2

I live in south eastern Canada. Where I live we have relatively high humidity and temperatures from -40°C to +40°C. I more or less finished building my shed that I am going to use for my woodworking. I really want to make myself a woodworking bench that can live there.

My uncle is also a woodworker. He was given a nice finished workbench from a friend and he put it in his outdoor workshop which is not temperature controlled. We live near each other so the seasonal temperatures as virtually the same for us. Once a year had passed the bench was pulling itself apart, the ends of bench showed the most warping. From what I can tell it was laminated properly. It makes me wonder though....

Can I make a workbench of laminated wood (mostly ripped 2x10's) with the intention of leaving it out in the winter? Or is that just a disappointment waiting to happen?

I suppose I could use hardware to reinforce the lamination but wood would likely still warp. I can accept a little warping but I don't want there to be room to put my fingers between the boards.

1

My uncle is also a woodworker. He was given a nice finished workbench from a friend and he put it in his outdoor workshop which is not temperature controlled. We live near each other so the seasonal temperatures as virtually the same for us. Once a year had passed the bench was pulling itself apart, the ends of bench showed the most warping. From what I can tell it was laminated properly. It makes me wonder though....

I suspect that's as much to do with the way the bench he was given was made (regardless of whether it was commercial or shop-built) than a sign that a benchtop made in that way can't withstand wide swings in conditions*.

That bench was likely made at least somewhat like furniture, if not in exactly the same way. So the wood would have been quite dry and in damper conditions dry wood of course swells quite a bit. And because a workbench is not intended to be exposed to water they could well have used a non-waterproof glue, although it is possible the glue used is waterproof as they might use it for everything regardless (again true for both commercial and shop-built). If the glue used is a water-resistant or waterproof variety then it signifies that whoever made it needs to overhaul their glueing processes! Because well-glued long-grain joints can't come apart — the wood has to fail for a split to occur.

Long, boring TL;DR here about wood selection for maximum stability in a top made up this way but brief version, most tops are also not made from carefully-selected wood. This is most especially true of commercial glue-ups, where due to manufacturing expediences 99% of the time no consideration whatsoever is given to grain orientation from board to board. They basically grab the next board from the supply at hand and put it in there, regardless of whether its grain might put stress on the overall structure.

I suppose I could use hardware to reinforce the lamination but wood would likely still warp. I can accept a little warping but I don't want there to be room to put my fingers between the boards.

There are a couple of workbench plans that utilise the same method used in some butcher block construction, with through bolts (threaded rod). This could go a long way towards ensuring great stiffness and resistance to warping in a glued-up top, but it is a hassle in terms of construction because every board has to be accurately drilled multiple times before glue-up. Note: if you want to consider this it's worth pricing the rod right now to help make the decision as it may be surprisingly expensive, it is here, and you need four or more lengths of it the full width of your proposed top.


*I would personally ditch the idea of the glued-up top. It's not necessary for a functional bench and by putting it aside you can save yourself a lot of time and effort in construction, while simultaneously ensuring your top will be far less subject to movement with wide swings in humidity.

While I wouldn't exactly recommend the material I have seen a workbench in an unheated, uninsulated, draughty garage with an OSB top and as far as I can tell from just looking at it it hasn't warped in the 20 or 30 years since it was built. I haven't worked on it so I can't say how much if any movement has occurred but it certainly looked flat enough.

As you know board materials in general are far less subject to seasonal movement, so a top made from MDF, plywood, chipboard/particleboard or yes, even OSB, is going to be far more stable than almost any bench made from solid wood. With the added advantage that they're far easier and faster to put together (less than an hour and done is possible) and furthermore will often cost substantially less, which is nice.

  • So while it could work you advise against it. I wonder if their are plans for engineered wood benches and vises and such. A leg vise might not matter but a tail one would. – Matt Aug 26 '17 at 1:23
  • It's a challenging set of conditions for a large glued-up panel to withstand. You know there's a chance it might fail in some way unless you take extra pains to try to ensure it won't, e.g. by selecting every board carefully (which might take weeks of visits to the wood supplier) & ensure every glue joint is 100% reliable and waterproof just to be on the safe side. Weigh the possibility of the time and money involved going to waste over the desire to have a top of a certain type. My weighting is that I'd prefer to have a bench regardless of type Your mileage may vary. [contd]. – Graphus Aug 26 '17 at 5:59
  • MR-MDF or exterior ply would yield a bench that doesn't need flattening, is faster (much!) to build and possibly cheaper. Easy choice for me because I don't care what the top is made from I only want it to be flat and level. But if you absolutely want a glued-up top how about making if from Glulam? Article here. – Graphus Aug 26 '17 at 6:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.