Premade or from scratch workbench top?

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Forum topic by Joshua Oehler posted 01-23-2015 03:09 AM 2095 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Joshua Oehler

169 posts in 2469 days

01-23-2015 03:09 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question

So I have been laid up with an injury for a few months now. Since I am finally starting to feel better its time to get back to the workshop. This past Christmas my wife bought me a woodriver large front vise and a woodriver large end vice slide since I have been wanting some vises to build a workbench for a few years now. Now I am debating on how to handle the top. I will start off by saying that I live in southwest florida so wood that is pretty common and inexpensive to most people is not the case for myself. I debating between buying a laminated maple top from woodcraft or spending the money to order some hard maple and building it myself. After looking it is definitely less expensive to buy the premade top, buy some nice wood to skirt it and fit the vises to it. I am just not sure if this is creating more work that building it from scratch so I figured I would ask here to see about others experiences. So what are your thoughts?

-- - "But old news can change, as memories float downstream. So don't judge me by my failures, only by my dreams"

13 replies so far

View JimF's profile


146 posts in 4071 days

#1 posted 01-23-2015 03:36 AM

Another alternative. IKEA has laminated oak and birch counter tops. They are 1-1/2” thick, so too thin by themselves, but gluing two together gives you a 3” thick top. You can get them for less than $200/each. Cost depends on length. I can’t quote chapter and verse, but I read about this in Popular Woodworking or one of the Schwarz workbench books. I have a single birch top as a counter top on shop cabinets and it is performing well.

-- Insert clever tag line here

View Deycart's profile


444 posts in 3036 days

#2 posted 01-23-2015 03:46 AM

Your top bench is going to be more than 300 in materials???? I assume you are just looking at wood prices from woodcraft or homedepot. They sell at a CRAZY mark up. There is going to be a local saw mill or lumber yard that sells to cabinet makers. They will have MUCH better prices. If not wait a while and some one will post a pile of lumber that was collecting dust on craigslist.

View HerbC's profile


1804 posts in 3637 days

#3 posted 01-23-2015 03:48 AM

Go to the box stores and look at SYP (Southern Yellow Pine). Charles Schwarz has described using SYP to build workbenches several times. You don’t need all this “nice” hardwood to make a good, functional workbench.

-- Herb, Florida - Here's why I close most messages with "Be Careful!"

View woodbutcherbynight's profile


6069 posts in 3187 days

#4 posted 01-23-2015 04:02 AM

Consider taking two sheets of 3/4 MDF glued together, skirt with some oak or other hardwood, then covering with laminate. (Formica) I have four in the shop currently with a new miter saw fence I just built. Looking at the date code on the oldest one it is 11 years old and still going strong. If you look around some you might find some counter-tops that are in decent shape that can be redone to fit your needs. I have come across old service center tall desk assemblies and taken them apart and made new cabinets with tops and such.

-- Live to tell the stories, they sound better that way.

View waho6o9's profile (online now)


8909 posts in 3355 days

#5 posted 01-23-2015 06:05 AM

View langski93's profile


124 posts in 4211 days

#6 posted 02-18-2015 11:42 PM

Building my own bench was important to me. Its kind of why I got into woodworking. I used mostly “soft maple” which in NH is cheaper than “hard” or rock maple, but sufficiently hard to resist all I throw at it. I did skirt it with hard maple but that did not amount to much. If I had to do it again I would not bother with the hard maple. Also, legs can be any heavy stock, yellow pine, oak or whatever you have on hand. Keep it simple and you will enjoy the journey. My two cents.


-- Langski, New Hampshire

View mcase's profile


446 posts in 3907 days

#7 posted 02-19-2015 01:05 AM

I have used hardwood ply laminated for the top of my first bench. My second bench – which I meant to be my lifetime bench – I used quartersawn white oak. IMO southern yellow pine is not a choice material for a bench top – you can decide for yourself. But syp or heavy fir can be used for the legs and/or trestle. While it is desirable that the top be hardwood, you need not use maple or quartersawn white oak, but could certainly build a very nice top out of red oak. Also, a quality maple top from a Boos or another reputable company with trimmed sides would certainly work.

