Absolute best materials for workbenches?


Help Support UKworkshop.co.uk:

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.


Established Member
29 Dec 2014
Reaction score
York, North Yorks
Hello all.

For general day to day work and metal bashing my workbench is a bench initially built by my great grandfather and then rebuilt by by granddad. It is made of Ironwood ( actual ironwood, not Iroko, it needs HSS drill it's to drill it) for the surface and 300 year old English Oak for the frame and drawers ( no idea of the source, my dad just told me not to ever mention it to the local vicar, so I guess there's a church somewhere missing some beams) It's more than strong enough to smash cast iron engine blocks apart on with a sledge hammer ( although doing this sends shrapnel EVERYWHERE...)

This is a very good bench, although I need two engine hoists to move it, and I now want a second bench that my own great grandchildren can use, and I can abuse now for woodworking.

I was planning to use the same materials, but ironwood is horrible to work with, and it'll need to go to a metal engineering firm to be cut and drilled with industrial sized bandsaws and drill presses, and they are making grumpy noises about the dust being very toxic, and I've read on various websites that oak isn't recommended for bench frames, although I didn't fully understand why.

So, if you were planning to build a bench with a 100+ year lifespan, what materials SHOULD you use?

I know that what ever it is won't be cheap, but I'm not overly focused on budget. I see this as an investment for more than one lifetime.


Have a Google of "Delignit" and "Panzerholz". They are compressed Beech Plywood made in Germany. Very strong and stable but workable with ordinary tools.
I'm not sure that the materials you choose are as important as you give credit for Steve.

The reasons a bench survives for 100 years plus have more to do with how it's made, and how it's used. A well made bench will stand a lot of use and and indeed, a fair deal of abuse! I'm sure you'd make a good job of it, so I would say any sound, seasoned timber would suit you. If you use one of the softwoods, like SYP, then you'd find that pretty hard for a 'softwood'. If you want hardwood, I'd go for hard maple, or beech. Some folk like Ash. Have a look at a good timber merchant's site (such as George Sykes) They will give you a pretty comprehensive list of the working qualities, stability in use, and uses of all their timbers.


What an exciting project!
I don't think there is a need to use ironwood (where would you get it? I've not seen it in B&Q) but I don't see why good Maple would not be perfectly suitable.
Oak is probably frowned on simply because it doesn't mix well with anything ferrous, so bolts, vices and holdfasts and the like are liable to rusting in the presence of all that tannic acid.
My bench is beech, it's relatively inexpensive, robust and readily available. Unfortunately it is ridden with anobium punctatum, and in hindsight I can see that the guy who sold it to me knew that. I have treated it, but there is new activity again now, so I think that a new bench should be a priority.
I shall watch your journey with great interest.
I have a bench made at least 85yrs ago dated by the three signatures under the worktop.

The top is made of 4inch/100mm thick pieces and there are 3 pieces. The tool well has beech sides and what looks like Chestnut for the bottom. Legs are beech as are the rails.

Weights about 280 to 320 pounds. I'm about to flatten the top. Put it off for a few years due to fear of pins/nails maybe being driven in ruining the blades but a recent test seems to have been OK.

Never used for metalwork only woodwork. PO said it was his great grandfathers originally so I have to treat it right even if I'm the only one to ever do that. The sides and legs and rails are black with dirt.
Use whatever you can get your hands on for the frame providing its of substantial dimensions and beech for the top. If its well constructed it will outlast you.
Have a read of the Chris Schwarz books on building a bench. There are loads and loads of ideas and things to consider, but one of the things he is pretty consistent about, is that the materials do not matter hugely, it's far more about the design. I really like his second book, because he revisits about ten of the benches he and others have made and says what worked well and what didn't, which shows a lot of confidence and maturity to me (he's not afraid to learn).

When I next build a bench, I will be using PAR beech from a guy I know in Wrexham. The wood is straight, easy to work and fairly cheap (I helped a friend build his 5'6" x 28" x 4" bench last year and the timber cost about £250).

WIP please and good luck.
Once upon a time a chap called Bob Key of the USA had a web site which showed off his workshop and benches.

His benches were made from 2x4 softwood ( or even 2x6, 2x8 or cut down 2x12 for cheapness). I did once build one of these benches and it was very good. Its now gone to my eldest boy for his own workshop.

The link is http://www.picnicpark.org/keith/woodworking/workbench/BobAndDavesGoodFastAndCheapBench-ne.pdf

Its a great first bench and you will get 10 or 20 yrs out of it. Recommended.
I have a bench made of pine very similar to the one in the link to Bob and Dave in the USA. The bench is 40+ years old and was made for me by my grandad - I still get good use out of it.

I'm toying with the idea of making myself a bench using softwood for the frame and a piece or two of solid beechwood kitchen worktop - there are various websites offering quite good deals on 40mm thick stuff 600mm wide or so (I suppose better deals are to be had if you know/are a kitchen fitter!). I already use an offcut from a foil-covered chipboard kitchen worktop (£15 from B&Q) on pine trestles as a table for glue-up, painting etc. and it works very well for that type of work.

There's a series of good videos on Youtube showing Paul Sellers making a softwood workbench - his thoughts on the subject of bench design (and others!) are worth reading too.
+1 for Paul Sellers. Excellent video series and he uses wood from B&Q (not great). What I took from his design is that if you make the top thick and laminated it should stay relatively flat; but, he probably wouldn't think twice about flattening it periodically either.