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  1. #1
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    Default Plywood for workbench and shop furniture

    Greetings wise ones

    I am about to start building a new workbench, using a torsion box design (the basic design usually credited to Mr Paulk). I am also going to build some shop cabinetry.

    Criteria are moisture resistance (leaky shed), moderate cost, dimensional stability and ease of machining and fixing - especially how it holds pocket screws.

    Doesn't need to be pretty.

    I was thinking about Formply (for concreting/ construction). Here in Melbourne Plyco and Bunnings sell various grades. In the past I've used construction grade plywood but the warping and voids were not my favourite.

    Does anyone have any suggestions or recommendations here?

    As an aside, I would never do something as heretical as use plywood for a hand tool bench, this is for an MFT track saw and router setup. The bench top is MR-MDF from a local CNC outfit.



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    Eddie

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  3. #2
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    I'd be looking at solving the leaky shed issue first:
    a) You can then use a much wider range of (cheaper) substrates, and
    b) your tools should do better...

    I used the Bunnings structural ply for all these tasks, and it worked fine for quick and dirty shed furnishings (including a Paulk style torsion box assembly table that is one of my most used shop 'tools'...) 12mm C/C+ stuff at about $35/sheet. Good for wall lining too.

  4. #3
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    Second that on fixing the leaky shed issues first. You are never going to get anywhere with woodwork in a shed that leaks. It will constantly be annoying you as it spoils your tools and projects.
    Regards
    John

  5. #4
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    Hi snafuspyramid,
    First off, I'm not one of the wise ones. However, I'm about to start a plywood
    workbench build. I'm using 25mm hardwood marine ply and following much of the design from the Anarchist's Workbench (if you haven't read it, it is a really good read. I bought the book but you can download it for free if you don't want to buy it). I'm also combining some of Vic Tesolin's recent ply workbench build ideas. I'm almost finished the Sketchup plans for it if you are interested. My choice of ply over other timbers is primarily price. I can get marine ply in 25mm thickness for about 1/3rd the price of a more typical hardwood. It is even coming in cheaper than getting recycled hardwood timber from the local scrap merchants and there, I will end up with a mix of species. So, my ply order arrives Monday!!

    My choice of 25mm ply over the typical 18mm ply is because 25mm ply requires fewer laminations than 18mm and 25mm is a nice round number that works with my design.

    I steer clear of the Bunnings ply for a few reasons but mainly, because it is all C/D grade whereas marine play is B/B grade, or it is radiated pine rather than a hardwood or they only supply small sheets rather than full sheets or the thicker ply or the better grade ply. Looking at how the parts layout on a single sheet and considering the kerf of my saw blade, the Bunnings metric dimensions end up taking more sheets and wasting more than the imperial dimension of a sheet from my local timber supplier. Also, your local construction timber supplier (not Bunnings) will actually be very competitive with Bunnings rates for something like this...and they most of them are happy to deliver! Using the design I've worked up, you could use formply for the top but I still wouldn't. It presents a dark brown to black surface to work on which I don't like and I think you would get a better result from a sheet of B/B grade marine ply for a similar cost.

    Just as other's have said, I'd also fix the leaky roof before tackling the workbench.

  6. #5
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    I agree with TongueTied marine ply would be the best.
    If the job is worth doing why not make it the best that you can, you will appreciate it for a long time.

    Regards
    Keith

  7. #6
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    Default

    Thanks all - so not much love for the Laserply idea. The leaky shed is not an easy fix and worth a different thread, but suffice to say I'm just looking for something that will deal with the occasional drip of condensation, splash from waterstones or a bit of rain getting blown in rather than marine conditions. I also like to throw paint, solvent, lubricant, and fertiliser around in there.

    I'm not sure I'd use plywood for a work bench I'd be hammering or planing with. There, you want mass not just rigidity. I admit I haven't costed it, but my construction pine English bench wasn't especially expensive. The top is 45mm Tassie oak but pine would also have been fine and cheaper. Making all those torsion boxes sounds like a right pain and you can't use hold fasts (and I'd be nervous about a leg vice). For machine tools only I guess it's fine but very interested in what you come up with.

    For assembly benches and the MFT table the Formply appeals because it's only a 20 per cent premium over good quality non structural pine plywood but the surface is stain resistant, washable and pretty water resistant. Marine plywood gets seriously pricey.

    I remember reading somewhere that Formply is good for cabinet carcases.



