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Joinery Workbench Wood Selection

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the potential of using a slab of African Mahogany for my joinery bench top.  This turned out to be a lightening rod topic that spawned a great deal of email about my poor upbringing, IQ, and what I might be smoking.  It was really quite fascinating to see such strong opinions about benches.

Douglas Fir Workbench Lumber

4x6 Appearance Grade Douglas Fir and my Mahogany Vise chop

Independent of these external pressures, I have decided not to use Mahogany for the top.  It had very little to do with these comments but more with the fact that I would prefer a softer wood for my top so my project doesn’t get dented while working on the bench.  But more importantly, the darker color of Mahogany (especially after a few coats of oil) is not a pleasing work surface.  It is subtle, but small pieces seem to disappear against the dark background.  Considering my favorite woods to work are Cherry, Walnut, and Mahogany, it would be especially bad to have a dark wood top on the bench.

So I made my decision to go with Douglas Fir.  I can get it in very clear large sizes and the hardness is less than my preferred woods.  The weight is light enough that as a knockdown bench it will be portable, but heavy enough that once assembled I will have an immobile object.  Finally, Douglas Fir’s very high stiffness ratings make for a very stable platform to work on .  I had my eye on some 4×8 material to make my top with only one glue line, but it was not meant to be.  Instead I grabbed one 16 foot 4×6 piece that will suffice to make my 3 piece top, 4 legs, feet, and trestle.  I am going to integrate the African Mahogany into the design and use that as my full front vise chop and a nice splash of color.  Plus the added hardness of the vise chop will make for a better clamping action but the leather lining will prevent scarring while increasing holding power.

So in the long run the workbench police can stand down…unless using Mahogany for a vise chop is overly offensive.  Don’t worry I’m sure some of my other ideas about this bench will set off someone somewhere.

Now I’m just looking forward to getting started working with this beautiful Douglas Fir.

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