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Workbench Top Dilemma.

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phil p

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Hi,

I wonder whether I can have your opinions on this.

Finally getting round to having a go at making my first proper workbench and had a clear idea in my mind what I was going to make, however I'm starting to get my head turned regarding the top.

Up until lately I was definately going for a laminated 4x2 top, however I would also love dog holes incorporated, and that was the plan but now I'm thinking about just buying an MFT top already pre drilled with the dog holes.

This would save me the hassle of trying to drill the holes myself as I'm dubious whether I would get them 100% accurate, however the only main drawback I can see in this is that the top won't be as rugged, but it shouldn't really get too badly abused as I'm only the average DIYer, also the one Ive seen is make of plywood so it should be a bit sturdier than MDF one's Ive seen.

Is there anything else I should take into account on this and would love you opinions on the pro's and cons.

Regards
Phil
 

Phil Pascoe

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MDF probably won't stand up to the leverage involved when using holdfasts. All you need is piece of scap with an accurately drilled hole through it that you can clamp down as a guide for the auger - if you have a pillar drill it's easily done, but it's only scrap so you can drill a few and pick the best. If your holes are a few degrees out it makes no practical difference anyway. If you have a drill stand you can clamp the base down on your bench and swivel the head to bore the holes, just ensure the drill has enough range to go all the way through the top - augers don't appreciate being stopped once cutting and can be dangerous.
If you have any other power tool/machine that you are likely to to need to bolt down, think about this when siting the holes - I can bolt down my morticer and my drill stand through dog holes, allowing me to swing the drill in its stand out over the vice, which is occasionally useful and a good reason for not using a pre drilled top.
if you have a router, run a small rounding over cutter around the holes, it saves any breaking out of the surface especially if you do go down the MDF route.
If you are thinking of a 4" deep top, you'll probably need to relieve the bottom of the holes - 4" is a bit too deep for holdfasts to grip properly from what I've read, though someone will probably prove me wrong.
 

Eshmiel

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MDF is surely too feeble a material to put up with the stresses imposed on a worktop by various operations.....? In particular, I would have thought that the edges of dog holes would crumble as hold-fasts and dog-retension springs impinge on the fibres of the MDF around the top of the holes. But I have no experience of an MDF worktop so maybe someone makes a resilient item. But what about all the other dinging, scratching and biting that a worktop gets? Will MDF cope?

Solid wood of the traditional kind that's dense, heavy, tough and light-coloured seems a better option. (The light colour makes quite a difference in being able to see what's on the bench). I glued up my own from large chunks of 3" thick hard maple which I was given for nowt but if I had to buy timber & build one today I think I'd buy two 38-40mm thick solid wood worktops of laminated beech used in kitchens and screw-glue them one atop another, using the screws as clamps but removing them once the glue had stuck them together.

Drilling dog holes at 19 or 20mm in even this thickness of timber is not as difficult as you might think. But it's not a power tool job really. It'll bog-down most hand-held power drills. Instead use a brace & bit, with a bit having a leading screw to pull the bit down the hole as you cut the hole. Slow work; and requiring your muscles to push the arm of the B&B but it will drill a perfect and vertical hole if you go carefully and keep checking with a square.

Eshmiel
 

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Doug B

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One option for the MFT style top if you go down that route is Valchromat Valchromat | MDF Panels | Latham Timber
It’s a lot tougher than MDF & I believe it’s what Axminster are using for their tops.

A mate cnc’d me a small MFT top for site use out of black Valchormat I’ve been really impressed with it.

7F2D5F84-EC5F-4740-AF71-E1F3B21303D2.jpeg


The green buttons were printed for me by another mate, I’m trying them out as a way to lift panels off the work surface to prevent damage & so prolong the tops life.
 

Eshmiel

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I'm glad I don't buy the same brand of power tools as you. :ROFLMAO:
Amended to say "hand held power drill".

I suppose you might be able to get a drill press of some power into the middle of a benchtop somehow but most pillar drills I know couldn't do it. After all, they're pillar drills - very heavy - so would require a big strong bloke (or lady) to manhandle into place. But do show us your own arrangement for this if you've managed it.

I do have Metabo hand held mains powered drill (permanently in a bench drill press now) that has enormous torque and could probably drill 19mm holes through 3 - 4" of hardwood. ..... But you'd be risking breaking a wrist if you tried it hand-held.

On the other hand, my battery drills are all now over a decade old aso perhaps the new ones have become very much more powerful.

Eshmiel
 

Phil Pascoe

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My battery DeWalt will drive a 32mm auger, no problem except for holding it. When I bought it I drilled 23 x 125mm x 32mm holes in softwood on one charge of a 2ah battery just to try it it out. The Dewalt I bought 20+ years ago would drive a 19mm in hardwood no problem, I did the 19mm holes in mine with a 14.4v Hitachi. You are some sort of masochist if you like using a brace and bit for things like this.
 

shed9

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You could go both routes, using the MFT MDF top as a guide to drill the actual top with a bearing guided router bit. Then maybe repurpose the MFT top as a front apron to aid with clamping. Or alternatively buy a smaller MFT router template, lots of variants out there from Ebay, trend, etc.
 