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  8. #7
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    A ply workbench is actually fine. Vic Tesolin's approach is to laminate long thin ply pieces together and then put a sheet on top. His bench is smaller and lighter than the one I building but he hasn't had any issues with the mass of his and I think his is construction ply (ie pine) rather than hardwood marine ply. Based on the weight of a sheet of marine ply, mine will probably end up around 200kg. Vic Tesolin estimated his at about 150 to 200lbs (68 to 90kg) and feels his has enough mass for his work. Ply is dimensionally stable, and flat. He uses holdfasts on his so there is no reason not to use them on yours. However, if you are going to build your top as a torsion box ie a sheet on top and one on the bottom with a few strips inside to support the top, you won't be able to use holdfasts no matter what material you choose. To use a holdfast, you need timber all the way through the top and it needs to be thick. There is a debate raging about how thick a top you need but there seems to be a consensus that anything less than 50mm of solid timber is a joke and really you need about 100mm or 4" of workbench thickness to make holdfasts work well.

    As for a leg vice, I don't see an issue there. Laminate the pieces together and you have a solid timber leg. You can then hog out the space for a crisscross and drill through for the leadscrew. That is what I'm doing, anyway.

    I currently have a pine bench and it isn't nearly good enough but it does work...for now. It is made from nonstructural construction pine for the frame. I laminated pieces together to give me 90mm square legs and 130 x 35mm stringers top and bottom. For the top, I got a laminated pine slab from Bunnings years ago. I think they make them for tabletops but it is big enough to use as a door. Anyway, it wasn't expensive and I had it available so that is what I used for the top. Over the years, it has seen some serious abuse and is now cupping. I've flattened it a few times but it continues to move. It is also too thin to use holdfasts. Once my ply bench is done, the old one will be used as an outfield table for the tablesaw. Chris Schwarz (Anarchist's Workbench) raves about yellow pine but he is in the US and if you look at the characteristics of yellow pine, you would need to use Tassie Oak/Vic Ash as an equivalent here. Our construction pine (radiated pine) is much less dense, softer, lighter, in essence: rubbish. Even our construction ply is rubbish. It is made from the same radiated pine and has all the defects that you can think of which is fine for construction but not where you want a nice flat surface. Hence the C/D grading it is given. (NB: Form-ply also comes in a number of different grades as well, from regular radiated non-structural form-ply to regular construction ply with a film finish (F14) to high strength ply with a film finish (F27), all made with lots of lovely formaldehyde. So not all form-ply is the same.) Marine ply is going to hold up far better and is B/B grade. You can also get Exterior grade ply which you can get in B/B grade or even A/A grade. The B/B grade is only $10 less per sheet than B/B grade marine ply so I spent the extra $10 on marine ply. Tassie Oak/Vic Ash is going to be about 3 times more expensive than marine ply.

    A workbench is supposed to be abused. The idea is that the bench gets damaged but your workpiece doesn't. You will get all sorts of things spilled on it and it will get splashed with water. Ever done a glue-up without a container of water handy? Not me! I'm always dripping/spilling water/paint/glue/resin on the bench. I wipe up as soon as I can but it still marks it. That is the nature of what a workbench is for IMHO.

    The bench I've designed uses 4 sheets of 25mm thick ply. If you were to use a thinner ply ie 17 mm form-ply you would need more sheets. Doing the whole thing in 17mm form-ply would take a few more sheets which would likely negate the cheaper cost of the thinner sheet of ply. A quick calculation and I estimate that going from 25mm to 17mm ply for the workbench top alone would require an extra 2 sheets of ply assuming the workbench top remains at 100mm thick and would require more laminations than thicker material. I'd guess the rest of the bench would also require an additional 2 sheets. I've added a screenshot from sktchup to show what I mean. Please excuse the varying wood colours used. I made each section a different wood colour to make it easier to work out which pieces are which when laid out on a sheet of ply. The laminated lighter coloured wood is the base of the workbench top and it is made from strips of ply (25mm x 75mm x 2000mm) laminated together. On top of this is a sheet of 25mm ply laid down flat giving me a total top thickness of 100mm. That top is basically the sacrificial top that can, and should, get all the abuse. When it is trashed, I can replace it with a new sheet (Thanks Vic Tesolin for this one). So if that is correct and you end up needing 4 extra sheets (2 extra for the top and 2 for the base) to go from 25mm down to 17mm, based on the price I paid for ply, that would save about $50 and that is for rubbish F14 form ply.
    Screen Shot 2021-07-31 at 9.23.35 am.jpg
    There may not be much enthusiasm for a ply workbench on this forum since ply isn't as a pretty material as solid timber. I am not a fan of the look of ply and if money wasn't an issue, I'd be using Vic Ash or American Oak. But since a workbench is just to help create, and doesn't need to be a work of art, I'm okay with the fact that it may look somewhat hideous. It will be heavy, solid, cheap, flat, stable and will give me all the capabilities of a bench made from a more traditional timber. So, others may not have much enthusiasm for a ply bench but that doesn't mean it won't work or that you shouldn't do it. Read the first 30 pages of the Anarchist's Workbench. Chris basically takes all the ideas of perfect workbenches and crushes them. He focuses on the use of the bench, not the look or material used (although he doesn't like the look of ply). He based his choice and recommendations, on availability and price for something that is 'good enough', not perfect. Down here, my research points me to ply whereas Chris found Yellow Pine but he started with an old door and 2 saw horses. So, whatever you use, it will be fine even if it isn't going to last a hundred years. If it becomes the base so you can build something you can be proud of, then it serves its purpose.

