I’m getting started with building a Paul Seller’s workbench (very excited about it) and had a few questions:
1. I’m a bit space limited and am planning on a 48″ long by 24″ wide bench. With the shorter size will it be heavy enough to not move on the floor when planing? Should I plan on adding some weight at the bottom with shelves? I’m using a temporary solution and am tired of chasing my wood across the room. 🙂
2. I am in Spain and a bit limited in my choices for lumber. I can get some very (and I mean very) knotty pine, rough cut birch for a bit more, or pay 50% more for rough cut beech. I know Paul has posted that pine is great for a workbench but I’m concerned about trying to plane with so many knots. I’ve yet to find less knotty boards to choose from. I’m only going to use hand tools and have read that birch and beech can be difficult to work by hand and seem like they could add a lot of grunt time. What would be the best choice of the three options?
3. In Paul’s workbench video series for laminating the tops he just does some quick passes with a #4 plane and then goes to glue up. The pine I have access to looks pretty bowed (about 1/2″ higher on the ends than the middle). Am I right in assuming I’d need to plane out the bow before laminating? Did Paul not do this in the video since his lumber was already pretty flat?
Thanks for any guidance
Not sure on size but if it moves around add a shelf/drawer and fill with sand.
I would stay away from anything SERIOUSLY knotted up.
The lumber Paul had was already pretty flat. You’d want to find something a flat as you can get it. It will need to be flat and not twisted before laminating.
I agree with Ben, I would use structural pine as they are very cheap yes they do come with knots but do the best you can with them. Pick through them and choose the straightest ones you can. The less planing you have to do the more material you’ll have to add to the weight. Consider the type of floor you have if it’s tiled like mine your bench will move, if your bench is really heavy then it will be only minimal. If you own the place you can always bolt it to the ground if not try using some sand bags. Try and work out a method that works best for you and remember it is only us westerners that use benches, Japanese woodworkers work off the floor and their skills surpass many of us.
You can drill the knots out first if using knotty pine – not necessarily the full depth of the timber, just enough to take them below the level you expect the surface to finish at. Saves a lot of wear on the blade, though you do still have to contend with the unruly grain that surrounds the knots. When you’re done you can glue a plug into the holes, Paul shows how to do this in Tool Chest ep 13 right at the start. That’s what I would do if I were a novice woodworker approaching a first project.
I have not found Beech especially difficult to work by hand, though had I ever tried to get a large flat surface from it I might have a different opinion. It has a quality I can only describe being a bit “chewy” – it sort of drags on the plane a bit, resists your effort more than some other woods. It is a dense grained wood so I put it down to that. Its continued use for benchtops by all the major European bench producers past and present attests to its suitability for that purpose, though they of course will just whizz it through a few machines for guaranteed results. For the amateur on a limited budget the stakes are somewhat higher.
Birch is a mystery to me, what we see of it in the UK is generally either plywood or still part of a tree. I have had a small section once and, as you’ve suggested, it seemed pretty similar to Beech to work. My understanding is that it is not especially stable, possibly because the trees don’t get very wide so all the wood comes from close to the centre. I’d steer clear of it.
Paul addresses the issue of bowing in his video, to paraphrase: “If you can push the gaps closed by hand, it’s flat enough”. You can clamp out quite dramatic bowing in softwoods, though this only builds tension into the top which can cause distortion issues as the wood moves with the seasons. If you can’t take a full-length shaving you’re also unlikely to get close glue joints.
My bench is a little longer but probably weighs the same as yours will, when I built it I added stretchers on the long sides for rigidity and to support a shelf. As well as dust, this collects heavy stuff like power tools and I almost never notice any movement.
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