Perfect pine makes perfect benches

Make your own bench

First of all make your own bench with confidence. I will help you through every stage and in a few days, no more than say four, you will have your new workbench ready to use. It will last you a lifetime and you will grow to just love it. I can make this bench in one day once I have my tops and laminated legs glued up and dried.

Who can you learn from?

Several people have asked me about recommending a bench to use that will cater to their needs. In the midst of mass information we must rely on people with active knowledge from a working background to pass on their skills and knowledge. Hopefully that information will be unbiased and free, easily assimilated into the new-genre woodworker and put an end to a pluralist confusion surrounding working workbenches driven and steered by gurus of woodworking who often pass on plans and information from lofty views and create a mystery in the offing. I see more and more that we live in a confused age even though we have such a mass of information. Dissecting and finding the truth is very difficult because we create unnecessary obstacles, conditions and complexities that make building workbenches an overwhelming task when a simple workbench can be completed in a few short days for under $100. Add a quick release, all-cast metal vise that will last for a century for somewhere around the same cost and you are in business. I address this article to new woodworkers, but my friends with more experience and skill can use it to help others get on the right track.

A bench-making course for you

The next few days is a course for you to follow and use and it’s free. It is an ideal workbench no one would be ashamed of using and owning and it has worked for me for 48 years. I have used this exact workbench everyday for that time. Over the years I have made many a dozen of these and so has Joseph who made them to sell when he was 13 years old until he was 20.

What you will learn

This workshop is a training workshop. You will learn how to laminate worktops, form mortise and tenon joints, create wedged housing dadoes and much more. You will understand the need to remove twist, cup and bow from your stock: Warpage must go. Truing up the benchtop laminates and legs will become a favourite and I will even include sharpening your Stanley #4 to do all of your donkey work first. No thick irons, no sales pitch on heavyweight planes, no retrofits and no nonsense woodworking. Watch this space!!

Hardwood in the red corner, softwood in the blue!!!

Firstly let me say that softwoods are not wimp woods at all. Spruce for instance per weight/strength ratio beats all other woods hands down. Myths I must bust is that the best so-called European workbenches (that term was to sell workbenches to Americans in the same way they created English muffins that are nothing like English muffins) came from Europe and are made mainly from hardwood. That softwood is unsuitable and should never be used is also a myth. That woodworkers throughout Europe including Britain used mostly hardwoods such as ash and oak is another myth and hardwood does not mean better wood than softwood and hardwood does not mean that the wood is hard though it can be and often is. Look how we are progressing already!! Hardwood is twice the price of softwood at least and it’s a waste of good wood to use hardwood when softwood is as good or better. That means half the cost at least.

Accepting the lesser species

In the US and Europe, pine is regarded generally as a cheap, low-grade soft-grained trash wood ideally hidden beneath sheetrock, painted or stained to some type of pseudo hardwood colour. Let me tell you about a few of my favourite woods—pine, fir and spruce. Within this range there are well over 120 different types of pine alone. Pine is a wood used to create a massive range of vernacular working tables throughout the Northern Hemisphere to help tradesmen and women in their work. From loom frames to scullery tables and saw horses to the woodworking bench, pine knows no equal in my view and the view of thousands upon millions of workmen and women through many centuries. In no way should it be relegated to the lowest class of workbench and in no way will you ever be disappointed should you make your first and last workbench from this mere wood.

 

Wood works best

Wooden benches have never been replaced by any other material with any measure of success.  MDF, pressed fibre boards of different types and even plywood have never come close and so I want to present a real wood for real woodworkers of any level.

Try first of all to think differently of pine and spruce. Put them together as one wood hybridised, both in reality and in your mind.

 

Now think of the two as a unique species—strong, resilient, elastic, absorbing. When I go to the wood suppliers I can pretty much tell my species, but many such woods are indeed hybridised and, as crossed species, less identifiably distinctive.  That’s how I look at pines and other softwood species. Workbenches made from pine are strong, resilient, elastic and absorbing. Throughout Scandinavia, mainland Europe and Britain, almost all woodworking benches were made and used by craftsmen for their own use and were never made for sale. As a woodworker I could never buy a workbench no matter how well it was made, how good it was or how little time I had. European softwoods were the wood of choice even when most if not all European countries had access to hardwoods. Pine or spruce, hemlock or Douglas fir, I have used them all with equal measure. You need have no fear that pine will not hold up to the wear and tear of everyday work no matter the weight or the demands you place on it, so let’s get down to the lumberyard and choose our wood.

27 Comments

  1. Brian Huff on 2 June 2012 at 6:21 am

    If I were to have read this post a 5-7 years ago I probably would have said your crazy for thinking this is so, or even crazier for taking the time to publishing this!  But, looking back on who I was as a person and as a woodworker then, it’s no wonder why I would have  that one sided opinion. At that time I was of the opinion that the only tool worth using is one with a cord… Or, I have enough bowls already why on earth would I want learn how to turn wood!  In my case I had to mature (quite a bit) as a person and a woodworker to even entertain any of this as logical points of view. So, why not pine, and where did I get the idea that pine wasn’t a suitable material? Then it hit me, it was David Marks fault and his TV show… Only kidding of course!

