Advice on making a workbench

1 Oct 2008
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United Kingdom
I am wanting to make a good strong work bench for everyday use and want it to last a lifetime. I am wondering what is the cheapest best wood to make it out of?

I was thinking of using reclaimed railway sleepers as they would be well seasoned and can be got for a good price. If railway sleepers are ok to use would you go for treated or untreated and also hardwood or soft.

If railway sleepers are not the way to go what timber do you advise?

Do you think a normal circular saw would cut the pine sleepers into the sizes i need?
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My work bench is now in its 20th year and is in use five days a week. The top is constructed from door blanks and is framed from 75 x 50 softwood. The top as a sacrificial covering of MDF.
Railway sleepers are a bit OTT methinks.

I have a workbench in my garage which I made from treated 50x100 softwood. The top and shelf I made from 18mm OSB board.

I have a portable bench that I take out and about as required which is 18mm ply on three 50x75 bearers to prevent sagging. I use plastic fold flat trestles for legs.
Couple sheets of ply (lipped) or mdf for the top, 75mm posts, 3x2 cls for the crossmembers. Fixing a full depth/width shelf lower down will increase the stability. It's the joints/fixings that are crucial for a sturdy bench. Bed bolts (cross dowel) are good for this

The sacrificial top is a good idea, use 6mm mdf or thick hardboard.

Is it specifically for woodwork? If so, a couple of vices (front and end) and dog holes will be invaluable.
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I wouldn't use railway sleepers: they're generally a bit too rough; cutting them up would be a waste of energy; if they're treated with creosote you want to avoid using them indoors; the ones I've seen are too expensive.

I made my first workbench from reclaimed joists bolted and screwed together, and with a lower shelf made from old floorboards; the top was a door from a skip, covered with 18mm chipboard and topped with a replaceable sheet of hardboard. I lipped the edges with softwood. The result was a rigid bench which cost almost nothing.

If you don't need the bench to be portable, you can add a lot of rigidity by fixing it to a wall.

I would: plan carefully where you want to fix the vice or vices you're going to use; make sure the finished heights of bench and vice suit your needs; bear in mind that your needs and interests might develop in future, and your first workbench might be used to make another one later on.

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