People often divide our country into North and South using a variety of metrics. There’s the Mason-Dixon line, of course. The Barbecue Line (the word means “grilled meat” in the North and “porky heaven” in the South). And so on.
I use the “Yellow Pine Line.” This fantastic material is difficult to find in many Northern climes, except as pressure-treated nastiness. And in the South, the stuff is so common that it grows on trees.
I think it’s an ideal workbench material. It’s cheap. It’s stable. It’s stiff. It’s easy to flatten. It’s available in wide widths. So it should come as no surprise that I get e-mails like this one from Paul:
I live in Aurora, Ill., a western Chicago suburb. It does not appear to be a location friendly to the Southern Yellow Pine that you’ve prized in earlier articles. Home Depot/Lowe’s/Menards all stock, at best, SPF…so I don’t really know what I’m getting.
So now, the question , how might I best obtain woods with the density/strength that you recommend , in a land like mine that seems very un-woodworking friendly?
One note , one of your articles on Southern Yellow Pine suggested that, if it can’t be found, that we take the pickup truck down to Cincinnati. Unfortunately, that won’t be a good option for my Ford Taurus these days (though it would be fun to do).
I’ve thought of just dealing with the SPF that Home Depot offers, but I am afraid that I’d be disappointed with it in a year. I’d like my bench to last five, 10, or more years.
Well the easy answer would be to use “SPF” which is a grab-bag category for “spruce, pine or fir.” It’s certainly strong enough, though usually it’s a little soft. And some places don’t dry it as well as necessary. But the good news here is that you are actually close to the “Yellow Line.” You don’t have to come to Cincinnati to get Southern Yellow Pine. In fact, I know of some people in Chicago who have found it in the city at lumberyards (if you are out there, please chime in with the name of the yard!).
Even if you cannot find it in the city, you should be able to sneak over the border to Indiana and find some. It’s amazing how the wood choices can change radically by changing your geography slightly
And finally, let me repeat something that I’ve said about 100 times about workbench materials: Almost any wood will do. Pick something that is readily available, inexpensive, dry and stiff. You’ll be fine.
– Christopher Schwarz
Other Workbench Resources I Recommend
– Tim Celeski’s excellent workbench site: workbenchdesign.net.
– I actually still like my book “Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use.“
– We have a nice and inexpensive CD of many of the workbench and shop plans we’ve published “The Best of Shops & Workbenches.“
– Watch Roy Underhill’s episodes (free!) where he builds a French bench.