Chris Schwarz's Blog

Where to Buy Big Wood for Big Workbenches

During the last few years, I’ve been using giant 6×6 softwood timbers to build workbenches for classes and customers. These big hunks look old school and make the construction process quick and painless – the top has only three glue lines.

Of course, the problem for most people is finding this wood. You can find it on Craigslist at times, or through a timber frame supplier. But neither of these sources is reliable. The Craigslist stuff can be world-class worm food. And the lumberyards for timber frames have little interest in dealing with people who want to build a workbench. Heck I couldn’t  get them to return my calls when placing a cash order for the material for 10 workbenches – and this was during a recession.

So I’ve got great news for you. Hardwoodtogo.com now offers special bundled packs of 6×6 Douglas fir for a Roubo-style workbench – enough for an 8’ top and the four legs (you supply the 2x material for the stretchers, a minor expense).

The cost is pretty fair in my book: $468 plus shipping.

This material is excellent. It’s from the same source that I used recently to build 17 workbenches at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. It’s kiln dried on the surface and fairly dry in the middle – 12 to 18 percent. Unlike some 6×6 fir I’ve encountered, this stuff is stable and won’t spray you with water when you rip it.

Also good to know: This stuff does not contain the heart (or pith), so it is remarkably free of splits or checks. As someone who practically bathed in this stuff for weeks, I cannot gush enough about it.

If you are considering building an old-school French workbench, this is a great way to get the material with a mouse click. And it will probably save you about 20 hours of shop time compared to laminating up the top and legs from 2x material, which is what I did in 2005.

So check it out here, bench builders.

— Christopher Schwarz

You can download a SketchUp plan of the plan I use for these 6×6 Roubo benches here. You can get a plan of a more complex version built with hand tools here.

Want to see movies of these benches being built with these timbers? Check these out:
French Workbench in Douglas Fir, Day 1
Build a Hand-tool Bench With Power Tools? Yup.
Do You Need Glue?
Workbench Assembly. With Glue.

14 thoughts on “Where to Buy Big Wood for Big Workbenches

  1. Fred

    Nice material. I lucked into a large quantity of Cherry from a former cabinet shop and a 30yr old maple table the homeowner left outside in the Florida sun. It was made by her husband that passed away. She donated the maple on the condition I made some cutting boards for her. The rest went into my bench along with the cherry. I hope to have it complete in the next few weeks
    Fred
    http://www.tampabaywoodworking.com

  2. beaniebee

    I’ve been able to find a source here in Illinois. However, it’s not kiln dry. My understanding is that putting the wood in the garage may not make it dry enough to use. So, it seems like this could be the best option. Any suggestions though on whether I’d be able to dry it successfully given the climate let me know. I cannot keep it outdoors in the sun.

    1. beaniebee

      Question as a followup. What do you think of using reclaimed wood? I’ve been able to find some timbers that can be cut into 4×6 for my bench. The wood is from the 1900s. Since I am planning to put the bench in an unheated garage, I was thinking this might be a good option.

  3. pvanderlugt

    I built my bench out of utility crossarms. The arms on their 138 kv h frame structures are 10′ clear fir, 4 X 6 clear fir. Their are some holes in them, where insulators were hung, etc., but planed smooth they are beautiful. Also, plus or minus your choice, they were creosoted when new, although I can’t smell any trace of it anymore. Typically they are taken down after 20 – 40 years of service.

    Talk to your utility companies transmission engineering department.

  4. SidneyM

    A friend of mine found a business that ships in standard length laminated wood beams and cut these beams to length needed. The cut-offs were discarded. I ended up with a beam seven feet long and two feet wide and 4-inches thick. Already flat. I think it was SYP. Just had to trim the ends for a straight edge. Makes a nice benchtop with minimal effort. Just wish I took up his offer for more free pieces since I moved away.

    Sidney

  5. madhun

    “Free” rarely is and the cost can be literally staggering. My neighbor traded a stack of mostly red, and some white 6×6 and 4×6 timbers for a half day of work on his house. He had rough sawn them years ago and they spent over a year in the corner of my shop acclimating. I spent nearly 70 hours planing the warp and twist out of them. And then there were the knots, checks, splits and pith. Can you say carpal tunnel? I have a great bench now but in retrospect I would gladly pay the $468+ for relatively clean, dry, quality lumber.

  6. rhyspinot

    This is great, thanks for getting it set up Chris. As a guy who’s summer project list includes a roubo bench, I’m going to be taking advantage of this one.

  7. evolutionkills

    As far as the top goes, it may sound funny, but I found a great deal at ikea. I got a nearly 2″ thick oak countertop 96″ long for 65 bucks in the as-is section of the store. Actually looks like white oak, not red. Granted, oak is too coarse-grained to be an optimal bench top material, but they commonly also make counter tops in beech and birch also. laminated for multiple layers or stacked on 3/4 birch plywood, they make a nice 4″ thick benchtop. I built a poplar apron and a 6×8 dimensional lumber frame for mine. Worked great.

    1. woodgeek

      A few years ago, I used Ikea countertops to build the top of my Roubo-pattern bench. I went nuts and laminated 3 96″x26″x1-3/4″ beech countertops.

  8. rickb

    I have some oak cants I just started to dry. I’m thinking they might make good bench material in six years or so. What do I do with the three old benches I have?

  9. adifrot

    Here is a possible source for 6X6 hardwood timbers that I have found down here in Miami Fl.
    Civil Engineering pipeline contractors routinely discard the heavy timbers used as pipe cradle supports.
    These timbers are typically 10′ long and are not premium grade oak. But for short lengths, as used in bench legs, one can easily find clear stock. Many of the ones I have stockpiled are knot free or # 1 grade. Most are not dry enough to be considered for immediate use but if they are rough cut to length and allow to dry for a while,then you have excellent hardwood material for your projects.

    1. adifrot

      Also check the supply yards at local utility companies they have loads of waste timbers used as pipe supports and heavy pallet timbers.. FREE IS GOOD :>)

  10. Ray

    I found a company in Albuqerque where I live, Groff Lumber, who specializes in local pine slabs for New Mexico style architectural timbers in homes, vegas and such. They were able to order Coastal Douglas Fir for me from Northern California. I ordered two eight feet 4″ x 12″ and two eight feet 6″ x 6″ planks without the pith for about $250. I had to wait a couple of weeks for the load to arrive so Groff could work up enough orders to make the delivery worthwhile. I have let it set in the shop for the last year to let it acclimate to our very dry climate. So far everything is stable and I am quite pleased with the quality for the cost. I am hopeful the single glue line in the top will work out.

    Ray

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