When I sat down in a restaurant’s booth in early April and waited for my pan-fried noodles, I knew that I had found a new workbench material.
For the last couple years I’ve been researching alternative materials for building workbenches , materials that are strong, inexpensive and widely available. And for the last six months I’ve been pestering Managing Editor Megan Fitzpatrick to build a workbench using LVL , laminated veneer lumber.
You’re unlikely to find LVL in a home center, but it is widely available in commercial lumberyards. Contractors use the stuff to cross long spans because it’s incredibly stiff, straight and reasonably priced. And it comes in 60′ lengths (if you need it that long).
In the wild, LVL looks like a piece of dimensional stock , the stuff Megan bought today looks like yellow pine 2 x 12s. But as you get closer you can see the edges and ends are laminated. Our 1-3/4″-thick pieces had 16 plies of yellow pine, each with a dark glue layer.
The stuff is pretty cheap, too. A 1-3/4″ x 11-7/8″ x 24′-long piece of LVL was just $110. (You can also find the stuff in different thicknesses and widths, though it’s harder to find.) But how will the stuff fare in a workshop? And will it look decent?
That last concern was Megan’s objection to LVL.
Back at the noodle bar, Megan and the other magazine’s staff members approached the booth. I pointed to the table.
“This is LVL,” I said.
The woodworker who made the restaurant’s table ripped the LVL, turned it 90Ã?Â° and laminated it up. They put a nice finish on it and it looked great. Megan’s objection to LVL disappeared as soon as she saw the table.
Today we brought the stuff in to build an 8′-long bench for Megan. The bench’s design is going to be a blend of the Roubo and the Holtzapffel benches (the Holtz-bo). It will have a leg vise in the face vise position (with a wooden bench screw from BigWoodVise.com). And it’s going to have a quick-release vise in the end vise position.
I’m certain the design will work. And after today I think the material will work as well. It came into the shop fairly dry , a couple of the sections were a few points above the norm. It jointed nicely on our powered jointer with a carbide cutterhead. And it ripped beautifully and easily on the table saw.
Next up: The big question. What will the glue do to the high-speed steel knives in our planer? And how will the scarf joints in the lamination fare when they are machined?
By the way, our full investigation into this material will appear in a future article this year in Popular Woodworking.
– Christopher Schwarz
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