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Peter Hawser
08-12-2011, 3:06 PM
I try to find information on my own, but I am very confused. I want to build a workbench aka the Schwarz method of using whatever local wood I can find that is suitable and cheap. I'd love nothing more than a bench made from $1000 of maple or ash, but that's not in the cards for now. A great lumber yard nearby (not Lowes or Home Depot) has #1 appearance grade hem-fir 4x4s for about $15 each. Meanwhile I know there are people right here on this forum who built beautiful benches from Douglas Fir (http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?102141-New-Year-new-workbench-mucho-pics!&p=1396889#post1396889) 4x4s they found at the Borg. My Borg's have 4x4's they list as Douglas Fir, but are such low quality and I am too impatient to collect one or two good boards at a time over the coming months. I can get 8 or 10 in one trip to my lumber yard.

So, the question (finally). Is Hem-Fir suitable or equivalent to Douglas Fir? Can you even be sure the Douglas Fir at Lowes is NOT hem-fir? My head is spinning. Thank you.

David Kumm
08-12-2011, 3:24 PM
You should be able to tell DF by looking at it. It is much stiffer than hemfir but that is only really relevant if the bench is long since the roubo bench has no underneath support. DF can be slivery whereas hemfir is not. Personally I would call various lumber yards and see who carries nice southern yellow pine 2x10's and price them out for the top. Stiff, soft and easy to work with SYP stays a little more stable as well as the bench eventually dries from 15-18% down to 10-12% over time. Hem fir is suitable but not equivalent. DF and SYP equal so go with best quality for price. Dave

Peter Hawser
08-12-2011, 3:27 PM
Thanks Dave. No SYP here in NJ or NY. I simply can't find it. Why, why couldn't Chris Schwarz be from the Northeast? :) What would he have used...

Peter Aeschliman
08-12-2011, 3:32 PM
I haven't used douglass fir before, but I just finished a project I made out of hemlock fir. I will never use it again, mostly because it takes stain/dye horribly. It's it's more blotchy than any other softwood I've used before. But that's beside the point.

The other reason I won't use hemlock is because it's very soft and lightweight as compared to pine or doug fir. For a bench top, I don't think hemlock would be hard enough to endure the abuse.

Tony Shea
08-12-2011, 3:37 PM
I originally wanted to go with SYP for my top but being in Maine it is not a common wood at my local yards. Doug Fir is everywhere so decided on that. Some places around here are getting insane amounts of money for their doug fir, $42 per 4x4x8'. It is all CVG (clear vertical grain) but is seriously over priced. Checked out HD and they had very similar stuff for $12. I had to be much more picky and patient though but eventually got what I needed and never looked back. I typically hate supporting my local HD or Lowes but 4 times the price for the same stuff is not even a question of morals.

As far as DF and SYP being equal I would have to disagree. They are close in terms of strength but SYP def is the better cantidate. Hem-Fir will work but will not quite match the strength of DF or SYP. Any wood works for a bench, just some are more suited than others. In reality, any softwood is not a perfect bench material but does get the job done. Better than a plywood bench for sure.

Peter Hawser
08-12-2011, 3:44 PM
Thanks guys, I'm learning. Another thing that confuses me is I was told it is called Hem-Fir, because it could be either Hemlock or Fir. This is what drives me nuts. We don't have Cher-Map do we? Of course not, we have cherry and we have maple!!! So if hem-fir is fir, this is NOT douglas fir, correct?

Jim Koepke
08-12-2011, 3:48 PM
My advice would be to look for a local sawyer and keep in touch with them as to what they may happen upon.

One of them locals around me had a bunch of ash for $1/bf. It will be a lot of planing and laminating, but eventually I will make a new bench.

Check with any other wood workers or tool shops. The wider the net you put out, the more likely you will find something.

jtk

Peter Cobb
08-12-2011, 4:00 PM
If I can make a suggestion, why not get a 2x6 in each of them and make yourself a couple of sawbenches?
It would give hands-on experience with their pros, cons and quirks, AND you finish up 2 useful appliances (Bob Rozaieski actually built his workbench on his sawbenches).
It seems so sensible I might even follow my own advice :D
Cheers,
Peter

Trevor Walsh
08-12-2011, 4:03 PM
In the borgs near me in Southeastern PA D.Fir is about the more common wood fir 2by and 4by. I have liked how the D.Fir laminates, planes etc. I'd pass on the 4x4s though and build with 2by D.Fir

Wilbur Pan
08-12-2011, 4:04 PM
I guess I should weigh in since you were nice enough to call my bench "beautiful". ;)

To my knowledge, "Hem-Fir" is a catchall term that includes Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) and Amabilis fir (Abies amabilis). There's also an eastern Hemlock as well. Either way, these species are within shouting distance of Douglas fir in terms of density. Douglas fir is stiffer, but if you are thinking about building a Roubo, any wood top that is 4" thick will be plenty stiff enough for a workbench top.

I've the good luck to talk to Chris Schwarz about a number of things, and his take home message on workbench wood is to go for cheap and easy to work with. A thick enough top will take care of any stiffness issues, and if you make your bench long enough, it will be heavy enough.

So if the hem-fir at your local lumber yard works well with your planes, I'd go for it. One other option is to see if your lumber yard can order boards of your choosing for you. If they can get their hands on appearance grade hem-fir, they probably can order Douglas fir 4x4's (or 4x6's or 4x8's) for you.

