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What kind of material would you recommend to make a top for the universal bench?

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Please define your intended use for this bench.

Bench size?

Building mostly bookshelves. Bench size probably 44x64.

Thanks

Patrick,

I have built a work bench top using 3 sheets of 3/4" MDF edged with 3"x1&3/4" white oak.  I got the plan from ShopNotes magazine.

You don't have to use white oak, as any solid board edging would probably do well.

I have seen plans calling for construction grade 2 by stock face glued and then routed flat.  Just give the stock time in your work shop to thoroughly dry before cutting, it's still a bit wet when you buy it.

Reclaimed lumber, like oak flat bed truck decking, is an idea as well. Face glued like above.

Hope this helps,

Mike

A double layer of 3/4" MDF edged with sold wood is a durable, inexpensive choice for a bench top. All of the benches in our photos are built this way. The edging is maple.

You can even flip this type of a top over eventually, once the top gets worn/beat up--as long as you don't mind a few holes from the mounting screws.

KregRep

What kind of stain should I seal it with?

KregRep said:

A double layer of 3/4" MDF edged with sold wood is a durable, inexpensive choice for a bench top. All of the benches in our photos are built this way. The edging is maple.

You can even flip this type of a top over eventually, once the top gets worn/beat up--as long as you don't mind a few holes from the mounting screws.

KregRep

IMHO a couple coats of shellac are the best finish for MDF. It dries almost instantly and forms a nice hard surface.

When I built my universal bench I used a 3/4" shop plywood base, a 3/4" MDF layer, & topped it off with a 1/4" hardboard or also known as fiberboard.  This is cheap & can be replaced when it gets too messed up. I have not replaced mine yet & I have used it almost everyday for 4.5 years (on a 6 hour average basis for at least5 days a week). Good luck with your table

Great thanks. Do you recommend sealing it with anything?

Larry E Dennis said:

When I built my universal bench I used a 3/4" shop plywood base, a 3/4" MDF layer, & topped it off with a 1/4" hardboard or also known as fiberboard.  This is cheap & can be replaced when it gets too messed up. I have not replaced mine yet & I have used it almost everyday for 4.5 years (on a 6 hour average basis for at least5 days a week). Good luck with your table

Adding a couple 2x4 stretchers, equally spaced front to back, will provide additional support for the top.

Especially helpful if the bench top will be subjected to hammering or heavy pounding.



Ken Darga said:

Adding a couple 2x4 stretchers, equally spaced front to back, will provide additional support for the top.

Especially helpful if the bench top will be subjected to hammering or heavy pounding.

I have a big work table/bench, 4'x7', with 3/4 particle board for a top, but I have a slightly different philosophy for finishing. I don't use any. It doesn't bother me if stain/paint gets on my top, it's a work surface. By not finishing it, any glue or varnish drops will pop right off with a quick pass with a chisel. Scratches (from a utility knife, etc.) will disappear with a light sanding and bigger gouges can be filled with wood filler. I've had the same top for at least 10 years and it's still going and still flat and smooth.

If you apply a finish to the top, I'd advise a penetrating finish, such as shellac, oil or a thinned oil/poly blend. A film-building finish such as straight polyurethane or varnish is problematic on a bench top because when it gets beat up, the only way to renew it is by sanding it off and starting again. With an oil, you can just scuff the surface and apply a fresh coat. I like having some finish because it makes glue drips, etc. easy to pop right off with a putty knife. With no finish, the glue will soak in.

I also like Larry's idea of a hardboard top layer if the bench top will see lots of abuse. I have an old bench (not one of our Universal Benches) that is built this way. It has a double layer of 3/4" ply and solid-wood edging. The edging sticks up by the thickness of the hardboard top layer so that the surface is flush. The hardboard is attached with a few pieces of double-faced tape. When it gets beat up, I just pop the hardboard out and put in a new one.

Regarding the 2x4 stretchers: That's a great idea with many benches. With the way the Universal Bench is built, you won't need them--especially if you use a double-layer top.

kregRep

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