Which is the Best Wood for Workbench Tops? (Best Materials to Work With!)

Workbench formation

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The most fulfilling projects in woodworking are those that you can use to further your hobby. Crafting your own workbench aids in better organization and efficiency. However, choosing the wood for your perfect bench can be taxing due to various options. 

This guide compiled by our professional woodworkers will help you choose the best wood for a workbench top.

Why Build a Wooden Workbench Top?

Building a woodworking bench is one of the first projects woodworkers get because it is a useful tool that enhances their woodworking skills. 

MDF

The same wood used in the overall bench is also used when making the top. Using the same material can give off a feel of authenticity and increase in aesthetic quality.

To achieve a good workbench output, one must consider a few factors, such as ensuring that it is a completely flat surface, has additional storage features, and ample space for other accessories like an adjustable lamp or cutting mat. You may also add extra dog holes for attaching cords.

The 10 Best Types of Wood for a Workbench Top

#1: Pinewood

Pine wood

This medium-texture softwood is known for its natural patterns, giving it an overall aesthetic appeal. This popular type of wood in Northern America usually has an off-white color, but some variants like the Southern Yellow Pine are slightly yellow.

Pinewood is easy to work with, as it is easy to trim and nail, making it ideal for bed frames and workbenches. It also does not wear easily, making it a good choice for flooring. Additionally, even though pinewood is a softwood, you would not have to worry about rot as it is versatile and decay-resistant.

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#2: Maple Wood

maple wood

If you are looking for a durable make with a beautiful wood aesthetic, then hard maple wood may be for you. This hard wood has a naturally creamy texture and striking grain patterns. It also comes in as many as 150 varieties.

With its sheer durability and resistance to wear and tear, hard maple is one of the top picks among woodworkers. Moreover, as Maple is easily accessible, it is more affordable than most hardwood varieties, especially if you purchase it from a sawmill in your area. Since it is easy to stain, some woodworkers tint it with dark stains to imitate pricier wood varieties. 

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#3: Hickory

Hickory

Hickory can be tough to work with, especially if you are new to woodworking. This hardwood is physically coarse and tough, making it susceptible to tearing out. 

However, it makes up for exceptional durability and rustic-feel aesthetics, making it one of the top options among woodworkers when making a workbench top.

This hardwood is fairly heavy and can sustain a significant amount of weight, making it ideal for a basic workbench or a vanity workbench, among many others.

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#4: Douglas Fir

Douglas Fir

Usually found in Western North America, the Douglas Fir is a softwood, sometimes called Oregon pine or Colombian pine. 

It is abundant in Europe, New Zealand, and South America and is used for multiple applications. One of the most notable is glulam [1], or glue-laminated timber. It is a type of structural engineered wood that is highly durable with moisture-resistant structural adhesives.

The Douglas fir may be lighter than other softwood variants, but it can bear more weight on par with hard woods. This wood has an exceptional strength-to-weight ratio and is considered one of the best wood bases for pillars and porches.

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#5: Teak

teak wood design

Teak is abundant in Asia and Pacific coast regions. Teak wood is characterized by its rich, dark to golden brown color and accentuated with small white flowers and papery leaves that tend to be thick on the lower side. Its heartwood is yellowish but tends to darken with age, while the sapwood is white to pale yellow or light brown.

If you are searching for termite-resistant wood and easy to carve into, then teak wood may be for you. Its dense, heavy-built structure indicates its strength and durability, making it one of the top picks for a wood workbench top.

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#6: Plywood

stack of plywood

Without a doubt, plywood is one of the most viable options when crafting a workbench. Plywood is affordable and readily accessible and is also lightweight and versatile. 

Most woodworkers opt for plywood for their first workbench because it is flexible and easy to work with, especially when staining or adding dog holes. It comes in a variety of quality and thickness and is created by combining multi-layers of wood veneer glued together in an adhesive.

The best plywood to use in a general workbench has a cross-grained nature and has an evenly distributed strength. Some woodworkers also opt for kiln-dried softwood plywood which is equally durable and affordable.

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#7: MDF

Plywood

The Medium-Density Fiberboard is an engineered wood product synthesized by breaking down hardwood and softwood residuals into fine wood fibers and combining them with a resin binder.

Unlike solid wood, MDF rarely cracks or expands. This wood is more likely to snatch rather than warp under pressure and can cope well in damp conditions. That said, fully submerging MDF in water for an extended period is not advisable.

Although easily dismissed by woodworkers when it first came out, MDF has greatly increased its quality over the years. It is now sturdier and significantly more affordable than plywood.

