Softwood for Workbenches?

I have been working with wood for many years now, and I still wonder why so many people build hard, solid butcher-block types of shop workbench tops? As I see it, if you are building a wood project and don’t want to ding or dent your project, you have to make your bench tops out of a softer wood then your project (at least that is my understanding). So with that stated, I build all of my bench tops out of standard pine. I usually buy standard 2 x 4 lumber (carefully selected, of course) and cut them down the center and then glue them up in about 12″ or so widths. Then, when building nice wood projects, the benchtop gets the dents and dings and not my projects. Once it gets really worn and needs to be refurbished, a simple belt-sanding brings back the top to like-new. So I see no need for all that hardwood for my shop benches. And it is totally amazing how nice those pine boards look with a few coats of poly. – Gary Mulcher

Chris Marshall: If a workbench is used for the traditional purposes of pounding nails and chisels or hand-sawing, hardwood is going to provide a heavier, denser contact surface to withstand that sort of impact. The more it weighs, the less it moves around, which is always a good thing. Aside from that, I agree with you, Gary. Softwood is a perfectly good substitute if you do more power-tool woodworking or don’t mind the benchtop getting banged up faster than when using a harder species like maple or beech. Put some hefty softwood into its construction, and the bench will still end up being that “lead weight” you want in a bench. You sure save money over using hardwood, and as you say, the bench takes the dings rather than the project parts! I’ve seen some very nice benches made from pine and spruce — and some talented traditional woodworkers using them for all the purposes they’ve ever been intended to do. Ultimately, I think a workbench needs to suit the tasks, budget and expectations of the woodworker that uses it. As long as it’s sturdy and suits its purpose, build it from what whatever wood you like. My favorite work table is actually made from 2x pine and MDF. I think it’s nearly bulletproof…and with so little invested in it, I never worry about banging it up.

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