Eshmiel

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My battery DeWalt will drive a 32mm auger, no problem except for holding it. When I bought it I drilled 23 x 125mm x 32mm holes in softwood on one charge of a 2ah battery just to try it it out. The Dewalt I bought 20+ years ago would drive a 19mm in hardwood no problem, I did the 19mm holes in mine with a 14.4v Hitachi. You are some sort of masochist if you like using a brace and bit for things like this.
Ha ha - yes, a bit o' masochism can be (paradoxically) a pleasure. The sort of thing that's "nice when it stops". The hard work or difficult experience is counterbalanced or even outweighed by the pleasure of achieving summick difficult. This is the essence of a lot of play, with sports being the obvious example.

But in truth the use of a brace & bit to drill large holes in hard timbers has advantages if one must do it hand-held. An electric drill is a bit rapid, if it will work. It's easy to go awry because one went too fast. Plenty of time to correct the brace & bit steering. Moreover, the slow B&B speed also means you need some muscle strength but not a lot of power. A good sharp bit makes the hole go easy.

***
My battery drills are 12V and 10.8V Makita. They seem the right level of power for cabinetmaking styles of woodwork. The more powerful drills are a bit too powerful, perhaps; better for carpentry style woodwork. Mind, bench building approaches "doing carpentry".

But perhaps, as with a car, you just have to drive the drill well? (Scuse pun). Of course many drivers of powerful cars don't; and perhaps they are just as over-vigorous with a powerful drill trigger as they are with their accelerator pedal.

Eshmiel
 

Doug71

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My main workbench is made from pre drilled MFT tops, they are only MDF and have worked fine. It depends what you are using it for, mine is more a power tool and assembly bench, if you are doing heavy duty hand tool work you might want something more solid. I see the tops as disposable, they are cheap enough to buy and easy enough to swap if you buy the standard size ones. You wouldn't use a traditional holdfast in the holes but there are loads of other clamping options available that work really well.

You could always make a hybrid bench that has half solid area for chiselling on and half MFT for clamping etc.
 

marcros

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my concern would be that the mft top is designed to be somewhat sacrificial. I think I would make a simple solid top from whatever- sheet material or timber, drill enough dog holes for what you actually need for work holding- you may not yet know how many you need and where until you start using it. I would then make something such that the mat top can sit on top when you need it- that might be nothing more than a simple frame to elevate it a bit.

if laminating the top, you could cut square dog holes into one piece before you laminate it. I think that there are a couple of threads on here doing that, and one but Derek Cohen sticks in my mind.

One thing I wouldn't do is to try and replicate the MFT directly into your bench unless you have something to confirm accuracy. I personally think that these need cnc accuracy, a mm or 2 out over a m and it could start to cause issues depending on what you are using it for. cut "45 degree" joints to make a frame, and the error is multiplied by 4. The jigs sold are expensive, although using a CNCd top as a template would be an option.
 

robgul

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I bought a CNC MFT top a few months ago - it's MRMDF and so far so good - although I probably should have bought the birch ply version they also sell - this is the one MFT/3 Top For Your Festool Table + FREE 6 Piece Aluminium Dog Set | eBay

Mounted it on a newly-built bench frame and just gave it a light coat of trade varnish to preserve the surface. It seems to be dead square on the holes
 

Roland

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Go with a laminated top. 3x2s are thick enough, and a lot cheaper than 4x2. It’ll be fun to make, and it’ll be really solid in use.
 

PaulArthur

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I made my first bench with 4x2, and decided I needed an assembly table with a Velchromat top for making larger pieces and using power tools on. The more I messed around with the design, the more complicated it became, and when I eventually built it, I made two further benches with laminated tops instead...

I definitely didn’t want to lose out on how solid and hard wearing the thicker top was. It’s also easy to maintain and can take things being dropped on it, or knocking a whole cup of coffee on it, and so on.

I bought a drill stand for drilling my dog holes. I used a forstner bit until I reached the limit of its reach (it gives a better finish) and then used an auger for the rest, by hand. The depth of the hole kept the auger straight and stride.

Definitely don’t compromise on what you really want because you’re intimidated by drilling some holes - there’s always a solution to something like that, but if you decide later that the problem is the design of your bench, the only solution is to start over again.
 

Roseland 2

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Axminster sell an MDT top in Valchromat. I was initially suspicious because I found the original HDF top that came with my MFT/3 sagged over time. Apparently the sagging is worse when there are swings in humidity. Anyway, the Valchromat top has stayed perfectly flat and I would recommend it.

Andrew
 

Paul alan

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I saw a video of some guy doing this MFT with a router and he made it look and sound really simple quick and easy to do.
He set himself up some guides and away he went, really nice clean holes.
 

Paul alan

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Have a look at the Ron Paulk benches made from ply wood, they look really strong and light at the same time, something to do with it being a torsion box assembly.
 

Freddyjersey2016

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why does anyone you need a 4" thick timber worktop? Unless you are working on traction engines parts, no woodworking process or woodworking component I can think of would create any significant flex in a 50mm worktop and if it did a simple underframe would stop it (sure 9x9 oak beam used in timber frame houses might - but they are not made to 0.1mm accuracy) - I have been working on a bench with 30mm pine top on 4x2 underframe for 30 years - and never felt the need to change it - put an undershelf under the bench with some toolboxes on it and the bench will never move
 
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