Workbench lumber size

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Forum topic by CaptainMick posted 01-21-2021 02:47 PM 960 views 0 times favorited 38 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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12 posts in 40 days

01-21-2021 02:47 PM

Hello all! This is my first post so please forgive a quick introduction.
I’m a 38 career counselor and have decided I’m going to invest in finishing my shop and honing in on learning / refining my woodworking skills. I have built lots of large projects,... barns, outbuildings, our house… but wish to learn the finer points and start working with finer woods.
Now to the point… I am milling up some very clean Douglas fir to use as a traditional free-standing heavy workbench. I can mill any dimension needed and am planning on doing 2×6 vertical grain and then putting them through the kiln and then leaving them on stickers for a few months. Afterward I will joint and plane them. I am wondering what the ideal size of stock would be to face laminate for the table top. Would there be a difference, for instance, in using 2×6 versus 3×6 stock?
This is assuming the tabletop will be 6 inches deep.
Thanks in advance…I look forward to being a presence on this site.

38 replies so far

View controlfreak's profile


1756 posts in 608 days

#1 posted 01-21-2021 03:03 PM

Something I have learned is that holdfasts start having issues as you approach 4” thick benchtops. I am at 3 7/8” now and they are doing okay if I keep them roughed up but I plan on getting to 3 3/4 or less after a final flattening. You can see what I am working on in my Blog here on LJ

View Sylvain's profile


1199 posts in 3506 days

#2 posted 01-21-2021 04:03 PM

In the same vein as controlfreak says, it depends of the clamps you have.
Light aluminium sash clamp work easily with 2X4 (see Paul Sellers workbench build).
The nice thing with the light aluminium sash clamp is that you can use them afterwards when gluing furniture and smaller item.

If you follow Chris Schwartz anarchist workbench , he makes 3 laminations of 6 boards each an then glue them together. While the 1 1/4 thick boards used in each lamination are flexible enough, the 3 laminations have practically no flexibility. So he recommends using heavy duty clamps (see from page 215).

Personally, I would have no use for those heavy duty clamps afterwards.

Paul Sellers and Chris Schwartz have also very different views about workbench height, depth and work-holding.

D.B. Laney about mass :
And by the way, if you can move this bench around while planing, you probably need to sharpen your irons. There just isn’t enough weight to compensate for dullness.

-- Sylvain, Brussels, Belgium, Europe - The more I learn, the more there is to learn

View LittleShaver's profile


727 posts in 1626 days

#3 posted 01-21-2021 04:13 PM

Also consider the Moravian Bench.

-- Sawdust Maker

View therealSteveN's profile


7222 posts in 1581 days

#4 posted 01-21-2021 05:31 PM

2 schools of thought about anything bench like.

1) Just build a bench, using it you will teach yourself what you like, and don’t like about it while using it. Many woodworkers make several benches as they go through their journey.

2) Read, and suffer for months, and years over which bench to make, how heavy, which vise/vises, and likely never really get a bench built.

When you get down to it, there are 4 real choices. Heavy, or Light. Tall, or short. Type of wood keeps some on the sidelines forever.

The number one subject for analysis paralysis in woodworking.

I’d recommend choice number 1.

If you plan to use a lot of hand tools, make it heavy, and lower, you can always stack a Moxon on top for the work you need to be closer to you. For hand tools, I agree 100% with DB Laney above. The heaviest bench can be moved by a dull blade. UNLESS that bench is mounted to a wall, then it will not move.

If you plan to just do assembly, and a lot of power tools, you might even consider a few smaller benches you can also use to support work going on, and off power equipment, something lower for case assembly, and taller for small stuff.

Best of luck.

-- Think safe, be safe

View CaptainMick's profile


12 posts in 40 days

#5 posted 01-21-2021 06:09 PM

Thank you so much for your responses. I’m sure you’ve answered that question way too many times.
To be clear, I’m not really thinking about design quite yet. I plan on having a thick top (6”) and will do whatever fancy joinery I can muster for the legs and will consider details at a later date. I will face glue lam the top together with home milled Doug fir and am mainly wondering if it would make any difference with “checking “, twisting or warping with the depth of the rough lumber. I was planning on either two or three inches thick.

View Robert's profile


4435 posts in 2487 days

#6 posted 01-21-2021 06:59 PM

Why so thick you ww’ing or rebuilding engines?

