Report: LVL Workbench After (Almost) 2 Years of Use

I find it curious that, more than a year after the November 2009 issue, I’m suddenly getting a spate of questions about the LVL Knockdown Workbench Editor Christopher Schwarz and I built. The most common question – and one that makes sense – is, “How has it held up?”

We built the bench to experiment with the LVL material, as it’s more widely available for a reasonable price than is Southern yellow pine. In other words, this is a bench that can be built just about anywhere, exactly as we did it here, using the same material. When we build out of SYP, many of you not in the South understandably balk at the cost (here, it’s available at home centers; you just have to dig for the good stuff, and wait a bit for it to dry).

So how has it held up? Parts of it, remarkably well. The top, after almost two years of use, remains dead flat. And because the material, when ripped then glued in 1-3/4 laminations is extremely strong, heavy and hard (all that glue!), the top looks pretty much the same as the day we finished it (just a few minor dings; you have to hit it quite hard with a sharp chisel to make a scratch). The only problem I can see is that there’s a bit of tear-out at the top edges of the most-used dog holes. But one caveat in making the top: In the article, I believe we added a strip of hard maple along the front and back edge simply to cover up the ugly (LVL has a face for radio). In hindsight, that step is also necessary to keep the long edges of the LVL from flaking away – which it does readily as evidenced by the bottom stretcher on which I often rest my foot. So I would without reservation recommend the material for a benchtop, as long as a strip of hardwood is added to the two long edges.

For the base, not so much. The LVL is meant to compress a bit (it’s used for building homes in earthquake zones, after all!), and compress it does under heavy pressure…such as from a leg vise. Actually, a leg vise will exert massive pressure and compress any bench leg no matter the material – but in this knockdown design, because the leg is not adequately attached to the top, the top moves slightly backward off the leg under pressure, which results in a top that is no longer co-planar to the leg. Had we dovetailed or mortised the leg through the top (as I did on my white pine “Petite Roubo”), the LVL base-to-top connection might have held up just fine.

So how to fix that problem in an existing bench? You need a bulletproof solution – a bullet. Drill a 3/4″ hole in the center of the top of leg on which the vise is located, and a matching hole in the bottom of the benchtop, then drop a 3/4″ dowel in the hole (chamfer the ends slightly to help it go in). That worked for a while on my LVL bench, but then we took it apart to add another vise we were testing, and the bullet got lost. Is this lack of coplanarity a huge problem? No; not yet, anyway. The top and leg are off parallel by maybe 1/8″, but if that gap increases, I might find it more troublesome.

In our second Workbench Book: The Workbench Design Book (available in our store, natch), we provided “critiques” of the nine benches therein for which we re-printed plans (as well as up-to-date info on workholding, “before-and-after” drawings of 10 other common bench designs, advice on the best woods to use and more). Below, you’ll find the critique for the LVL Bench in PDF format.

Also, here’s a link to a blog post from Chris just after the issue was released with LVL Bench Q&As.

And because you asked (thanks for that): Me acting like a fool.

Finally, here’s the PDF: LVLWkbenchCritique

— Megan Fitzpatrick

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