I am planning to build a heavy duty work bench from a custom end grain butcher block table. The maker offers five different woods: maple, oak, cherry, walnut, and industrial maple.

I know that oak is stronger than maple, but will it make a difference? How much stronger is it?

Note that this table will be used for metal working (heavy hammering) and supporting heavy, cast iron machine tools, like arbor presses, so it's got to be very strong and rigid.

Also, what about walnut, its a lot more expensive. Would it have any advantages? Harder than maple maybe?

  • 1
    You know that oak is stronger than maple, is that right? ;-)
    – Graphus
    Nov 11 '18 at 13:50
  • 1
    The top of my bench is two layers of 3/4" plywood. It's very sturdy, and relatively cheap to replace when it gets too ugly from drilling, hammering, screwing things down, accidentally burning it with a soldering iron or heat gun, etc. Also has the benefit of being the same thickness of a 2x4, which comes in handy. Regardless of the material, consider a torsion box-style structure, which will go a long way towards distributing weight and keeping things flat. I did that for my CNC (MDF torsion box) and it worked great.
    – 3Dave
    Nov 11 '18 at 17:25
  • In addition to strength consider that oak is an open grain hardwood, where maple, cherry and walnut are closed grain. If the metals will have oils then oak may be more likely to absorb and retain it.
    – Ashlar
    Nov 12 '18 at 3:16
  • Words like "hardness" and "strength" are very complicated when talking about materials like wood. But the comments are correct; you should be thinking about how the static and dynamic loads are transferred to the floor. Durability of the top is of less importance than the carcase "strength", or ability to handle dead-weight and sudden mass, or torsion.
    – jdv
    Nov 12 '18 at 15:44
  • cherry/walnut - a waste. oak - too porous. maple: the way to go. I'm not sure what industrial maple is... maybe a harder species. In any even, you should focus on the support structure as per comments below.
    – aaron
    Nov 14 '18 at 20:08

Strength should not be your concern.

A butcher-block slab with a large unsupported span is likely to to fail - the vertically-oriented wood fibers will separate (which happens normally with moisture changes and is called checking) under any load.

Your slab must be supported by an underlying structure which will prevent any flexing loads from being applied.

Hardness is measured (for wood) on the Janka scale, and you can find a comparison chart here

TL:DR - Go with maple.

  • While I agree with the gist of your Answer I can't get behind your opening line. OP should be primarily concerned with strength, before any and all other considerations for a bench that needs to withstand major weight, it's just that as you say it's more about the structure of the table than the inherent strength of the material.
    – Graphus
    Nov 11 '18 at 13:55
  • I think that's the gist of it - structural rigidity vs inherent wood species strength.
    – aaron
    Nov 14 '18 at 20:07

Oak may be harder than maple (I don't actually have numbers to prove you right or wrong) but in my experience maple is much less likely to split along the grain, especially in butcher block format.

Oak grain is larger, and short chunks of butcher block will have bits of wood falling off the edges at the first nick from anything heavy.

Walnut is beautiful, don't spend the money on it because you won't want to get it dirty. Hardness, again I'd say it's up there with maple in grain integrity, depending on the walnut it can be significantly harder or softer (maple also varies significantly)

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