Flatten a Workbench’s Top


Is it necessary? And if so, what are the best techniques?
By Christopher Schwarz
Pages: 36-40

From the February 2008 issue #167
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Like any tool or machine, a workbench requires accessories (jigs, fixtures, appliances) and occasional maintenance to actually do anything of great value. A bench without a bench hook is a dining table. A bench with a cupped work surface is an exercise in bewilderment and wasted effort.

There are a variety of ways to go about flattening a workbench top, including some that are patently nuts. But before I march down that list of your options, I ask: Does the top need to be flat?

Whenever I’m in an old barn, workshop or even an antique mall, I can’t resist poking around the guts of any old workbenches I find. When my wife and I take the kids on a hayride, I end up in the chicken house checking out the 18th-century wooden screws on a face vise. When we visit living history museums, the kids are chasing the animals, and I’m asking the guy dressed as a cooper if I can poke around the undercarriage of his bench.

I’ve found little evidence that these benches were flattened regularly. Many of them bear toolmarks that are deep and of varying ages. I’ve seen benches that are so worn from use that the edges look as round as a pillow. One bench I saw in Columbus, Ohio, was so worn away in one spot that its 3″-thick top was less than an inch thick.


From the February 2008 issue #167
Buy this issue now