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#8: American Beech

American Beech Wood

Widely common in Europe, Asia, and North America, the beech tree has many variants. Most woodworkers are fond of this wood because of its aesthetic qualities. In particular, the American Beech Tree boasts fine, symmetrical grains that give it a uniform texture.

The two factors that set American Beech apart from other woods are its durability and ease of use. If you wish to craft a sturdy workbench that can take heavy loads and last for a long time, it is one of the best options. Beechwood can also hold screws and nails exceptionally, making it ideal in furniture making.

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#9: Yellow Birch

Yellow Birch

The birch tree has multiple varieties, with white birch, sweet birch, and yellow birch among the most popular. They are generally tagged as birch trees or birch wood.

The yellow birch, in particular, is widely sought for its superior qualities. Its amber to white color with broad brown figures make for a solid piece of woodwork. You can use birch wood for the entirety of your project or use them only for the veneer and overlay. You may also opt for a birch fiberboard.

Additionally, economy birch plywood is one of the most affordable lumber variants, costing up to 75% less than soft maple and cherry wood.

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#10: White Oak

white oak

The White Oak is solid hardwood with beautiful grain patterns. Its rustic look is best suited in wooden workbenches and is also one of the most durable choices among hard woods, as it can effortlessly support a significant amount of weight. 

If you are a professional woodworker, this is one of your top picks as it renders a perfectly flat and smooth surface while also being resistant to moisture and corrosion.

However, like the Red Oak, this wood is also prone to splintering and cracking. Note that just like most hardwoods, it may be challenging to cut.

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Types of Workbench Tops

Vanity Bench

Characterized by drawers, raised panel doors, and dedicated shelves, a vanity bench is a multipurpose work bench that serves various functions in a standard workshop. 

They are easy to build and are highly cost-effective. A lot of hobbyists have started their woodworking projects with DIY vanity benches.

Carpenter’s Bench

If you are the type of woodworker who focuses more on functionality than aesthetics, then a carpenter’s bench may be for you. It has a base of solid wood, usually an MDF top. By using MDF, replacement becomes convenient as its top usually becomes too nicked or scratched over time. 

You may also add a wax furnish to keep it from getting heat stained. Make sure to build one that can accommodate all the tools needed for your work.

white oak

Crafter’s Bench

Getting your hands dirty with various crafts requires a specialized bench to accommodate all your needed tools. Depending on your line of craft, may it be sewing, pottery, sculpting, or others, you can customize a crafter’s bench that caters to your needs.

The crafter’s bench, like most benches, typically comes with a plywood or MDF top of around ¾ inch, but it could be thicker if need be. 

If you are working on heat-related crafts, the top can be covered with a metal or glass sheet. You can also add or partially cover it with a carpet or rubber sheet to avoid staining and damaging the wood finish caused by your hand tools.

Garage Bench

If you have a basement or garage with enough room, a garage bench is a good idea. It is typically in a garage or basement and functions as a general-purpose workbench. 

These garage benches usually take a lot of beating, so they must be rugged. 2×6 inch lumber planks or even plywood are usually arranged across the top of the workbench.

Wood for 2X4 Workbench

How Thick Should a Workbench Top Be?

The thickness of a workbench top depends on your work type. In general, it should at least be 3 inches. The best wood for a workbench top should ideally be at least 10 x 36 x 1-inch square. Anything longer than 36” requires an additional 1-1.5” thickness. A general 1” overhang is also recommended.

Adding an Overhang on the Workbench Top

When crafting a woodworker’s bench, one of the most frequent queries for beginners is how to determine the length of the overhang. Our expert woodworkers suggest first determining the overall design and considering the four legs of your table, including the leg vises.

A general rule of thumb is an overhang of at least 12 to 15 inches, taking into account that they are equal at both ends.

Where to Purchase Your Wood

A nice wood may be purchased in your nearest hardware store, Home depot in your area, or lumber supplies shop. If there aren’t any near you, you can always opt to order online, although this will take longer.

Workbench Top Covering

One of the best options for a bench top covering is silicone. This material is resilient and can last a long time, and it is also resistant to stains and adhesives.

FAQ

What should I put on my plywood workbench top?

You can put any quick-sealing coat or contact adhesive on your plywood workbench top to add a layer of protection to your woodworking project.

Conclusion

The best wood for a workbench top depends on your needs as a woodworker. You may go for MDF or hard wood if you want something durable and low maintenance. Choose plywood if you want something lightweight and affordable. Make sure to take into account your intended purpose so you can maximize it fully and efficiently.

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen and women. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson