making a deadflat workbench top

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Forum topic by ernieb posted 01-13-2008 10:03 PM 38678 views 0 times favorited 24 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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17 posts in 4974 days

01-13-2008 10:03 PM

re-doing my shop and was wondering if anyone could recommend a specific material and/ or technique for a FLAT benchtop. my plywood supplier suggested 1 1/2’’ mdf or if the $$ doesn’t matter 3 layers of 3/4’’ baltic birch. the top i want to make will be 4’ x 8’ .


-- ernieb westerlo, ny

24 replies so far

View John's profile


341 posts in 4847 days

#1 posted 01-13-2008 10:34 PM

The dead-flat top table that I want to build soon is the one from Wood Whisperer video episodes 18 & 19…

Whatever you choose, please post it as a project!

-- John - Central PA -

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 5038 days

#2 posted 01-13-2008 10:38 PM

A dead flat bench is only as good as the floor it’s sitting on.
If your floor is uneven then everytime you move it you will have to re-shim it to keep it flat.

I would think that a table that size would flex unless you have a great base for it. I would worry
more about that the what you actually end up using for the top.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Betsy's profile


3394 posts in 4945 days

#3 posted 01-14-2008 04:54 AM

Ernie – I have seen “workbenches” that large, but they have all had massive legs and generally had shelving/cabinetry underneath. I would view a table this large as more of a work assembly station and not so much a “workbench” in the traditional woodworking sense.

Do you plan to put on any face and/or tail vises?

Also, how do you plan to put these three pieces of ply or mdf together. Screws or glue?

I also agree with Gary’s thought on the flooring. My garage floor is very uneven and I generally have to shim everything to come up with something close to level.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View Ryan Shervill's profile

Ryan Shervill

278 posts in 4862 days

#4 posted 01-14-2008 05:42 AM

A double layer of MDF makes a fantastic bench top! The only suggestion I have is to glue the layers together, then edge the sheets with 1 5/8” hardwood, keeping the hardwood flush wih the bottom edge. This will leave a 1/8” “lip” around the top. Can you guess what that lip is for?

Put a sheet of 1/8” hardboard as the “top layer”, and the lip holds it in place, giving you a perfectly flat top. When the hardboard gets all messed up, just give it a scrape and flip it over…voila: New bench top! When you’ve done in both sides (you will….) Just replace it with a fresh sheet. At 6 dollars a sheet, it is a good investment :)

Hope this helps!


-- Want to see me completely transform a house? Look here:

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 4924 days

#5 posted 01-14-2008 11:27 AM

Torsion box!

View shaun's profile


360 posts in 4955 days

#6 posted 01-14-2008 01:36 PM

I second JC’s comment – Marc Spagnuolo’s assembly table is on my “to do” list if I ever get around to finishing the shop re-hab. Check out I’m pretty sure the plans were also published in FWW. Marc’s also an LJ member. Check out the podcasts on his site, they’re pretty entertaining.

-- I've cut that board three times and it's still too short!

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Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 5012 days

#7 posted 01-14-2008 03:18 PM

See my bench in my projects. It is 42×70 and has a a top that is 2 thicknesses of particle board and one of 3/4 Poplar ply. Works great.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Joey's profile


276 posts in 4865 days

#8 posted 01-14-2008 03:31 PM

Mine is not as large as the ones above, 3×5, I got this design from a local furniture maker. I built a cabinet under this and put heavy duty casters under it. The top starts with a sheet of MDF cut to 3×5, the second layer is scrap mdf around the edges and spaced evenly to allow some spaces, to cut down on weight. these pieces get glued and screwed. when the glue dries remove the screws and add another sheet of MDF. Glue and screw this. remove the screws when dried. flip it over and add oak or poplar or maple along the edges and chamfer. cover the whole thing with several coats of poly and voila. new table top. mine is over 5 years old and probably has another 5 years of life. It’s a little wide, but it does give enough room to work and assemble. The poly protects it very well. The torsion box design is on an episode of woodworks. I believe Marc apprenticed with David Marks, This looks like a great design for an assemble table.

