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Advice on workbench options

by EdwardM
posted 01-23-2017 02:18 PM

14 replies so far

View UpstateNYdude's profile


965 posts in 2870 days

#1 posted 01-23-2017 02:29 PM

The Schwarz advocates for the top being a solid slab that can be super green, he doesn’t recommend it for the legs and stretchers. As long as it’s heavy and your capable of flattening it for the unstable years any wood will work, its just a question of if you use pine would you want to deal with sap and pitch when it seeps out.

I’m in a similar boat as you as I’m building a bench this spring and am currently trying to line up some beech big enough for a top. I can’t find anyone with thick slabs so I’ll be stuck laminating pieces together.

-- Nick, “I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it.” – Vincent Van Gogh

View bigJohninvegas's profile


808 posts in 2348 days

#2 posted 01-23-2017 02:35 PM

I have read those Chris Schwarz books too. I’m om the west coast so Fir is the available wood at the big box store. No supply of standing dead trees for me, lucky you. While I think ash would work fine, I believe I would use the pine. Not because I think one is a better wood, but because of the access to the mill. It may cost more at the miil, but your time involved with milling and flattening the ash is valuable too. Also I like ash. I think I would save it for a furniture project. Ash or pine, having a couple big slabs vs the 2X10 fir boards I have access too. You will have a very nice bench.
Can you haul the ash to the mill? Both will need to be re flattened over time. Not sure about ash getting slippery. Be careful with what you use for a finish on it.

-- John

View Robert's profile


4059 posts in 2367 days

#3 posted 01-23-2017 03:14 PM

I can’t get my mind around using green wood for a benchtop but oh well if Schwarz says it ok, it must be ok :-).

Have you considered laminating thinner boards? This methods evens out the stress and/or irregularities and can be quite a bit easier to keep flat. Plus it will be easier to find good lumber with no knots.

Don’t know where you’re located, but in my area, dead pines are usually dead because of pine beetles.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View TObenhuber's profile


185 posts in 2479 days

#4 posted 01-23-2017 03:22 PM

I think at the end of the day. It comes to the time and money required. For me, the money is the biggest factor.

I agree with the above post. Given no limitations, a solid slab exotics heavy wood bench would be awesome. I’m thinking walnut in my imagination or Zebra. I think that would look awesome.

In reality, I mill my own 10” to 11” local oak logs I can find in the wooded areas near my house. In my shop I save those for a rainy day (Currently raining here in Virginia and I also mean dry sunny day). If I had the log of ash I would get it milled and saved for the right project. Same for the pine.

With benches also on my mind. If I were to do it again, I would still buy the best 2X10 or 2X12 as long as you can handle (~16’). Mill and laminate those together. Make an awesome bench and be done with it. I currently have a heavy 2×4” laminated bench and it has been great, when its not covered in crap. Heavy, I can hit it really hard an it will never move. Heavy weigh makes a huge difference.

I would save your time and effort milling. Buy construction lumber. Make the top about 4” thick. Make the legs about 4” by 6” or 8”. Connect them with mortise and tenon. Finish with nothing or maybe some shellac for basic protection. At the end of the day are you making home furniture to gloat about and decorate your shop. Or, a shop tool that will be dinged, dented, pounded on, pushed against, blotched with finish, and often covered with tools. The construction lumber top can be planed, sanded and refinished multiple times with ease if needed especially if it’s 4” thick.

If you need more eye candy. Check out Jay Bates' Work Bench His turned out awesome.

Depends on your goals.

-- Travis, Virginia,

View EdwardM's profile


3 posts in 1376 days

#5 posted 01-23-2017 04:19 PM

Once again, very helpful. Thanks.

Yes, the pine is dead from pine bark beetles, but they stick to the bark so the wood itself if fine. I’m definitely not interested in a beautiful bench. I plan on abusing it profusely, and I don’t mind checking, or flattening a couple times a year. I do have drier wood for the legs and stretchers (some old, checked, Siberian elm).

I hadn’t thought about sap in the pine …

I like the point about goals. All the wood I have is from neighbors. It was free. So I have this strong desire to use wood that is literally all around me, especially in my neck of the woods (Colorado) where wood is relatively more scarce (than say Kentucky). So why waste it on a bench? I need to think about that. You could argue that making my primary tool from this wood is entirely appropriate. Or you could say “get off the computer and build the thing.”

View HorizontalMike's profile


7898 posts in 3801 days

#6 posted 01-23-2017 04:58 PM

Here is my White Ash Workbench, based on Bob Lang’s 21st Century Workbench project:
Mine is nearly 90in. long with 3in. thick top. IMO, I could have made it shorter (in other words any size you want). Very sturdy, straight, and very usable. I actually was able to plane both top halves with my lunchbox planer. It maxed it out but I pulled it off. Just a thought.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View MrRon's profile


5943 posts in 4130 days

#7 posted 01-23-2017 05:30 PM

I don’t subscribe to the “furniture” approach to workbench design. A workbench should and does get beat up over it’s life. Using good hardwood for something that is utility in nature just bothers me, mainly because I can’t afford good hardwood, but must rely on cheaper softwoods, like pine and DF. Any hardwood I happen to have is reserved for that “special” project. Sure a Roubo style bench looks nice, but I would hate to slip with my chisel and take a chunk out of that beautiful wood. But it’s your money, your wood and your choice.

