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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2020
    Location
    Sydney
    Age
    41
    Posts
    4

    Default First workbench - help regarding timber selection

    Hi all,

    Just starting as a woodworking hobbyist (def a noob) and want to build my first workbench.
    I am after:
    1. Something with character not just a workhorse
    2. Workbench needs to be sturdy/heavy enough for hand planing
    3. Want the top to be 3"/75mm thick to suit bench dogs and end vice (from what I've read 2" is the minimum suggested)
    4. Want to use hardwood of some sort for the build but as to what hardwood that is were I am stuck

    So far the options that I can see are:
    1. Use unconditioned/untreated garden sleepers (100x200 or 75x200).
    I appreciate that this is green wood and I would need to set aside to air dry.
    Can someone suggest if this is a good option and how long to dry (seeking any tips on how to significant reduce from the 12mnths per 1" rule)
    Willing to do a small kiln in the garage with fan and mini dehumidifier if ppl reckon this will def shorten the drying time significantly

    2. Use recycled AA railway sleepers or similar
    So far what I have seen is that these go for approx. $40-$50 per l.m.
    Live around rousehill/windsor nsw area. Any suggestions were I could get good price for recycled hardwood? Some hidden award yard? Willing to to Richmond area if req.

    3. Is there such a thing as rough sawn and kiln dried wood to make it more affordable?

    And lastly, out of interest, all the DAR hardwood I have seen on the net go up to either 42mm or 45mm thick...is this right or is one able to get 75mm?

    P.S. I do not have a thicknesser (hoping can avoid needing it) or table saw (this I am planning to get once I have a workbench and get into making cabinets and the like but one step at the time)

    P.s. I have #4 and #7 planes

    Thanks in advance for your feedback

    Regards,

    Alex

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  3. #2
    Join Date
    May 2013
    Location
    Rockhampton QLD
    Age
    65
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    Default

    Welcome to the forum Alex.

  4. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2017
    Location
    Western Australia
    Posts
    59

    Default

    I'd suggest you read Christopher Schwarz's "The Anarchists Workbench", available for free from here.
    It's a great resource with lots of practical and useful info about building workbenches, including timber selection.

  5. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    blue mountains
    Posts
    4,432

    Default

    Hi Alex and welcome to the forum.
    As you will be doing it all by hand things would be a lot easier if you used pine. Garden sleepers are usually low quality wood and likely to twist all over the place. Old railway sleepers will be full of creosote as well as grit and small stones. Pine is ok for a bench. Top of my bench is pine as I had some at the time.
    How to build a workbench - (Part 1) Laminating the top | Paul Sellers - YouTube
    That series of clips will give an idea of whats involved doing it all by hand.
    Regards
    John

  6. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2020
    Location
    Sydney
    Age
    41
    Posts
    4

    Default

    Thanks mpot and John, will def give pine a closer look into

  7. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    Location
    bilpin
    Posts
    3,041

    Default

    Hi Alex and welcome.
    I am located in the Hawkesbury area and operate a couple of saw mills. Unfortunately (for you) most of our production is spoken for but I can offer you some Sydney Blue gum that is kiln dried, reconditioned, number one clears, large sizes and long lengths a bit too good for a work bench in my opinion but a lot of folk on here seem to have the strange idea a work bench needs to be a piece of furniture. I do not share their enthusiasm. Life is too short.
    All my benches are pine. Why? because its cheap ( I get it for nothing,) its quick to mill, quick to dress and easy to dry. A bench made from pine with a 75mm thick top, 150x150 legs, 150x75 rails plus an undershelf ain't going nowhere, no matter how big your plane or chisel. In fact, even if you halve all of those dimensions and house your hand tools in drawers under the bench, you will still be hard pressed to get it to move. Remember, I'm a miller with some very good contacts and I could have pretty much any timber specie I wanted.
    Getting back to your requirements; If you are intending to use large sizes in hardwood you need to understand that kiln drying is not going to be complete. You just can't dry dense timber that is big. Reclaimed timber would be your best bet for which I can give you some leads. You will probably hate me for it later.
    If you still wish to kamikazi yourself, may I suggest making a pine one first. This will give you something to heft these monster hardwood gutbusters onto while you vainly try to remove their outer garment with a hand plane.
    Choose well your mode of torture, as tis you who bears the pain.

  8. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Location
    Oberon, NSW
    Age
    61
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    12,997

    Default

    While recycled timber is often 'full of charm' it is also often full of pitfalls (eg. hidden nails) or of an age to be difficult to work. To my mind, recycled timber is lovely stuff to use if you get it cheaply enough but... well... the prices for recycled timber in Sydney have never, ever - to my mind - been cheap. Unless a more accurate description of the timber is 'landfill.'

    For a large build like a good, solid workbench I'd be more inclined to look for a slabber close to you.

    Most slabbers I know (the conscientious ones, anyway... there are always cowboys who'll try to sell you firewood as 'furniture grade') air- or kiln-dry their own so, generally, you can see potential faults and movement areas 'in the rough.' It really doesn't take much to rip a slab down to more manageable sizes, even if you only have a chainsaw or old hand-held circ.

