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
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
Links for reference:
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.
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 :-).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
NewsGuy.Com 30Gb $9.95 Carry Forward and On Demand Bandwidth
That is a great first bench, both from the building experience and
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.
I emailed Bob about this--living in Atlanta also, I wanted to know
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.
As another poster has said, this is probably way too soft. Compare
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_).
While you asked about failures, I'll give a couple of successes. I
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.
Alex -- Replace "nospam" with "mail" to reply by email. Checked infrequently.
Just a few months ago, I helped a friend build a bench that used 2x4
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Wow. I did not expect so many replies, and a lot of useful
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:
I live in New Jersey, and so far I've found that the construction grade
If you're on a budget, just make a "cube" out of 2 x 4s and then put 1
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.
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
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