Just kidding but really you’re more liable to have issues with holdfasts(which you will want).

You asked, ultimatelybuild it the way you want the methods you describe are fine.

Trestle base is much easier than what Mr Roubo Schwarz does.

I couldn’t help but laugh he’s ripping down a plank by hand with a bandsaw 4 feet away.

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

View bondogaposis's profile


5949 posts in 3358 days

#7 posted 01-21-2021 07:46 PM

I think 6” is way overkill. A 3” to 4” top will work well with holdfasts, anything thicker and you may have problems. Consider the vises you want and design your bench around them, in fact I recommend you buy them before you build your bench top. For instance a wagon vise is difficult to add on later. It is best to build it right into the top. If you are going to use square dog holes then you need to build them into the top as well and you won’t know where to put them unless you have your vise.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View SMP's profile


3426 posts in 912 days

#8 posted 01-21-2021 08:59 PM

I made an English workbench from Richard Maguire’s videos. I used rough 8/4 and I cannot see why i would need any thicker. I could easily park my car on top if it was big enough. Its more about the design. As somebody said, just build one instead of getting into analysis paralysis

View Sylvain's profile


1199 posts in 3506 days

#9 posted 01-21-2021 09:55 PM

The only thing I regret is having procrastinate so long.

I finally made a Paul Sellers Workbench 38” high, 1.5m long and with a work-top depth of about 1’ and a tool well also about 1’.
The top is about 70mm thick. (~2.75”)
It has been made with recycled construction grade pine.
I am very happy with it.

-- Sylvain, Brussels, Belgium, Europe - The more I learn, the more there is to learn

View Ocelot's profile


2873 posts in 3645 days

#10 posted 01-21-2021 10:24 PM

I would go with thinner rather than thicker boards for the lamination.

I agree with those who advise 4” max or 3” ideal thickness. 6” is impressive, but unnecessary. However, if that’s what you want to do, do it! I certainly understand.

As someone pointed out, if you glue it in groups you will end up with parts that are too thick to bend so they have to be pefectly flat to glue (or more accuratly, they have to fit together closely to glue).

I have some 3×6’s of Angelim Pedra and have in mind to use some for a bench top, but in the 3” thick direction.

-- I intended to be a woodworker, but turned into a tool and lumber collector.

View Foghorn's profile


1030 posts in 393 days

#11 posted 01-22-2021 12:21 AM

3” maple top on mine. I wouldn’t go thicker personally as it’s just for looks after that in my opinion.

-- Darrel

View CaptainKlutz's profile


4135 posts in 2501 days

#12 posted 01-22-2021 01:05 AM

IMHO – Thickness of lamination slab should be controlled by grain of log.
The key is end up with “quarter sawn” edge grain on the laminated top.

If have enough log(s) to slice off 3×6 slabs and not use the 2×2-3×3 center pith of the log where things get wonky, do it. If not, cut slabs thinner.
On opposite end of scale: if you can cut 14×6 slabs with proper grain direction, only need 2 of them. :-(0)

Don’t need to constrain yourself with even dimensions either. Lamination’s can be any thickness from 3/4 to 30” if grain is right direction on top. Only difference is amount of work required to make laminated top. No one is going to care if you have uneven sizes. It is a work bench, not a dining room table; right?

PS – Single/Dual slab bench tops are considered wood porn, use caution when posting big lumber like that as you might make the rest of us drool on our keyboards and unable to respond for couple days, LOL

Best Luck.

-- If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all, - Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign released 1967

View CaptainMick's profile


12 posts in 40 days

#13 posted 01-22-2021 02:52 AM

That’s all great advice thank you. I was always told with a stand-alone bench that weight, heft, thickness of top was…. go as big as you could. I was looking at it from a weight perspective and not necessarily from a hold fast perspective.
I guess I have more to consider then I originally thought….
I’m going to research these resources

View mdhills's profile


63 posts in 3639 days

#14 posted 01-22-2021 05:02 AM

If you can, arrange the laminations so that the grain orientations match—fighting the grain when flattening the top is no fun.


View Ocelot's profile


2873 posts in 3645 days

#15 posted 01-22-2021 05:15 AM

Here’s a thread

-- I intended to be a woodworker, but turned into a tool and lumber collector.

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