    For the price of a drive into the country you can take home more than enough timber to make your bench, plus still have some change left over as compared to buying recycled in town.

    eg. At a Lithgow slabber I recently bough two slabs of Himalayan Cedar (app. 3.2m x 900mm x 60mm thick), a slab of eucy burl (800-900mm dia. x 30mm thick) and a couple of blue gum slabs around the same size as the cedar. All for under $500 and a few hours of my time.


    I suggest that you at least look into what fellers/slabbers are within a comfortable driving range for you and giving 'em a bell to see what they carry and what sort of prices they're asking.
    I may be weird, but I'm saving up to become eccentric.

    - Andy Mc

  9. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2016
    Location
    Hervey Bay
    Age
    43
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    123

    Default

    Hi Alex, I was in a similar situation when starting off, at the suggestion of someone on here I made a bench out of what I could afford and process with no machines or even other bench to work on. I'm still using it now and have made a heap of projects on it the last 5 years or so.
    I used 35 x 75 and 45 x 95 construction pine ( untreated ) and a laminated 30mm thick panel ( beech ? ) for the top. The legs and some of the stretchers are double thickness for weight and also to make lap joints easier. It's heavy enough to plane on and I'm not scared to screw things it etc.
    One day I'd love build a roubo out of hardwood with good vices for now I'll keep using this one.This is when it was just finished, now quite beaten up but still functional.

    IMG_20161014_154407281.jpg

  10. #9
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Location
    Perth
    Posts
    25,622

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by rustynail View Post
    . . . . . may I suggest making a pine one first. This will give you something to heft these monster hardwood gutbusters onto while you vainly try to remove their outer garment with a hand plane.

  11. #10
    Join Date
    Aug 2014
    Location
    Geelong, Victoria
    Posts
    148

    Default

    I have also built several versions of the Paul Sellers bench with tweaks to suit the way I work. I may have to build another as I );move into a tiny workshop space in our new home next week.
    A few things I have read that made sense to me about a workbench:
    1. Making a bench top of softer timber reduces the risk of the bench marking the work rather than vice versa.
    2. While Sellers does very nice work and looks after his tools he treats his workbench as a tool rather than a piece of furniture. If needed he will readily screw things to the bench for stability and safe working. He says it does not affect the longevity of the bench either.
    3. Donít go overboard with thickness. I think 70 mm is fine. I made my current one out of 90 mm pine and I sometimes have difficulty getting holdfasts to grab.

    To me it is very much about the balance of form and function. Some like a bench That shows off their craftsmanship but I am happier with something that I donít have to worry about marking.

    On kiln dried timber, you wonít fined much over 50 mm because of the commercial realities of operating a kiln for the longer time required for thicker stock and the demand for larger sizes.

    Bruce

  12. #11
    Join Date
    Jan 2021
    Location
    Redland Bay QLD
    Age
    59
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    21

    Default

    If you are considering using DAR Pine, make sure you can get all you need beforehand. For my 90mm Moravian work bench build I have my legs, stretchers and two of the pieces I need for the top. Cannot get the remaining pieces from any of the five nearby big green stores in Brisbane. The few they do have are so twisted and bent as to be unusable.

  13. #12
    Join Date
    Nov 2016
    Location
    Bris
    Posts
    429

    Default

    Welcome to the forum, Alex.

    If I understand your plan correctly, you plan to edge join 75mm~100mm thick sleepers to get the width for your top. I would caution you against this. Even if the sleepers are well dry, they'll still be face sawn which means they're likely to twist and cup with changes to humidity. I would advise that you use recycled hardwood framing studs (usually 90mm x 45mm) and face laminate them to get a thickness of around 80mm after they've been flattened. This will give you a quarter-sawn top which is less likely to twist and cup on you. The two slabs will be very heavy if you use Australian hardwood. I suggest you look on Gumtree for someone offering a slab flattening service in your area. Alternatively, you can do what I did on my first bench (see here) and laminate two x 33mm thick Acacia panels from Bunnings to get a finished thickness of 66mm. The best thing about this is there's no flattening involved.

    Good luck with your build and please share your progress warts and all.


    Cheers,
    Mike

  14. #13
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Location
    Canberra, Australia
    Posts
    369

    Default

    I'm going to echo what others have said. Just use pine and plywood. You'll learn a lot, you'll stuff up a lot, and you won't realise what you really need in a workbench till you've built one, or two.

    I've ruined the surface of my (second) workbench doing stupid things that would make me sad if it was nice timber. Thankfully it's just plywood so I can just sand it down again and again and if it needs it I can laminate another sheet of plywood on top.

    Workbenches aren't dining tables.

  15. #14
    Join Date
    Nov 2020
    Location
    Sydney
    Age
    41
    Posts
    4

    Default

    Hi all,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond much appreciated, you have def given me food for thought.
    Def. considering your almost unanimous advise to go for pine but as I was googling things yesterday I find out we are on a timber shortage (tells you how much of a noob I am)
    How bad is the shortage for radiata pine? Are people able to pre-order?
    P.S. Rustynail, thanks for the offer for blue gum.

    Alex

  16. #15
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    Location
    bilpin
    Posts
    3,041

    Default

    My dining tables look like work benches

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