  9. #8
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    Tonguetiedís comment is good; analyse where you lie on the spectrum of Ďitís a work of artí to Ďitís a bloody tool Iím going to spill glue, paint, tea, beer and tool oil on, whilst dinging the edges and top with everything from breeze blocks to embedded grit in lumberí and adjust accordingly... Iíve done all of the above to the benches in my shop at various times.
    Neil Pask has a very functional plywood workbench build:
    Solid Workbench - Cheap and Easy to Build - YouTube

    I reckon it looks pretty good in a functional bauhaus sort of way....and he mentions free plans.

  10. #9
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    Interesting post. Laminating plywood sounds easier than laminating timber for a bench top, you'd just need a tracksaw / circular saw + angle iron / table saw. No need to thickness. But I'm not convinced whether it solves a real problem, except possibly cost. Interested to hear how it holds up over time.

    In defence of pine, Bunnings construction pine has been excellent for my workbench base, it goes rock hard with age and it's fairly cheap (especially as there was no need for mechanical fastening). The design has deep aprons of 45mm thick planks so it is very rigid, regardless of the size of the legs (which are about 90mm from memory, draw bored into the stretchers). I did need to be careful with stock selection and to let the timber dry out for a few months first, it's sold very wet. I went with Tassie oak boards for the top because I thought pine would be a bit springy at 45mm but if I had a machine thicknesser or more patience I'd definitely have used laminated pine at 90mm thick. Flattening the top as it moves for the first year or so wasn't a big deal.

    I have the Gramercy hold fasts and they're rock solid in 45mm (both pine aprons and Tassie oak top). It would be easy enough to glue a 19mm packer under the dog holes if needed.

    My concern with using laminated plywood for a base is that it would tend to crush over time and the joints would loosen up, which is how LVL behaved for me on an assembly table (which is essentially just very thick plywood). It would also be a right pain to flatten the top with a handplane given the alternating grain orientation - unless you're much more skilled with glue ups than I am I'd not expect it to be dead flat after laminating so you'd need to correct it before adding a top piece.

    For an MFT set up the bottom of the table top needs to be accessible and flatness is essential to cut accuracy, so an open sided torsion box struck me as sensible. I have no plans to build a second hand tool workbench but am following this discussion with great interest.

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  11. #10
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    I agree, laminating ply sounds easier than sawn timbers since you already have 2 flat and parallel sides. I hadn't completely figured out how I was going to keep all the laminations for the workbench-top-base flat. I do have a 200mm jointer and 300mm thicknesser which would allow me to laminate and flatten, a few sections up to approximately 175mm wide. I could then laminate those sections together. but I would have the issue of getting the 3 sections laminated together and flat. That is the tricky bit as far as I can see. One possible solution (off the top of my head) is to place the large laminated sections upside down on a flat surface, glue and clamp from what would be the underside. Another could be to use a biscuit or domino. I have a domino so I could put a few dominos in the sides of each section and then laminate them together. That would give a good indexing for each section. It could also be done with a router on a sled. Of course, the workbench-top-top will be dead flat anyway so how dead flat does the laminations need to be, I don't know. This is a challenging part of the build. I might just send Vic Tesolin a question and see if he has a bright idea or advise on how he did it since his bench is done this way.