    So, today was another ah-ha moment in my life and another piece of the puzzle was connected.  I’m only 37 y/o I’m sure that there will be more of them.. well, I hope anyway.
    Sometimes I need to take a step or two back, to see the whole puzzle.

    Thanks for taking the time to publish this Paul.

    Regards,

    Brian



  2. KevinWilkinson on 3 June 2012 at 3:00 am

    I have to pass along a tip I learned at this website: http://www.galoototron.com/2012/05/28/workbench-v2-milling-the-top/

    Using the same idea I clamped a 2×4 to the back of the Wormate I have and butted the end of it against a wall in my shop. It works. I no longer have to half sit/half stand on the Workmate to plane a board.



  3. Mark Dorman on 3 June 2012 at 3:22 pm

    I used pine on my bench three years ago; it was to be my starter bench. I could build a low cost bench with features I thought I needed and see how it worked then build a real bench out of hardwood in a few years. It may never be replaced now; the wood is holding up guite well and I enjoy working on it every day. it is my favorite tool.
    I applaud you Paul for your use of Pine in a bench and going your own way.

    the best path to follow is the one you make.

    Mark D



  4. Chris Harvey on 5 June 2012 at 6:31 pm

    Perfect timing, I want to give my old( home-made bench) to my grandson and make a new one for me.
    By the way Paul, I have problem loading your pages, and I don’t think it’s me8



    • Paul Sellers on 6 June 2012 at 10:39 pm

      Lucky lad! And to have a working wood Granddad to boot is really something!



  5. pmarlowe on 6 June 2012 at 7:58 am

    Hi Paul,

    Really looking forward to the rest of this. I have a workbench which cost me $20 to build and I need a bigger one. I would benefit from your perspective on workbenches.

    Thanks!



    • Paul Sellers on 6 June 2012 at 10:38 pm

      This will cost a little more but not an arm and a leg and it will really work for you too.



  6. Paul Sellers on 7 June 2012 at 7:09 am

    I think that we all have choices in the world of real woodworking. My bench tops are planed and sawn a little and I don’t mind at all. But I see the need for care and not chiselling or sawing carelessly into the bench top so I simply stop where I need to.
    School benches were exceptionally low because they were for children. They were somewhat awkward in shape and size too. Many of these benches had wells as mine do and they were mostly made from beech, which is a little harder and quite resilient. There are many wood choices but I am suggesting pine as a decent wood because I know that it works and works well. The other thing is that I want something people can walk in a store and buy straight off of the bat, so why not perfect pine?



    • George Wilson on 21 May 2014 at 11:19 pm

      I am looking to make my own 1st workbench and thought spruce would be a good idea. However, the cost of the wood so far is looking to be around £100 pounds, never mind the hardware. Being a part-time working person, this is not a straightforward thing to just step intoa shop and buy. Perhaps, if I keep my eye open and get in contact with the local estate at Haddo House in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, who still have a water powered sawmill, I may be fortunate to get some wood. But having space to store and dry any in an appropriate way is another thing.



  7. Brian on 7 June 2012 at 6:27 pm

    I have a plywood bench, and it does not serve when planing, it racks and shakes. There is a teacher where I like, Mike Siemsen, and when choosing his bench from the modern types (Roubo, Nicholson, etc), he chose a style similar to yours. I spoke with him at a tool show, and he said if he built it again, he wouldn’t bother with a vise at all. The crochet was faster, and for detail work he added a Moxon style vise to the top. I also liked the detail of the split top, useful for planing stops, etc.

    I look forward to this series, thank you Paul!



    • Paul Sellers on 7 June 2012 at 7:09 pm

      I have made a laminate plywood bench in the past and it was excellent, fast to make and dead simple. It takes three sheets of 3/4″ birch plywood to build it plus the leg frame assembly, but that’s another story.
      Re vises. I use three vises on my personal bench. One to each opposite corner in conventional manner and then a tail vise. I use heavy Records and huge Woden vise. They all have quick release, which I like the speed of.



  8. Matt on 16 May 2014 at 2:50 pm

    Hi,
    How do pine tops hold up when using holdfasts? Does the wood tend to compress under the stress?



  9. Ben Fisher on 11 September 2014 at 3:57 pm

    Paul, does the choice of the SPF soft wood species change at all if you don’t have a proper workshop? My “shop” is my garage and has no heating / cooling / humidity control / etc. It’s doors are not fully sealed either, so it can get a wee bit moist on occasion and of course it is bug/spider central. I’m guessing it still won’t matter… I don’t think this is enough to cause any kind of rot / bug issue in the finished product over time.



    • Paul Sellers on 11 September 2014 at 10:45 pm

      benches usually acclimate and then settle down. Movement lessens and stability seems to reign. Pine is no less stable than hardwoods of course and usually is less problematic. Extremes in regions do affect a lot. East and West Texas for instance where a tabletop can increase or decrease 1/2″ depending on which direction you move to.



