Wood Work Bench: Which Type of Wood to Use?

When building a wood work bench, knowing which type of wood to use requires careful consideration and common sense. Several types of wood can be incorporated into this project, ranging from construction grade plywood, medium-density fiberboard and selected hard and soft woods. Each has a logical function and will insure the construction of an economical, sturdily built bench that will last much longer than a more expensive store-bought product.

Building from the Ground Up

Begin construction of the work bench by selecting sturdy Douglas fir 4x4s for the legs of the bench. Carefully select two 8’ lengths and inspect them to make sure they do not have any cracks or rough mill marks. Cut in half, this wood will be all that is required for the legs of the bench.

Bench Frames

The construction of two bench frames, one for the mid-section and one for the top, can be built from Douglas fir 2x4s. The selection of kiln-dried over “wet” 2x4s is preferred as they will be easier to drive nails through. The legs will attach to these frames, which in turn will support the top, and be used to house a plywood cabinet. Build the frames approximately 6’ long, by 2’ deep. Attach the legs to the middle and top frame by gluing and screwing with #8, 2” screws.

Cabinet Construction

Once the skeleton of the work bench is completed, measure the dimensions for the wooden cabinet which will fit between the top and middle frames. Construction grade plywood comes in various finishes, each with a separate cost. Choices will include Oak, Luan Mahogany and Douglas fir. For a good looking cabinet choose plywood with one good side. This will cost more, but nothing looks worst than building a custom workbench with a flawed wood finish. Carefully follow the measurements and dimensions for fitting the plywood cabinet within the frame of the bench, and build with the good side facing out. There is no need to buy plywood with two good sides, as the inside of the cabinet will often take a beating when sliding small machinery in and out of the cabinet.

Work Bench Tops

One of the main considerations of a wood work bench top is that it be as flat as possible. To achieve this build a “sandwich" of a layer of medium density fiberboard placed between two layers of plywood. The top piece of plywood needs to be taken into consideration because it will need to stand up to hammering, drilling, and sawing, to name a few of the tasks that can be done on a wood bench.


Alternatively, specially built tops made of Maple can used which will tolerate much abuse. An inexpensive method is to use strips of ¾ hardwoods which are glued to the plywood top. Using hardwood instead of plywood for a top is a good choice because after several years of wear and tear, the top can be sanded and made to look like new. This is not so with plywood which has only a thin veneer of wood with which to work