    I'm not sure I understand what you mean by crushing over time. The joints need to be as big as possible and plenty of glue and no screws (according to Chris Schwarz). I imagine, pine ply would crush since it is soft and therefore it could loosen up, although wood glue tends to be stronger than the wood it is attaching. That is one of the reasons it is important to use a denser wood for a workbench, isn't it?

    Chris Schwarz argues that you shouldn't use a workbench for tool storage. I'm not sure I agree or see his argument fully since he then goes on to argue that the base should have a shelf for...storage! I guess this is a personal choice and up to you. Are you thinking of something like Izzy Swan's open sided bench design?

    jpdv, Thanks for the link to Neil's video. I really like his build videos and follow his stuff but must have missed that one. I'm quite happy to give anyone my plans. You can have them in their current state but I do plan to update them during the build to account for any issues I identify.

  12. #11
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    I mean crushing under pressure from bench bolts or vice, I agree it shouldn't be an issue where you're using massive tenons and glue.

    The shelf under the bench is a handy place to keep bench appliances (Moxon vice, shooting board, doe's foot etc.) that are in constant use and essentially form part of the bench. You also need some airspace for hold fasts and for vice machinery so there's not that much free space left over. That said, I've never seen the need to have access to the underneath of the benchtop.

    A small drawer for layout tools would be nice though...

    If you've got a decent width thicknesser, given the benchtop is presumably only about 60cm deep, just laminate two beams and sandwich them between two ply sheets, that should keep them in alignment and give you a flat surface without the need to stick them together. Or have a split benchtop.


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  13. #12
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    I'm doing a split bench. I don't know if you can see it in the photo I posted the other day. Total width is 825mm which is divided into a 600mm section and a 200mm section. Here again, I'm taking Chris Schwarz advice and making the width based on the sort of work I plan to do. In this case, I have been doing some chairs tend to need between 600 to 800mm of working surface. The extra 25mm is the gap for the split top. 600mm should be good enough for most things but when I have something particularly wide, it can straddle the gap/split and rest it on the 200mm section. So, to get a 600mm width, I would have to joint 3 sets of 200mm and then thickness them to get a good flat surface. I suppose I could do as you have suggested and do 2 sets of 300mm on the thicknesser.

    I agree with Chris Schwarz regarding bench bolts: don't use them regardless of the timber chosen. Crushing from a vice may be a problem with pine ply but I don't think it would be an issue with hardwood ply. Having said that, a number of years ago, I made a bench vice using pine construction ply (from Bunnings) and a pipe clamp. It had some major drawbacks but cost next to nothing to build and it worked reasonably well. That vice got banged and dented but didn't suffer any crushing or failure of the ply. So, I wouldn't be too concerned with crushing of the ply except for using bolts and that goes for any timber.

    If you are looking for a drawer or shelf for layout tools, how about a drawer that pushes back and up out of the way but can still be pulled down and forward to access. Sort of like something you would expect Izzy Swan to create using the same principles as his recent charger station but under a workbench. I would agree that there isn't much space under a workbench that is actually usable. I do think a shelf sitting on the lower stringers is a good idea. But I wouldn't do a full set of drawers underneath unless I had no intention of using holdfasts which I do and it sounds like you do as well.

  14. #13
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    TSO sell plans for the benchtop design I have in mind, although I will probably build a cabinet with drawers rather than use trestles. The idea of the open box is that you need access to the bottom of the MFT sheet for dogs and it needs to stay flat. Wouldn't want to use a mortise hammer on it.

    Paulk Smart Bench - A 10-year evolution of the famous, original Paulk bench


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  15. #14
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    Just going back to the original post, if your going to do a torsion box design then there is IMO nothing wrong with just about any ply top, just soak it in beeswax infused finish, water will just bead on top and get's wiped off. Three of my four work surfaces (benches) actually just use (gasp) bunnings 16mm mdf laminated together and literally soaked in turps/linseed oil/beeswax and in my garage that is very prone to condensation i just wipe them off.... there comes a time they stop soaking up the finish and that's about the time they are truly water resistant.
    One the old benches i pulled out had a 19mm ply top that got absolutely abused, drilled, splattered, banged on, split over and it too was just oil soaked and never a water concern.

    The fourth bench as a 4100 x 860 monster with the top made from vertically laminated hardwood, the glue up in stages and used over 4L of glue itself

    I've seen the laminated legs and frame as tonguetied posted, very successfully done on any number of videos.

    Cheers
    Phil

  16. #15
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    Have you seen this:

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