View canadianchips's profile


2632 posts in 3775 days

#8 posted 02-19-2015 07:35 PM

Figure out what you rally want from your workbench.
Do you want large area?
Do you want something to assemble things on ?
Do you want SOLID ? (something that will take pounding, cutting, abuse)
I have had all.
My first table was positioned behind table saw, same height it served as a helping aid for large sheets of plywood that I would cut, it also was used to store pieces of lumber underneath, and I used it to assembly my cabinets. It was made cheaply from 2×4 and “chip” board …...OSB.
Then I made tables along the wall. Same 2×4 frame construction but I used 1” plywood I had from a building project.
Then I added to the wall tables, I used LVL that were left over from another job. These were 1 3/4” thick. This was nice and solid. I could also drill “DOG HOLES” into it.
The last one I built I used 6×6 MAPLE 4 of them glued and bolted with rady rod together, I skirted the long sides with 2 pieces of 2×10 solid oak. Legs were made from 6×6 maple. This table weighs over 400 lbs. It doesnt jiggle when I cut with hand saw or use my hand planes. I also have dog holes in 3 rows the length of the table. Table is 6ft long.

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View Moron's profile


5048 posts in 4671 days

#9 posted 02-19-2015 09:25 PM

i know what I want from a work bench

I want what ever leaves it, to be as beautiful as every thought I put into it

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View pjr1's profile


26 posts in 1992 days

#10 posted 02-19-2015 09:40 PM

Butcher block counter tops are typically 1 1/2” thick but they can be made thicker. I got a smokin’ deal on a 1 3/4” thick hickory piece on Craigslist that’s plenty thick enough for me.

View JayT's profile


6402 posts in 2989 days

#11 posted 02-19-2015 09:51 PM

From Christopher Schwarz’s advice on Mistakes of First Time Bench Builders

3. Over-agonizing the wood types used

Any wood (even plywood) can be used to make a bench. The material should be cheap, easy to get, heavy (if possible), dry-ish and heavy (if possible). After a few years of use, your bench will look like every other used bench – beat up, broke in and awesome.

Notice that the first criteria for him is cheap. My main bench is SPF construction lumber. I also have a very inexpensive travelling bench made out of oak trucking skids that cost me almost nothing. Paul Sellers has built many benches from Home Depot 2×4’s. Find something cheap and use it.

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

View Moron's profile


5048 posts in 4671 days

#12 posted 02-19-2015 10:08 PM

im a simpleton, and prefer just a set of box horses, be it wood, steel stud, even plastic, a piece of plywood, and good to go, no big permanent footprint, no gut groaning weight, easy to move, ship, work

maybe its just me, and the spoils of experience on knowing that a work bench, with all its curly maple, dead weight beech, bolts, vises, and all the log dogs known to a craftsman, are now best served close to an oven, a cook top and fridge, where my knife skills replace my joinery.

If I were to look at the joys of cooking versus joinery and woodworking, I would look at a person who claimed they couldn’t cook because they didn’t have the right oven, the right pot, the right spoon, the excuse, with the same puzzled look, as the person who claimed they didn’t have a bench, maybe because I now do things where excuses have lifted the veil, and exposed the culture of being trapped in a box and not to say that there aren’t moments where I don’t miss the click of vise, like a tumbler on a safe, where wood speaks and privilege teaches, wood whispers and the sense of satisfaction becomes a drug of smells : )

its very important to know what your goals are, be it a dish of Kraftdinner or a solid maple perfectly mortised and perfectly tenoned timber, bolted and drawn together, some day, my bench will be part of my kitchen : ) and until then I will always give my right hand man the test of 20 minutes, just enuf time to make a bench

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View Moron's profile


5048 posts in 4671 days

#13 posted 02-19-2015 11:14 PM

in answer

if u hav a wife who currently loves u ?

and bought you those treasured conveniences

ild make your kitchen island (aka bench) the best investment she ever made, your convenience, her pleasure and stand your ground waving a white flag in the hope she will forgive you for buying 3k in hardwood that you can both enjoy in her kitchen, its where kids and families gather, where wood invested brings bigger rewards then a lonely basement that gets dusted

putting a bang in a buck that makes a difference isnt easy is it ?

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

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