Tooth Your Benchtop in Four Songs - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Tooth Your Benchtop in Four Songs

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Schwarz on Workbenches, Woodworking Blogs


Years ago, I saw an interview with W. Patrick Edwards on how he dressed his benchtop with a toothing plane to improve his bench’s grip.

I was intrigued by his argument, but it took a few years until I was ready to commit to it.

Last year I toothed my benchtop and began working on that rough surface. Since then, I have become the No. 1 fan of the method. It is a quick process (less than four songs on the radio for an 8’ bench). It’s easy to do on a benchtop that has seen regular maintenance. And it definitely improves the grip of the benchtop.

Also worth noting: I haven’t added any finish to the benchtop since I first toothed it. This also seems to help improve its grip.

If you have a toothing plane or a plane with a toothing iron, I highly recommend you give it a try. If you don’t like it, the toothed surface is easy to remove with a bench plane.

Thanks Patrick. This is a genuine step forward for me and my workbench.

— Christopher Schwarz

The bench shown in the video is my 2005 French bench, built from Southern yellow pine. If you want to learn more about this bench – and how to build your own – my first book on workbenches is a good place to start. Check it out at

And the song in the video is Langhorne Slim’s “Land of Dreams.”


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Showing 23 comments
  • Ronald9

    This is also a very “frenchy” thing to do on your bench!

  • stevo_wis

    Chris, I have a Roubo question. If the legs are mortised into the bottom of the bench top, isn’t wood movement in the top going to play havoc on the mortise and tenon joins and rack the short stretcher assemblies? I want to do a six foot bench to mount my recently acquired Emmert on and I am torn whether I want to do the beautiful through mortises or just to make the stretchers quickly and lag them to the bottom of the bench. By slotting the top could move and it would be much faster. Any thoughts?

  • jossimbyr

    At the end of the video, is that the Schwarz version of ‘dropping the mic’? From here on out, that’s how I will show that I’m finished planing.

    *shiiick* *shiiick* *shiiiick* *thud*

  • David Randall
    David Randall

    The advantages of fingerprints providing useful friction with three bark have just come into the news:

    Reading this, it could also have a bearing on why toothing the workbench surface works. The scientist involved is a Dr. Nathaniel Dominy. I don’t know if he is related to the the Dominy of the workshop and workbench fame at the Winterthur Museum, but it’s certainly a coincidence.

  • Niels

    This post is perfectly timed- this week I am building a small bench and I was planning on flattening the top with a no.7 with a toothed blade. I might just leave the surface as is. I can always smooth it if it’s not working for me!

  • Mark W

    How do get on testing things for flat ie a board or some other component, I use my bench top as a reference, if something is rocking on my bench I will then test it on my planer bed, the toothed top with its dished look does not look seem very flat.

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      Toothing it doesn’t make it less flat or less useful as a reference surface. The toothing is quite shallow.

  • tommy

    i thought you weren’t a fan of metal bench dogs…

  • SLPoetzl

    Question: The scallops that I can see in the video – are they from the toothing plane or from a previous passes with a well-raidiused iron in a Jack or other plane that was used earlier? Or does your toothed iron have that big of a radius?

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      The toothing plane is sharpened straight across. I think what you are seeing is the fact that the iron isn’t projecting precisely the same amount from the mouth. One corner is cutting more than the other. And this fact is highlighted by the video.

  • raney

    I don’t have a tooting plane, or much interest in one – but i surface my fir bench with fairly coarse cross-grain strokes. Not quite as rough, maybe, but it’s still a pretty effective alternative, depending n the species of wood.. And for folks timid about tooting their bench top, it’s a good way to convince themselves that rough is most definitely better.

  • woodness

    The same effect as skinny tires giving better traction in slick snow. More psi bearing on the smaller contact area. Might have to try that. Would a piece of an old rip saw with the set flattened work?

  • geppetto425

    Or screw down a piece of that OSB from the housing project dumpster!

  • John Passacantando

    Cool idea. I’m wondering, since I gave away a similar looking toothing plane (I thought it was for veneer work which I don’t do), can I use my Lie-Nielsen low angle jack plane with the toothed iron?

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      You can tooth a benchtop with almost any piece of flat steel that has been serrated.

    • tjhenrik

      I saw this on Chris’s bench this fall and went home to try it with my toothed blade in a low angle jack. I was hesitant, or more like scared, so I only gave it a few light passes with the grain. I ended up with more of a baby toothed top but immediately saw improvements with my holdfasts and vice grips. The difference reminded me of adding suede to my glide vice. With my next flattening I’ll try to advance to an adult toothed top.

  • nateswoodworks

    Interesting, I am curious though if you have ever had and adverse problems with the rougher surface? I have had it where you get a little particle af wood between the bench and your stock being held down via holdfast and ended up with dents from it, is this a problem with a toothed benchtop?

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      Roughness is better. Period. I’ve never had a problem with it.


      • Nikk

        I just did it! And its cool! Works really well just doesnt look showy like before.
        Regards from Germany!

  • pmac

    Did the benchtop have a finish prior to toothing? Or to ask it another way, did toothing an unfinished top improve the grip? I’m wondering if the unfinished portion of the equation is what really improved the grip. Maybe I’m way off but it would seem to me that grooving the top would create less ‘contact surface area’ for the board you are working and therefore less friction which would translate to less grip.

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      Friction is not a coefficient of surface area.

      Roughness. That is what works.

      • tms

        Hey Chris,

        Rugosity I think, is the word that you were looking for.

        The reason it works is because although a smooth surface appears to have more contact surface, in fact, is doesn’t. The ridges in a toothed surface are compliant enough to adjust to the surface of the work piece so that more contact is created, not less. As the ridges compress, you can expect that you will need to re tooth the surface from time to time.


      • shannonlove

        The coefficient of friction is not dependent on surface area in static friction i.e. friction that resist moving, but surface area is a factor in kinetic friction i.e. friction between moving surfaces. That is why race cars and tractors, both of which require enormous traction, have fat, wide squishy tires to maximize the surface areas of the wheel in contact with the ground.

        So, surface area won’t prevent the board from moving but it will come into play once the board begins to move. However, (1) other factors can swamp the effect of surface area and (2) while the workbench might be glass even, the workpiece usually isn’t. Since the bench surface and the workpiece surface have to mate to develop friction, an uneven workpiece will only contact the smooth workbench at it’s lowest points, probably only the three lowest points.

        In addition to the compression effect noted by tms, I think the ridges also work like a tripod making firm contact only on the lowest parts of the workpieces but doing so very firmly because all the weight of the workpiece will be compressed on just a few deformable and very high static friction points. This effect will be more pronounced the rougher the workpiece.

        Come to think of it just now, back in scouts during my youth, I used a “frontier” workbench whose surface was made of unhewn logs complete with bark. Despite being wildly uneven compared to the standard workbench surface, it grabbed logs, rough wood and dimensional lumber very well.


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