Workbench top wood selection

UKworkshop.co.uk

Help Support UKworkshop.co.uk:

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

tibi

Established Member
UKW Supporter
Joined
27 Nov 2020
Messages
884
Reaction score
345
Location
Slovakia
Hello,

I am building my new maple workbench and as the maple did not yield enough thickness for the top (only 38 mm), I am planing to buy something thicker (70 - 80 mm). As I am planing and thicknessing by hand, I would like to buy two wide slabs instead of a laminated top.

I cannot buy such thick lumber from nearby lumberyards, but various private people sell similar thicknesses. The currently available options in classifieds are oak, ash, elm, pear, and walnut. Which one would you choose? I would like this wood for the top and the chop. The base will be from Norway maple.

Maybe close-grained species might be better, as I am afraid of oak, ash, and elm splintering with dents and nicks during use.

What about the dryness of the wood? Many of those have been air-dried (and presumably not long enough for such thickness). Will a slightly wet wood cause me a headache later?

Thank you.
 
My gut was that Pear would be really nice, both hard and tight grained.
Walnut may give you a bench that looks too good to use

Rough janka hardness figures are:

Elm 830
Oak 1350
Ash 1200
Pear 1660
Walnut 1010
 
My gut was that Pear would be really nice, both hard and tight grained.
Walnut may give you a bench that looks too good to use

Rough janka hardness figures are:

Elm 830
Oak 1350
Ash 1200
Pear 1660
Walnut 1010
Hi Tom,

I am also considering pear as it is a bit unusual and it is tight grained. I am going to call the seller and get further details. Hopefully he will be willing to sell two pieces only, as I do not want to buy the whole lot.
 
Basically anything will do. Ordinary redwood is probably most common.
I'm just doing a bench myself, using sycamore, left over from a bigger batch, low grade and not good enough for much else. Quite pleased to find a use for it!
Mine is a version of the classic British bench. It's a very neat design consisting of two frames (legs and rails) three 11" boards (2 aprons and the well) and one planing beam 11x3" or thereabouts

bench.png
 
Last edited:
pear is kind of similar to beech but tighter grained, it's also very stable and doesn't really move, it would be a good choice
 
pear is kind of similar to beech but tighter grained, it's also very stable and doesn't really move, it would be a good choice
This is how those boards look like. They are 2.5 m long and I do not know the width. I would need two pieces of 250 mm x 1900 mm for the table top. Hopefully they will be wide enough. The seller did not answer yet, so I do not know if they are already sold or he is not willing to sell the boards individually.
1688460469023.png
1688460487815.png
1688460502481.png
 
mmh looking at that I'd give it a miss, the pear I have is much wider than that and is mostly heartwood, there's too much sap wood in there.
 
I made my bench top from deal - as in it's wood of unknown species though whatever is used for pallets. Collected enough to stack each piece on edge and glue laminated them together, staggering the pieces lengthwise so there's no weak point across the middle. It's about 4 x 28 x 60inches and blinking heavy. Took a while to run each piece through the planer/thicknesser. Glued with Titebond 3 Extend to give a bit more time to settle the pieces into place. Only cost was the glue. Tell you one thing: it doesn't move a millimetre. Finished with the mixture suggested by Chris Schwartz: BLO + varnish + white spirit (I think that's it from failing memory).
Have fun
Martin
 
Last edited:
I'm finally also getting some time back on my bench, started 2017 expect to finish just after all my furniture building projects are completed, and I no longer need it! Also building from Sycamore, snap Jacob, but a split top Roubo rather than classic english bench. Sycamore is pretty low hardness so I'm going to have to get used to some dents in use. However I think I'd prefer my workpiece to dent my bench, than my bench to dent my workpiece.

Regards to the wood being not fully dry. Chris Schwarz discusses this in his workbench book and argues that early workbenches were likely built from not fully dry wood, and that as the top dries it would pull the frame into slight A-Frame and prevent racking. My take from this is to design with the expectation of some movement and expect to re-flatten occasionally as it dries out.
 
mmh looking at that I'd give it a miss, the pear I have is much wider than that and is mostly heartwood, there's too much sap wood in there.
Not sure if proper name but looks more like heart stain than heartwood/sapwood divide.

Those pieces will be a challenge though as they aren’t straight growth.
 
One of the approaches I’m considering when I get round to building myself a bench is laminated sheets of mdf to form a core with facings of thick bandsawn “veneers” of hardwood - say 5-7mm. Feels like it will give a stable and dense top with the hardwood facings allowing for wear and flattening.
Also if the cores are glued with Pva but the lippings with hide glue, when they wear out can use heat to remove them allowing replacement.

Would seem economical and effective
 
walnut is exceptionally stable in my experience. medium hard normally. pear and fruit woods can be a bit small. Big trees equals stable. I would not make a bench top from 3 inch air dried Chris schwarz is daft and just dreaming up reasons to do something. unless it spent 3 years where it was going to live.
IMHO beech is a fairly poor choice stability wise but hard
 
walnut is exceptionally stable in my experience. medium hard normally. pear and fruit woods can be a bit small. Big trees equals stable. I would not make a bench top from 3 inch air dried Chris schwarz is daft and just dreaming up reasons to do something. unless it spent 3 years where it was going to live.
IMHO beech is a fairly poor choice stability wise but hard
Beech is ideal and first choice if available IMHO.
Stability doesn't come into it with a workbench (within reason - has to be dry beech) but a lot of people have picked up fantasy woodwork nonsense about bench tops as "reference surfaces" - best ignored! .:rolleyes:
 
Last edited:
Back
Top