-- Joey, Magee, Ms

View CharlesNeil's profile


2501 posts in 4920 days

#9 posted 01-17-2008 05:14 PM

I agree …mdf, torsion box design, and Mark did it well, check him out and follow his lead

View tworst's profile


23 posts in 3887 days

#10 posted 09-17-2010 06:38 AM

bench adj 1

bench adj 2

bench adj 3

bench adj 4

I am trying to get a flat bench. Didn’t even try getting the top flat via construction. I opted to put in adjusters. I drilled through my top into my bench risers. Then put connector bolts under the top so I can move top upwards using an allen wrench. There are also screws coming up from the bottom to pull down. I now have push/pull adjustments at multiple points to acheive both flatness and level and take out any warp. This is a new build and I will have to see how it all works in the end, but looking good so far. See links above, not sure I did it right, first time adding pictures.

View ChrisMc45's profile


117 posts in 3909 days

#11 posted 01-21-2012 01:57 PM

Hi Ernie, all;

FWIW, I have had some mixed success with solid core doors. They are 1.75” thick, perfectly flat, very rigid, glossy smooth (smooth good for assembly, sometimes bad for clamping). The edges are ~1.5” of thin-ply LVL or sometimes real wood, while the cores I have seen are coarse particle board. I scored three doors for free (ungodly heavy, >100# each) by contacting distributor of “Graham Warnock Hersey doors”. These were the type of doors in our office; found the nameplate, made some calls/emails, they were thrilled to give them away since they have to pay to take mess-ups to the dump.

Dead flat, the price was right, another option to consider. Cheers!

View HamS's profile


1842 posts in 3438 days

#12 posted 01-21-2012 02:21 PM

I think that the base is much more important than the top surface in keeping a surface dead flat. My assembly table/outfeed was built with three layers of 3/4 board, 1×3/4 cdx, 1×3/4 MDF, 1×3/4 chipboard with fused melamin”surface. The top is wrapped with 2×3 beech. The top has 4” overhang on all sides to provide an easy clamp surface. Over ten years of use, this top has sagged almost 3/32” from the high spot where the table carcase supports it to the edge of the table. However, I have learned how to work with the surface. I have just not gotten around to making a new table and learning from my mistake. The next one will be a torsion box with a thinner skin and more ribs to try to make things more ridgid. I really like the fused melamin top, glue drips pop right off the surface and I don’t have to wax or resurface it.

-- Haming it up in the 'bash.

View StanDouglas's profile


4 posts in 3403 days

#13 posted 01-25-2012 01:16 AM

I am currently building my shop work bench. It’s going to have a top 160” x 28” plus the edging. I was planning on using interior 28×80 inch doors as the “torsion box” and covering that with MDF and posible a 3/4” layer of formica or melamin board. If the doors are satisfactory as the base box, they would seem to be the way to go versus the labor and truing tools involved in making a torsion box. I have used these doors in the past as a top over some old kitchen cabinet bases. Where I was doing assembly I just used a sheet of Formica or melaimin 3/4” board over the door.

I have looked for solid doors, but that seems to be not possible and/or very costly.

Any comments welcome. In the mean time I’ll work on the base. which will be along the order of the woodwhisperer base in episode 19, but half the width and longer.


PS: I primarily build RC model airplanes and some basic furniture.

-- Cheers

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5349 posts in 5010 days

#14 posted 01-25-2012 01:42 AM

10,000 lbs. of cold rolled steel, surfaced ground, placed on inserts in a slab, leveled with a laser…...............On and on and on.
Ain’t no such thing in a wood shop as far as I know. After all, the world IS round. Is anything flat?
(My humor for the day.)

-- [email protected]

View HorizontalMike's profile


7915 posts in 3963 days

#15 posted 01-25-2012 03:36 AM

OK, someone needs to say it… Hardwood. Since you are ”re-doing” your shop, IMO, then it is probably time to consider a REAL workbench, and not just another ”... what can I get by with…” workbench. THIS ONE IS ABOUT YOU.

You may really owe it to yourself to build your dream of a workbench. After all, this is NOT your first workshop or workbench… Hmm…

P.S. The Devil made me do it… ;-)

My workbench project.

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

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