So you’re building a workbench and are wondering which timber to use. Or you might have the workbench half-ready and are simply considering your options for the right workbench surface. Knowing the type of wood to use allows you to build a workbench that meets your expectations.
You should use treated Pine or Oak for a workbench foundation and hardboard for its top surface. The body of the workbench must be sturdy and rigid, while the top must be even and spacious. The other surface cover alternatives are Plywood and MDF.
In this article, we will cover every desirable aspect of a workbench so you can pick the right wood type and construct a workbench that works! Different materials are compared across each advantage, and even design recommendations are included for a stable woodworking table. If you’re at any stage of building a workbench, this is a must-read.
What to look for in a workbench
Now that you’ve read the short answer, it is time to start exploring the different qualities of a good woodworking table. Once you know what to aim for when constructing a workbench, you can decide between the different types of wood you can use for yours. In this section, we look at these features in detail.
The top of the workbench cannot have bumps and dents. It cannot be warper and must have decent traction. This can seem straightforward because one can name multiple materials that qualify for this. MDF, Plywood, and smooth hardwood veneers can all form a pretty even workbench surface. However, the problem is that these materials are not durable enough for woodworking. A workbench top made of Plywood only would not be strong enough to withstand regular sawing action.
More durable wood rarely comes as even and balanced as veneers and wood fiberboards. The compromise between the need for durability and balance is that the workbench is made from thicker hardwood, while the surface layer featuring Plywood or MDF can be added onto it to ensure evenness.
A strong foundation
A workbench for woodworking is basically a table that elevates the project items you’re cutting or putting together. For both the work categories, you need stability. You cannot drill, join, or saw pieces of wood if they keep moving. For your results to be predictable, your workbench must remain in position no matter how heavy the sawing or drilling action is. For this, a sawhorse base works better than a standard table base.
Whichever wood makes up your workbench, its legs must be crisscrossed and joined at the tip to form a sawhorse base. Multiple sawhorses can be used to hold up a workbench. Ultimately, this should result in more evenness. Of course, the sawhorse construction isn’t the only aspect that makes a workbench stable.
It is the material of the wood used in the legs as well as the top of the workbench that dictates how even the surface will be. The bench legs should not be made from lighter wood than the benchtop. The sawhorse must be at least as heavy as the top.
The strength and construction of the workbench foundation are important in ensuring balance and keeping the bench from moving when you use power tools. The feature we’re looking for is the overall rigidity. It is possible for a workbench to not feature a sawhorse construction or even have wooden legs, but it can be rigid simply because it is nailed into the ground.
To check the rigidity of a workbench, try to nudge it. If the table wobbles when nudged, it is too weak to be a workbench. More importantly, it is too risky to put a heavy load onto the bench as it can buckle. Rigidity can be added by ensuring that the foundation and the benchtop weigh more than the materials that would be put on the workbench.
Weight carrying capacity
The rigidity of the workbench ties into its weight-carrying capacity. No matter how strong the foundation of a table is. If you put more weight on a workbench than it can carry, it will buckle and fail. Whether you’re buying a workbench or constructing one, you must be mindful of the type of work you want to do.
For simpler woodcraft, you can take an old office table and glue an MDF sheet on top, and make it your workbench. But for heavier-duty woodwork, you have to build an even stronger foundation and use wood that’s sturdy enough. The top should also be equally durable to add to the table’s working capacity.
Enough working space
Finally, the type of wood you use for your workbench should be within your reach, financially, because you’re going to need plenty of it. The top of your workbench has to be broad, so you have plenty of room to work.
A workbench that is sturdy and even is of no use if it is too small to support most of your woodworking needs. On average, the wood you use should be feasible enough that you can buy a 48 to 96-inch wide slab for the top. If you cannot buy that much of a certain type of wood, look for a cheaper alternative.
Repleaceability / maintencnce
The price of wood plays an important role in two ways. The first is covered above, as the more affordable types of wood allow you to build a larger workbench within the same budget. The second is that you can replace and repair a workbench made from cheaper wood. Remember, the foundation has to be heavier than the workbench top.
If the foundation is made of heavier, more expensive wood, you cannot replace it with cheaper stock when it gets damaged. Usually, you should expect to get the bench repaired once every two years. Avoid using exotic wood that is harder to obtain for repairs.
