Opinions please #5: Workbench layers

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Blog entry by curliejones posted 03-28-2015 12:58 PM 1556 reads 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: Electrical outlets Part 5 of Opinions please series no next part

Greetings, LJs!
I’d like to know what sort of success folks may have had making a workbench top as follows: I have a solid core flush door that I want to layer up with plywood. This will be my first woodworking bench for hand tools so my “method” or style is not defined yet. Therefore, I’m not ready to invest in the 3” maple top. I’m just looking to use what I have to get a start so I can feel my way around it. I already have a large Wilton vise that I bought used and I’m willing to use clamps to help other clamping needs to the bench. The second vise will come with the next bench, if necessary.
I have some sturdy-floor plywood, 1-1/8” thick that has a decent side and I’m considering putting that face up on top of the door. Alternatively, I can cut the plywood a little wider than the 24” wide door so there will be a drop for a tool tray. I think this would require a third layer of 1/4” hardboard to top off the door. The door veneer is pretty slick, as is. Will the door and the plywood stay glued together or will different expansion/contraction rates cause problems?

- Yes, mdf seems to be sheet of choice, but the Louisiana humidity is so bad that I predict it swelling considerably during the summer. I’m thinking the varied directions of layers plywood would perform better. BTW, the sturdy-floor seems to have very few interior voids.

-- Like Guy Clark sez - "Sometimes I use my head, Sometimes I get a bigger hammer"

9 comments so far

View NormG's profile


6497 posts in 3604 days

#1 posted 03-28-2015 01:25 PM

Seems like a good plan. You may want to consider the use of a good glue and srcews around the perimeter of the door. Your area is pretty humid a good bit.

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View Bogeyguy's profile


548 posts in 2668 days

#2 posted 03-28-2015 02:33 PM

Define solid? Staves are best.

-- Art, Pittsburgh.

View Notw's profile


740 posts in 2353 days

#3 posted 03-28-2015 02:54 PM

The workbench I built had a layer of plywood and then 2 layers of MDF, not the same materials you ahve mentioned but still different types of materials. I glued and screwed my top together from the bottom of course and have gone through an entire year of season in Carolina humidity and have seen no issues anywhere top is solid and has taken a beating. So for what its worth i think if you glue and screw it from underneath (no exposed screws on top) that under normal conditions you’ll be fine.

View curliejones's profile


186 posts in 2866 days

#4 posted 03-28-2015 05:01 PM

“A stave is a narrow length of wood with a slightly beveled edge to form the sides of barrels, tanks and pipelines, originally handmade by coopers.”
Tongue in cheek – Not a domed workbench.
These are nice doors from 50? yrs ago, measuring 8 ft in length and have a particle board core, wood perimeter, and a good-looking veneer, originally in a law office in New Orleans. 1-3/4” thick, 23-3/4 wide.

-- Like Guy Clark sez - "Sometimes I use my head, Sometimes I get a bigger hammer"

View Jerry's profile


3309 posts in 2248 days

#5 posted 03-28-2015 05:56 PM

Okay, here’s my opinion, and this is said with the kindest tone possible. I think you are barking up the wrong tree. You said you’re not ready for the cash outlay for maple, well, if you’re like most of us, you never will be. It’s extraordinarily costly, and it’s completely unnecessary to lay out that much cash for a work bench top. Here is the chart for the stiffness of common woods:

The Stiffness
of Common
Workbench Woods

Species E value
Hemlock, eastern 1.20
Chestnut 1.23
White pine 1.24
Sycamore 1.42
Basswood 1.46
American cherry 1.49
Hemlock, western 1.49
Red oak (Northern) 1.49
Poplar 1.58
European beech 1.63
Red (soft) maple 1.64
Black walnut 1.68
American beech 1.72
Ash 1.77
White oak 1.78
Hard maple 1.83
Southern yellow pine 1.93
Douglas fir 1.95
Yellow birch 2.01
Hickory, shagbark 2.16

Source: “Understanding Wood” (Taunton Press)

And here is the Janka index:

It is a test that reveals the amount of force (in pounds per
square inch) required to insert a .444”-diameter steel ball into a species
of wood so that half of the pellet is buried in the wood.

