Workbench wood species opinion

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Forum topic by RobHannon posted 04-05-2018 03:18 PM 1076 views 0 times favorited 22 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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326 posts in 1132 days

04-05-2018 03:18 PM

I know a lot of folks make workbench tops more economically using 2x douglas fir from the big box stores. I wanted to know how many of you have been happy with that as a long term workbench vs having that as a temporary workbench until rebuilding with a hardwood was possible?

I am primarily a power tool woodworker, but hoping to grow a bit with handtools. Up till now I have made do with Sawhorses and plywood or Workmates because of space/organization constraints. I recently downsized some tools that were overkill and should be able to move to a small but heavy workbench like I have wanted. I will probably do construction grade lumber first, but I dont know if I want to get too elaborate if that softer top is something I will outgrow quickly.

22 replies so far

View gargey's profile


1013 posts in 1377 days

#1 posted 04-05-2018 03:27 PM

Softwood is perfectly viable as a long term solution, and cheaper.

Hardwood will wear a bit better over time and tends to be heavier. Can be more work to flatten it.

The only reason to make a workbench fancy and beautiful and refined is if you want to enjoy those qualities.

Its possible to build a very functional and robust bench relatively quickly and cheaply. Its possible to build a beautiful ornate bench that will take forever.

Decide what you want…

Alternatively, you can buy one. I did, and am very happy with that decision. Horses for courses.

View RobHannon's profile


326 posts in 1132 days

#2 posted 04-05-2018 03:35 PM

Beauty is not my concern for the workbench at all. Longevity is though. If a softwood bench will last me 15-20 years and work well, spending the extra time to plan in a leg vice and tool well make sense to me. If I am going to be fighting with the top to keep it relatively flat and smooth all the time, I would rather treat the hole project as a learning exercise.

View Robert's profile


3598 posts in 2083 days

#3 posted 04-05-2018 04:41 PM

Because of mass and durability, personally I would never use anything but hardwood.

A softwood bench could certainly last you that long, depends on how you treat it.

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

View bbasiaga's profile


1243 posts in 2597 days

#4 posted 04-05-2018 06:38 PM

Been working on a doug fir bench for over a year now. No complaints. Total cost was less than $200, including a leg vice screw from grizzly and two pipe clamps I used to make an end vice. I used Stumpy Nubs plans, but modified a bit.

If this is your first bench, it is the ideal material. You will use it and figure out what you like and don’t like about the design. And you can choose to build a new one later as you learn how you like to work. And at that point you are only out $200 or less. Imagine spending 1k on a nice maple bench and wishing you built a Nicholson instead of a Roubo!


-- Part of engineering is to know when to put your calculator down and pick up your tools.

View Mr_Pink's profile


183 posts in 974 days

#5 posted 04-05-2018 07:17 PM

I have a hardwood bench top only because laminating two layers of butcher-block countertop together seemed faster and easier than laminating a bunch of construction lumber. It was also cheaper than any pre-made hardwood top I’ve seen of the same thickness.

View JayT's profile


6354 posts in 2813 days

#6 posted 04-05-2018 07:22 PM

I’ve been using my 2x construction lumber bench for nearly five years now and no complaints.

Brian makes some good points about learning how you work and what features you really need.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View msinc's profile


567 posts in 1105 days

#7 posted 04-05-2018 07:37 PM

I just recently built a 30X30 shop and moved all my stuff in it. This is the first time I have had a big enough shop that I could have a nice bench. Big choices…hardwood to last and be heavy so it don’t move…soft wood to build and finish easy and not mark up or scratch the new work being done on it….I went with a 3” thick white oak laminated top that is 6X6 foot and has a nice 2” thick oak stand. It had to be flattened with a router sled and I have 6 draw bolts thru the top. It is heavy and will never move. You can put something on it and take a big hammer and beat the heck out of it, but the table wont budge. Problem is that you also cant move it when/if you need to without more guys around to help. Getting it flat with the router sled was a time consuming ordeal as well.
The workbench generates a lot of positive comments by all that see it, but if I had it to do over again I honestly think I really would just build it out of pine and move on with the program.

