and keep looking good,
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