View HokieKen's profile


15161 posts in 2025 days

#8 posted 01-23-2017 06:01 PM

In my experience, pine is the worst for movement when drying. I’d be very hesitant to use big slabs of it fresh out of the ground and off the mill for a bench. If I did go that way, I’d make the joinery between the top and base temporary until it had a couple years to dry out a bit.

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View Keith Kelly's profile

Keith Kelly

336 posts in 2550 days

#9 posted 01-31-2017 04:39 AM

I don’t subscribe to the “furniture” approach to workbench design. A workbench should and does get beat up over it s life.
- MrRon

Let it be clear that I am a programmer, not a real woodworker, and my approach certainly isn’t appropriate for everyone… So take this with a cannister of salt:

My work bench base is a bunch of 2×4’s/2×6’s mounted together in a way that’s very solid. I built it before I got into woodworking. The top is 2 layers of 3/4” Advantech OSB with 2 more layers of 1/2” baltic birch plywood on it. 2 vises. One of the vise handles is metal, and one is a dowel with other dowels drilled through it. Not even turned on a lathe (an abomination, I know!)

The part I like is being able to drill, screw, or cut through it wherever, whenever, to do whatever is on the list. After a couple years, I replaced the top layer of BB.

Let it also be clear: I will build a nice Roubo work bench one day and will take great pride in making it as well as enjoying the experience. But I cannot see myself ever getting rid of a hefty beater work bench.

Or you could say “get off the computer and build the thing.”
- EdwardM

If you do want to build a nice one for the process, enjoyment, practice, or awesome end result, don’t feel bad about spending time researching as you’re doing.

-- Keith | Subscribe:

View Aj2's profile


3423 posts in 2684 days

#10 posted 01-31-2017 05:05 AM

Building a beach out if green wood is a dumb idea.The top is the most important part of a work bench.
If don’t have patience to wait for if to dry find a different hardwood.
Chris Schwarz is fake news if that’s his recommendation.


-- Aj

View HorizontalMike's profile


7898 posts in 3801 days

#11 posted 01-31-2017 11:40 AM

Keith Kelly:
”...If you do want to build a nice one for the process, enjoyment, practice, or awesome end result, don’t feel bad about spending time researching as you’re doing…”

+10 on that! I did exactly that, and my workbench was my FIRST major WW project. It taught me laminating, dovetails and other joinery, finishing, proper use of clamps, making DP jigs to compensate for a too small DP when making dog holes, keyed knock-down construction, etc.

Do note that in my bench image above (post#6), on the far left is my old, gifted to me, work bench made of 2×4 and topped with 3/4” plywood. I got countless numbers of splinters from using that bench… Ouch!

Hardwood is MUCH nicer to use, and it has been well worth it in the long run, IMO.

And in agreement with Edward the OP, I follow the philosophy of, ”...defecate already, or get off the pot!...” ... ;-)

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View EdwardM's profile


3 posts in 1376 days

#12 posted 01-31-2017 07:22 PM

Slabbed the ash trunks on Saturday. My wife is thrilled to have it looking a little cleaner in the driveway. So now I have two 7’ slabs, 6” by 13”. I will join these for the top. I was going to flatten these by hand, but now I’m looking for a (new) friend with a great big jointer (I live in Northern Colorado).

Slabbing was a lot of work, and very fun. I tacked a long 1 by 1 oak stick to the log as a guide, and cut as straight as I could, keeping the chainsaw in the same plane as much as possible. Started with a new chain; by the end it was dull. Found two nails and a cable. Met one of my neighbors and had a great conversation about growing amaranth and watching Roy Underhill.

Schwarz seems too obsessed with research and experience to make something up. He’s been working on a bench he built green (just the top was green) for awhile, documenting its movement, or lack of. He’s written a lot about it. I don’t care if some splits develop. I will beat this thing to hell.

So now I’ll work on joining that top, and slabbing the legs. I have a lot of dry elm logs. They have a fair amount of checking, but elm’s interlocking grain should keep them from splitting? Or I will abandon the elm logs for home center lumber, but that is less fun, which is a problem.

View BuffaloBrewer's profile


78 posts in 1705 days

#13 posted 01-31-2017 07:50 PM

you might want to look into router jigs for flattening slabs/table tops. something like this.

View BobBlarney's profile


79 posts in 2022 days

#14 posted 02-01-2017 12:32 PM

Maybe it would be helpful to watch Paul Sellers make a Nicholson-style bench from common boxstore 2×4s. He takes a very sensible approach to woodworking based upon 50+ years experience. The complete process is shown on videos that are on Youtube.

-- Curator, Museum of Unfinished Projects

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