Species Specific Gravity
White pine .35
Basswood .37
Hemlock, eastern .40
Poplar .42
Hemlock, western .47
Chestnut .48
Douglas fir .48
Sycamore .49
American cherry .50
Red (soft) maple .54
Black walnut .55
Red oak (Northern) .59
Ash .60
Yellow birch .62
Hard maple .63
American beech .64
Southern yellow pine .67
European beech .68
White oak .68
Hickory, shagbark .72
Purpleheart .77

Source: “Woods of the World,” a list of species at 12 percent

Chris Schwarz says:

“If you study the chart, you’ll note that some of the woods I’ve used
for workbenches, such as Southern yellow pine, are pretty pitiful on
the Janka scale. Truth is, I think that yellow pine is tough enough for
a bench. I flatten my benchtops about once a year, and it’s an opportunity
to see how each top fared in use. I find very few serious dents
in my yellow pine tops. Never do I see a dent from a clamp head. We
use parallel-jaw clamps that can apply up to 1,000 pounds of pressure
across the clamp’s contact area. Occasionally I find a stray hammer
mark, but all in all, yellow pine is tough enough to resist most percussion.
In fact, it seems to get tougher with age.”

I can’t get Southern Yellow Pine where I live, but Douglas Fir works just fine for me.

If you get the longer boards, you can get better quality, clearer lumber, and if you look hard enough, even at a big box store like Lowe’s, or Home Depot, you can find quartersawn boards amongst the flat sawn.

You could probably spend less that $75.00 maybe even less than $50.00 and come home with enough clear quartersawn SYP or Doug Fir to make a serious work bench.

A good work bench is the foundation of all that will follow it, it’s more important than a table saw. The worst of it is, a work bench that is just a substitute for the “good” one that you will build in the future will take on a life of its own, and it will be around far longer than you intended it to be.

Experience speaking here…

-- There are good ships and there are wood ships, the ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships and may they always be.

View CharlesA's profile


3393 posts in 2398 days

#6 posted 03-28-2015 06:03 PM

I also took Chris Schwarz’s advice and ripped floor joists of SYP to make my workbench. Not too expensive, and it has performed well. The biggest negative in building it is, unlike plywood, you will have to flatten it after gluing it up. It’s a great workout/education on using a handplane, although it can be done with a router jig as well.

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

View timbertailor's profile


1594 posts in 2024 days

#7 posted 03-29-2015 01:14 AM

Building a torsion box is probably the most cost effective solution.
Birch plywood and a laminated top should provide all the strength one should need.

-- Brad, Texas,

View Notw's profile


740 posts in 2353 days

#8 posted 04-07-2015 08:36 PM

so what did you end up doing?

View curliejones's profile


186 posts in 2866 days

#9 posted 04-07-2015 09:02 PM

Hey Notw – thanks for checking on me!
Have not done a thing toward the WW bench. Having ignored the rest of the property while I built the shop, I’ve been busy with cleaning, painting, repairing, planting a garden (by hand, gave the tiller to my daughter who needed it more than I did) and getting the camper ready for a spring vacation. However, that said, your input was enough to tell me to go ahead with the two layers – solid core door and 1-1/8” thick plywood. And, as you said, glue and screw it from the bottom once I know just where dog holes might be located. A few little shop things happening, for example, over the last few days a couple hours at a time and I now have a table saw sled. Last week over a couple of days I built some gluing cauls in the shape of I-beams. The week before I cut out several glue corner braces (kind of L-shaped affairs) to help me square up case work with clamps. Shop time is at a premium (and rare) for this is a busy place in the spring. 4 acres of landscaping to add compost and mulch and I do much of the cutting with a walk-behind, but that’s by choice. I believe in use it or lose it so mowing is this 64 year old’s version of going to the gym. But besides this, I have been taking it kind of easy after pushing so hard on the shop build last year. Taking a couple minutes to watch the 200 cedar waxwings work the American Holly hedgerow, counting the 25 blooms on the Clematis vine, admiring the Grantsy gray beard and the 60 azaleas in bloom – it all takes time. When I do the WW bench, I will enjoy it!

-- Like Guy Clark sez - "Sometimes I use my head, Sometimes I get a bigger hammer"

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