Best Wood Types for a workbench
Now that you know the different aspects that improve the woodworking compatibility of a workbench let’s look at the different options you have and how they rank in each dimension. The table below provides this information at a glance.
|Wood Type||Used for||Evenness||Foundation Strength||Weight Capacity||Value for Money|
|Plywood||Top surface||9 / 10||N/A||3 / 10||8 / 10|
|MDF||Top surface||8 / 10||N/A||8 / 10||9 / 10|
|Hardboard||Top surface / Workbench top||8 / 10||6 / 10||9 / 10||8 / 10|
|Oak||Body / Foundation||N/A||9 / 10||9 / 10||4 / 10|
|Treated Pine||Body / Foundation||N/A||7 / 10||7 / 10||8 / 10|
The best wood to use for a workbench body
By now, you can tell that what’s required of a workbench body is different from what’s needed in a workbench top. The body has to have a strong foundation and must be as rigid as possible. This is why one must opt for solid wood when building a workbench body. This includes the sawhorse as well as the base of the bench surface.
The best wood to use for a workbench body is Oak, as it is hard, resists damage, and doesn’t buckle under the weight of the average woodworking project. However, it can be too expensive. The second-best option is treated Pine, which can provide a stable-enough foundation.
Oak and treated Pine both provide the much-needed weight and stability to the workbench. However, they are not smooth enough to provide the kind of surface conducive to woodworking. This is where the need for the top surface separation arises. As mentioned earlier, there’s a contradiction between what’s required from the workbench foundation and what’s needed in a workbench top. Having a sheet glued to the top of the workbench offsets this problem.
What is the best material for the workbench surface?
The best material for the workbench surface is hardboard, as it is smooth enough to allow interference-free woodworking and is sturdy enough to resist potential damage during operation. And whenever there is an accidental scratch or dent, filling the surface is cheap and easy.
If you cannot find the right hardwood sheet, you can opt for MDF, which is not as sturdy as a hardboard but is stronger than Plywood. You should opt for the plywood top only when you have no other option available.
Is MDF a good workbench top?
MDF is a good workbench top as long as it is used as the surface sheet. Woodworking tables should have a sturdy top made from thick hardwood so that they do not buckle under the weight of power tools and wood-crafting operations. MDF can be the top layer that makes the work surface smooth.
One of the ideal things about an MDF top layer is that the presence of resin in MDF makes it incredibly hard to dent or cut. As a result, stray sawing action is unlikely to affect the top of your workbench. MDF also fits the following qualities of a good workbench material covered earlier:
- Stability – MDF does not weigh more than the foundation of the average workbench.
- Repleacability – MDF is cheap and can be easily replaced or obtained for repairs to the work surface.
- Space – One can easily obtain large enough MDF sheets to cover a spacious workbench surface.
Is Plywood a good workbench top?
Plywood is an okay workbench surface but is not “good” compared to alternatives like MDF. While Plywood adds evenness and smoothness to the working area, it is not durable enough for most woodworking needs. If you use power tools, you should avoid using a plywood-topped workbench.
That said, a plywood layer is acceptable for low-impact workbenches as the material has some of the qualities covered earlier:
- Stability – Plywood is light enough to avoid destabilizing the workbench.
- Evenness – Plywood is smoother than most hardwood alternatives.
- Repleacability – Plywood is highly replaceable as it is cheaper than the rest of the wood areas of the workbench.
Still, it falls short of MDF because it lacks in the following areas:
- Weight carrying capacity – Plywood can break under heavy objects and doesn’t add to the workbench’s weight carrying capacity.
- Traction – Briefly discussed in the evenness section, the work surface needs to not just be smooth but must also maintain a level of traction, so the sawing action and drilling aren’t compromised. Unfortunately, Plywood is too smooth and can allow tools to slip.
How thick should a workbench be?
A workbench should be 3 to 6 inches thick at the top and must be made of solid, scratch-resistant material. The top includes a surface layer and a solid wood layer, which are collectively up to 6 inches thick.
What’s the best height for a workbench?
The best height for a workbench is 38 to 40 inches. The user doesn’t have to crouch too much or raise his elbows for extended periods while working. This recommendation can be disregarded for the woodworker’s comfort.
What affects the choice of workbench material?
Your choice of workbench material is dictated by a few factors like:
- The type of woodwork you do – Some benches have to be shorter because the machines on top are larger.
- How often you use the workbench – A workbench that is used every day has to be a lot more comfort-oriented than the one used occasionally.
- Your experience with power tools – The more confident you are with power tools, the more vulnerable the workbench’s top can be.
Is a hardwood workbench better than a softwood workbench?
A hardwood workbench is better than a softwood workbench because it is sturdier and provides the stability one needs when woodworking. Softwood workbenches can work for handicraft and low-impact woodwork.
You should use solid wood for the foundation of your woodworking workbench and a laminated sheet surface for the top. Plywood is an acceptable option, but hardboard is better for the surface. As for the foundation, the choice depends on your budget, with Oak being the most durable (and expensive) option and Pine being an acceptable (but wallet-friendly) one.