View LesB's profile


2301 posts in 4045 days

#8 posted 04-05-2018 09:05 PM

While I appreciate those beautiful hardwood benches I tend default to function and cost over beauty.
My work benchs are made from 1 1/8” plywood sub-flooring topped with 3/4” MDF nailed in place, setting on a heavy 2×4 and 4×4 frame with storage shelves under it. It is heavy and hell so it doesn’t move and when the MDF top becomes ugly I just pop it off and either turn it over or replace it. I do seal the MDF with a couple of coats of a poly finish (usually some that is aging and no longer trusted for other use). It just soaks in and seals the MDF against moisture and stain.

-- Les B, Oregon

View John's profile


246 posts in 2183 days

#9 posted 04-05-2018 09:37 PM

+1 on softwoods. Easier to flatten and after a year or two you wont need to. With a thick enough top, its plenty heavy and cheaper than hardwoods. Mine is very soft hem fir from the blue borg, and i expect it will last at least a few decades. Ill probably end up building a new one before this is used up.

-- I measured once, cut twice, and its still too short...

View johnstoneb's profile


3131 posts in 2775 days

#10 posted 04-05-2018 10:57 PM

You need to be carful with Hardwoods for a bench top. If they are too hard you can actually damage the wood you are working on. There is absolutely nothing wrong of bad using soft wood for a workbench. Use what is locally available. My bench is made from paper birch that I cut ands had sawed into lumber in northern Idaho it is certainly not a very hard wood. That bench is 25 or so years old and still if very good condition.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View Knockonit's profile


632 posts in 804 days

#11 posted 04-05-2018 11:05 PM

I made a work, assembly bench, it has two layers of 3/4 ply, with a 1/4 tempered hardboard top, slightly laminated, so when damaged beyond use i can peel off and hit it with a little love and add another piece.

my go to work bench is a old hard top, roubo type deal, couple vises, i bought it used almost 25 years ago, and it was pretty used then, i’ve rebuilt parts of the mechanical area, vices ect. no leg vise, as i don’t have a use for it, and well space since moving to the 2.5 car garage is limited. I’m tough on tools and same on benches, and its probably time to clean the top of work bench some, but it seems to have a project on it all the time, and no time to do it, so it will just have to wait.

my buddy as a almost pristine beautiful hardwood bench, and I harass him in regards to his very careful treatment of it, hehe, i mean its maybe 7-8 years old and well me thinks its not got one dent, scratch ect. or hes been working on the top regularly. oh well. to each their own.

don’t think i;’ll ever build one, don’t think i could decide on what type, so i’ll just replace mine when needed with what ever comes down the pike
Rj in az

-- Living the dream

View coxhaus's profile


152 posts in 1496 days

#12 posted 04-05-2018 11:28 PM

I made a 2×4 workbench when I was young. I used the 2×4 on edge for the thicker top. I flattened the top all smooth and rounded the outside corners. I used a hand jack plane and electric sander. Mounted a vice. I don’t remember the finish but it was probably BLO. It lasted 7 or 8 years until I sold the house. It worked great while I had it.

View BurlyBob's profile


6889 posts in 2867 days

#13 posted 04-05-2018 11:29 PM

I’m getting ready to build a Roubo bench and plan on using Beech. It’s fairly hard and I’m finding it a wonderful wood to work with.

View unclearthur's profile


316 posts in 2390 days

#14 posted 04-06-2018 06:49 AM

Made mine from softwood and am totally satisfied. I kept the grits low when sanding the top, and finished with poly; seems to give a reasonable balance between protection and not being too slippery.

View fuigb's profile


568 posts in 3559 days

#15 posted 04-07-2018 02:23 AM

I use two rolling workbenches with tops made of face laminated Douglas fir dimensional/studs picked up from Home Depot. I work on these all of the time and have literally pounded the sh*t out of them for seven or eight years. I went this route because the fir was cheap and available. No regrets at all as these tops have taken tremendous abuse but still look good and are, of course, fully functional.

FWW I’m working on a stationery bench made from hardwood. I’ve not give up on fir for things like this, but I came across a goldmine of hardwood pallets and decided to up my bench game in the name of experimentation and cheapness.

-- - Crud. Go tell your mother that I need a Band-aid.

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