Take it Easy for Workbench Tops

Workbench Wood

When working with construction grade timber, aside from the knots, you’ll more than likely find “eased edges.” You could be concerned that things won’t look good, or have fears about less-than-perfect glue lines or the like. My thoughts are to accept what you have and turn things to your advantage; on a workbench project, they won’t matter one bit if you go with the flow. Because I enjoy working by hand it does not mean I like working for the sake of it. I still like to have the illusion I’m being effective.

So on that basis, I’ve avoided making a laminated top and worked with the boards lying flat. Although the top seems thin compared to some designs, it’s still plenty thick enough – and even quite in excess of some old benches I’ve seen

The other benefits of eased edges are that the arris is already removed for you; that means protection for your hands when you’re working and protection for your bench when using it. If you’re having to build from sawhorses like I have chosen to do, the rounded edges where two boards meet prevent your eye being drawn to the glue line that ultimately will not be perfect. So like many things, it’s about using things to your favor and changing perspective – all of a sudden, things can seem so much better.

— Graham Haydon

15 thoughts on “Take it Easy for Workbench Tops

  1. Bill Lattanzio

    Your joiners bench with the wide front apron I would assume offers an excellent about of support for the top, even if it were thin. My bench top is 3in thick laminated common pine. I’ve tried to make it flex and I can’t. I can bear down on it with all my weight or stand on it and it doesn’t move and I weigh more than 200lbs (yeah, I need to lose a few). I have to imagine that construction lumber (doug dir in my area) attached to a stout base will offer a very rigid top. In fact, I believe that Christopher Schwarz lists doug fir as a good choice as well.

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Hi Bill!

      Yes indeed, the apron acts like a beam, joist or lintel. It’s the same way floor boards can be thin because floor joist on edge reduce the effective span. Construction timber is ideal for just about any home woodworker as your bench proves. Hope to see your blog active again soon!

      Best

      G

  2. mdnb41

    I think I may have the best of all worlds in work benches. My dad and his friend discovered a bowling alley was replacing their lanes and selling the old maple ones. so they divided it up and I have a solid maple 43″ w x 97″ long absolutely straight work table bench. He made the supports of 4×4 legs with 2×12 across the ends and a shelf underneath that is supported on 2×4 in the perimeter and 3/4 plywood. Since we live in an area that has tornados, he said it would double as a great place to take cover if we ever needed it. I think he is right. we also finished it with simple trim boards to enclose the unfinished and some what rough edges. the biggest hurdle was that every board was nailed to it’s neighbor about every 6″ tough on the saw when dividing the sections. I think I will hand this down many generations.

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Love to hear people using the stuff that comes along rather than waiting for an assumed ideal. I think your bench has the potential for many a generation.

      Best

      G

  3. Handy Herb

    Years ago a young ship builder friend helped me with a top for my work bench. He recommended that we buy a 4×8 sheet of heavy duty 1 1/2 inch thick tongue and grooved plywood flooring commonly installed on the upper floors of a building. We cut off the edges and split it lengthwise. We then glued the two halves together with a lot of screws from the bottom side. That left us with a very solid and flat 3 inch thick slab of wood that was roughly 24 x 96 inches. All that would left was to build a support frame. Mine is made of 4×4 leg stock that has wrap around 2 x 4 bracing top and bottom with a diagonal cross brace underneath.

    I use part of it as a support for my drill press. The top is not physically attached to the frame. It does not move. You can hit the top with a hammer and it is like hitting the concrete floor. No bounce. When it gets dirty I run a belt sander across it to clean it up. Hang a couple of fluorescent lights above it and it makes a nice workbench.

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Another great solution! Our benches in the shop are only 18mm OSB over a frame and work just fine so I can well imagine the ply lamination to be excellent.

      Best

      G

  4. Bill Lattanzio

    I’ve never been a fan of the overly thick bench top in the sense of it being a necessity. I’ve heard claims of thinner tops (2 1/2″ thick or less) “flexing” during planing. I’d like to meet the woodworker who can manage to make a bench top flex, because that must be one strong dude.

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Hi Bill

      Perhaps a thin top could flex if it had a long span between leg frames with no support. By adding in a few cross bearers the span is so much reduced that thin tops are fine. The only issue is perhaps using the drive down hold fast. However I’m going to try a few options that might allow me to do away with using them on the top.

      Best

      G

  5. MarkusT

    I finished my roubo bench last week. Got the lumber from home depot here in alberta canada. Well it took me about 2 hrs and 2 pallet later to get a few good pieces but in the end it worked out great. Applied couple coats of varathean and its pretty sollid. Legs made out of 2x6s laminated and stretchers and bench slab out of 2x4s. Vise jaws out of maple . In the end it came out pretty cheap but solid. Its my first workbench so im pretty happy about it

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Awesome Markus! You are very lucky to have a good supply of clear softwood in North America/Canada. Great to hear it put to good use in the shape of your bench.

      Best

      G

  6. Archer Yates

    RE: eased edges:
    at my home Depot here in Colorado, Douglas Fir is plentiful, the 4 by 6 beams have more square edges.
    I used an epoxy product from Advanced technologies ( starter kit is about $70.00,On line, to fill cracks in knots and tried to get my grain orientation that looks more stable. I am building a Roubo workbench with a 5 1/4 inch thick top and 6 inch square legs.
    Another source of supply is look for a company that sells railroad boxcar flooring. They have massive oak beams taken from dismantled old railroad box cars.I think they are 6 by 9 inches and 10 feet long.

    1. amvolk

      I’ve heard that the bottoms of railroad cars and some long-haul trucks might make heavy bench tops, although one has to be cautious of the possibility of toxic materials in the wood from spills and such. Old bowling alleys are also supposed to be great, especially the first 10 feet which is harder wood. However, all of these contain a lot of metal that held the laminations together during original assembly. Be aware and use a suitable blade. They would certainly make a HEAVY top.

      1. Raven333

        My father used laminated trailer decking to build a workbench back in ’77. Nearly indestructible, however since he chose used pieces they were loaded with grit and sand so they ATE bits and blades for lunch. I had the chance to visit the old shop and the bench was still there, a bit shop-worn but sill in use. Here’s a link if anyone feels motivated to try: http://www.trailerdecking.com/

        May your blades be sharp and your splinters few.

        1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

          Now that would be hard wearing but the new sounds nicer on the tools! Thanks for the info.

          Best

          G

    2. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Nice tips Gentlemen, I can’t help but feel a tinge of envy at your ready supply of great timber.

      Best

      G

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