      • Ben Fisher on 11 September 2014 at 11:02 pm

        I live in Illinois near St Louis, Missouri. Our biggest issue is humidity. No real dry season. Minimum 35-40%, and stays at 90% much of summer.



  10. Ben Fisher on 11 September 2014 at 11:13 pm

    I’m also wondering about getting any lumber at Home Depot or Lowe’s in the States. I have both nearby and they both have junk for lumber. The construction grade stuff is in stacks, so it is hard to sort through but I looked at 30 before I gave up. It was heavily knotted with a knot every 1/2″ or so and most of the knots were gouged or chipped and on all 4 sides. Most had chips out of the middle of the boards here and there. Ugh. HD was a little better but still similar., maybe 1 out of 15-20 boards may have been OK. Nothing is 2×3 though. It’s 1.5×2.5 instead. 2×4 may work but I’ll have to figure out how to rip it down to 3 instead of 3.5″. Lowe’s had a more expensive section meant for craft work but it was entirely 1 by lumber. I guess I’m going to have to find and investigate some local lumber yards and learn how to plane down rough-sawn stock before building a workbench. The stuff at the big box store was a lot worse than I thought it would be.



    • Kevin Hart on 10 April 2015 at 11:20 pm

      I’ve had some success with the “premium” kiln-dried 8 foot 2x4s at Lowes and HD. The ones at HD still managed to be damp somehow, but you can usually find two to four decent boards in the top couple of layers. More expensive than the other 2x4s, but still only around 3 bucks each. In a few weekends you should be set.



      • Ben on 14 April 2015 at 5:34 am

        The “premium” at Lowe’s is junk where I am at. At HD it is a little bit better. You can maybe find 2-3 boards each visit that don’t have a bunch of awful dead knots that go all the way through, aren’t horribly chipped off at one end or half split somewhere, and not already bowed like the third letter of the alphabet. Maybe 3.



  11. jan on 24 September 2015 at 3:08 pm

    George, I hope you have your work bench by now. If not, I suggest taking a long, hard look at sites of houses being demolished, maybe you can salvage something worthy of being built into your bench. Or better – for sure you can. Ask, too, because even if it would be thrown out some people think just taking it would be stealing. I bet a small handout for the workers (chocolates, if you can’t think of something) does wonders too, sometimes. There are always sources for people with more time than money. Good luck!



    • Paul Sellers on 24 September 2015 at 4:07 pm

      Good idea, that. One time a house was being demolished near me and there were some 4 x 12s for 25pence a foot but that was back in 1972.



  12. Alan on 20 January 2016 at 7:15 pm

    Hi Paul!
    I’m really into woodworking now but I’m just a newbie.
    I want to build a bench make o pine.
    I’m in Brazil and here we have lots of lumber companies that sell woods for construction.
    So let me ask.
    I’m not sure those woods are really dried and chemically processed and autoclaved for woodworking.
    What do you recommend?
    Have you heard about Eucalipto Saligna? Also known as blue gum (Australia), sidney blue gum (Australia) that is very common here.
    I’m not sure which pine wood I should go for but I think the wood needs to be dry right?
    Thanks



    • Paul Sellers on 20 January 2016 at 8:17 pm

      Just about any wood will work for a workbench, but you are right, dry wood is essential. Best thing is to take a section into your house and weigh it. Perhaps a pice 30mm by 100mm by 25cm. Keep a note of the weight as soon as cut. Use kitchen or bathroom scales and then put it somewhere warm and dry. Leave somewhere with low humidity. Check the weight each day to see if the wood is lighter and when the wood stops it will be acclimated to where it is. if it keeps going down it will have high moisture content and you will need to leave your wood until it loses no more moisture.



    • Sammy on 28 January 2016 at 8:22 am

      hi there alan, Saligna is rather a heavy wood compared to pines and it can often have a very tricky wavy grain to work with, it does have some very nice colours however and finishes very nicely. Here In New Zealand large stands were planted in the 1970s to be sold as construction timber and have since ended up as common firewood which is quite criminal really , but then most of our history here in regard to the treatment of wonderful species of timber has been downright rotten……..



  13. Kyle Tindal on 18 October 2016 at 5:27 pm

    Hi Paul!

    I was looking for the next article in this process of building your workbench, choosing the wood from the lumberyard. I can’t seem to find it and I thought it would help me out if I gave it a read.

    Many thanks, and keep up the good work,

    Kyle



    • Paul Sellers on 18 October 2016 at 7:14 pm

      There is a series of articles on the steps and then a video series on youtube too. Use the search boxes on my blog.



  14. Max on 13 March 2018 at 11:38 pm

    Thank you Paul for convincing me to go ahead and build my first workbench!!

    Love your videos on youtube, you make Joinery feel accessible to us mere mortals.

    Thanks again



  15. Ricardo on 19 May 2018 at 5:50 pm

    Paul,
    I love your respect for the wood and for the process. I was considering to buy electrical appliances, etc, and you have deeply changed my mind, making me focus on what’s really important in woodworking.
    Your videos are philosophical for me, and your technique is masterful. I sincerely congratulate you on your efforts to teach going back to wood basics.

    Best wishes from Brazil,
    Ricardo