Dimensional lumber for work bench

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Forum topic by Monte Milanuk posted 05-05-2020 01:03 AM 435 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Monte Milanuk

53 posts in 4575 days

05-05-2020 01:03 AM

Topic tags/keywords: workbench traditional nicholson dimensional construction lumber

On a Nicholson style bench, made with dimensional/construction lumber… how do you keep the tops and aprons from ‘Pringle-ing’ aka cupping/bowing? It’s not like you can really cut out just quarter-sawn area, not unless you want to rip and edge-glue a lot of thin strips? Very frustrating to have nice flat planks and a month later have all four (both top and both aprons) cupped already.

Even for more traditional ‘slab’ style tops made from construction lumber, where you cut out the center of the board and face-glue the quarter-sawn sides together to make the slab… how much waste do you end up going thru to get usable wood?

Starting to wonder if dimensional lumber is really cheaper, or actually more expensive, by the time you get done sorting thru piles (and re-stacking) in the store, and then cutting away all the undesirable parts… is the waste ratio higher than with mill lumber?

10 replies so far

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Craftsman on the lake

3514 posts in 4319 days

#1 posted 05-05-2020 01:20 AM

I’ve done a number of tops from dimensional lumber. Here in NE it’s spruce. Not the hardest wood but very inexpensive and good to work with. It’s sort of like pine in that it doesn’t split.

When I do this I purchase 2×10’s or 2×12’s. They are usually much straighter than smaller dimensions like 2×4’s. Then I joint, cut, and plane them. I usually use the entire thing. Sometimes there is waste if a knot is too large. They are very straight. After I’ve worked with them I’ve never had an issue. Then again I’ve used them for work benches and country tables so I’ve used them fairly thick. Done that way, and glued they hold pretty nicely.

I’m hoping I didn’t misunderstand your queston.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

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Monte Milanuk

53 posts in 4575 days

#2 posted 05-05-2020 02:51 AM

Yes… but in the first example I am using 2×12s that were reasonably clear, flattened and thicknessed… and weeks later, cupped edge to edge. All four of them.

View Aj2's profile


3414 posts in 2680 days

#3 posted 05-05-2020 03:20 AM

That’s pretty much what your gonna get with construction lumber. It’s really good for framing and poor for building cabinets or a bench where you do want a flat surface.
Find a lumber yard and look at the kiln dried wood.
If you want to have a nice bench you’ll need time and money.

Good Luck

-- Aj

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Monte Milanuk

53 posts in 4575 days

#4 posted 05-05-2020 03:25 AM

Yeah… just seems with the various recommendations like Siemensen, Schwarz, etc. that there has to be a viable way to deal with it. Flattening the top is one thing… flipping the bench onto both sides to do them as well is more than mildly annoying.

View therealSteveN's profile (online now)


6441 posts in 1456 days

#5 posted 05-05-2020 04:25 AM

I think for the most part you are differentiating 2 types of folks. Ones who can go with kinda flat, and those who want, and expect dead azz flat. Different expectations, will require different materials, or as you said, a lot of time for the 2 x stuff to fully dry, but much of the time if it isn’t nailed tight to something else that is flat, it will resemble a twisted banana by the time it gets to the kind of dry you are talking about.

Some truth that the 2×6, 8, 10, 12 is going to be a much better grade of wood progressively than the 2×4, but still it comes to the BORG at about 17 to 19% The term KILN DRIED fools many to believe it to be dried to the magical 6 to 8% a hardwood would be. They only kiln it to a level below where it would otherwise mold, and rot. Evidently someone at Weyerhaeuser, or Georgia-Pacific must have thought that would be bad for business. Prior to dimensional lumber, a 2×4 at 2” x 4” was a well dried piece of wood, no matter if it was pine, fir, spruce, whatever.

So the answer is easy. Tear down a pre 20th century house, and use the framing to build your bench. Actually depends where you live. Here in SW Ohio a good many 1950’s homes were made with squared 1 5/8” x 3 5/8” boards. Again, depends on the “where” part, but some 1940’s 50’s homes are worth about as much as a good woodworking bench.

-- Think safe, be safe

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Monte Milanuk

53 posts in 4575 days

#6 posted 05-05-2020 04:30 AM

Interesting point Steve… I happened to be browsing the web page for the only lumber store inside a hundred miles (besides the box stores and construction yards), and they had a bunch of reclaimed 2×12 floor joists, etc. I wonder if any of those would be usable for this?

View SMP's profile


2658 posts in 787 days

#7 posted 05-05-2020 04:45 AM

Let it stabilize in your garage/shop for a couple months. Build it. rough flatten, wait a week or two, flatten some more, repeat a couple tomes before final flatten and finish

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Monte Milanuk

53 posts in 4575 days

#8 posted 05-05-2020 02:07 PM

That’s probably the best option… and why the legs are fairly stable (they were rough milled and then left set for a year or more as I procrastinated). The tops and aprons got put into service relatively quickly.

If I have to let it sit and acclimate and what not, it further defeats the purpose of using dimensional/construction lumber. Particularly if by the time its done cupping, bowing and twisting its no longer viable to get a plank of the desired width/thickness out of it.

View bandit571's profile


26722 posts in 3565 days

#9 posted 05-05-2020 02:16 PM

Just build it out of glue-lams beams….rip to the thickness of the top you want….

If Sellers can build a decent bench out of laminated plywood….why not..

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View mitch_56's profile


36 posts in 1355 days

#10 posted 05-05-2020 04:39 PM

I do a combination of Craftsman on the lake and SMP.

Buy 2×12s—the clearest you can find. Pick through the pile if necessary.
Then rip out the middle ~3 inches or so and burn it or etc.
Let the remainder acclimate to your shop and dry. Might take a few months.
Build your bench from there—for a Nicholson-style bench, just joint, laminate (probably alternating frown/smile is best for a workbench, but ymmv) and flatten as needed.

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