By the way, many of the 4x4's that I used for my bench had a few knots in them. I just buried them on the underside. I've had a chance to see Chris Schwarz's first Roubo close up, and he did the same with his SYP boards.

As far as how suitable Douglas fir is for a workbench, if I had to make my bench over again, I'd use Douglas fir in a heartbeat.

David Kumm
08-12-2011, 4:08 PM
I was referring primarily to strength in comparing Df to SYP. The real benefit to the pine is the ability to get clear wood vs the knotty DF generally available now. I have some old growth Df and it is great to work with. Stay away from 4x4 stuff in any species and stick with 2x10 or similar. 12 footers make the legs and top and are generally better quality than shorter pieces although you can sort to some extent. It gets pretty hard to glue thicker boards together unless perfectly jointed and maybe slightly relieved in the middle so 2 by are the easier wood to work with. Check around and find what is common in your area. Sometimes soft maple, ash, or even hickory are cheaper in an area. I found some 6/4 cherry at under $2/ bd ft from a local guy who wanted rid of it and it was too nice for a bench. Look around for someone with a kiln as they sometimes have stuff stored they will deal on. They get local trees cut up and since times are tough they may be happy to get some cash for tomorrow. Dave

Bill Haumann
08-12-2011, 5:38 PM
There is SYP in Central NJ, but not at Lowe's or Home Depot. I saw it last week the day after I finished buying poplar for a workbench.
Not sure how much the lumber yard is asking for it.

- Bill

Andrae Covington
08-12-2011, 6:36 PM
Thanks guys, I'm learning. Another thing that confuses me is I was told it is called Hem-Fir, because it could be either Hemlock or Fir. This is what drives me nuts. We don't have Cher-Map do we? Of course not, we have cherry and we have maple!!! So if hem-fir is fir, this is NOT douglas fir, correct?


...To my knowledge, "Hem-Fir" is a catchall term that includes Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) and Amabilis fir (Abies amabilis). There's also an eastern Hemlock as well. Either way, these species are within shouting distance of Douglas fir in terms of density. Douglas fir is stiffer, but if you are thinking about building a Roubo, any wood top that is 4" thick will be plenty stiff enough for a workbench top...

The Hem-Fir designation includes Western Hemlock, California Red Fir, Grand Fir, Noble Fir, Pacific Silver Fir, and White Fir. These trees have similar properties, at least from the perspective of the building framing lumber industry. The structural qualities are a little less than Douglas-fir. There are other Hemlocks besides Western that may also get lumped into this framing lumber category on the East Coast, I am not sure. At the hand tool level, there are probably some differences in workability which could make one example of "Hem-Fir" better than another. Without being an expert on wood identification, it may be difficult to ascertain just what specific species the lumberyard has.

Douglas-fir (genus Pseudotsuga) is not a true fir (genus Abies), by the way. There are two major types, the coastal variety that grows here from the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, and the inland type that grows in the Rockies and elsewhere. The coastal Douglas-fir is usually designated on framing lumber as "DF". Inland Douglas-fir often cohabits with Western Larch (genus Larix), a similar but unrelated species. For framing lumber they are often combined and the grade stamp is "DF-L". Sometimes in the Southwest you may see a grade stamp "DF(S)" for "Southern" Douglas-fir, which I believe is considered slightly inferior to the northern types but still acceptable for structural lumber.

I agree with Peter Cobb's suggestion to buy a board and make a sawhorse or two, or at least play around with it, sawing, planing, chiseling, etc. If the wood seems workable, then go for it.


... Some places around here are getting insane amounts of money for their doug fir, $42 per 4x4x8'. It is all CVG (clear vertical grain) but is seriously over priced. Checked out HD and they had very similar stuff for $12. I had to be much more picky and patient though but eventually got what I needed and never looked back. I typically hate supporting my local HD or Lowes but 4 times the price for the same stuff is not even a question of morals...

CVG Douglas-fir is somewhat difficult to come by, and must be quartersawn (or at least riftsawn) out of the tree, hence the much higher price. The trees have this bad habit of sprouting branches all around at regular intervals, leaving knots all over the place all the way to the pith. CVG is designated for trim work and must be carefully sorted to ensure it meets that grading quality. And the sawing process is much more time-consuming than machine-automated flatsawing. Structural lumber also has some rules about how many knots and how big, etc. but of course they are much looser regulations. So there is very little labor involved in sorting boards for that purpose. Sometimes a structural board will end up almost entirely clear by chance, especially the 2x12's, and if you can snag one it is a good deal.

Robert Rozaieski
08-12-2011, 7:44 PM
Hem-Fir makes a fine bench.
204906

Build an English Workbench Podcast (http://www.logancabinetshoppe.com/podcast-the-workbench.html)

Chris Fournier
08-12-2011, 9:19 PM
There is no need to spend $1000 on hardwoood for a bench in Canada land of 1.3% US pricing so you can do better in the Land Of The Free. Look around for lumber wholesalers and buy your hard maple or what have you from them. By all means use SPF or what ever for the base if you are cost conscious but a hardwood top should be beyond the budgetary constraints of very few. Supplier savvy will get you the bench you want. No need to compromise.

Kevin Grady
08-12-2011, 9:28 PM
I'm lazy. I went with two 8 ft long and 12" wide glu-lam beams for my top.

David Keller NC
08-13-2011, 8:32 AM
Thanks Dave. No SYP here in NJ or NY. I simply can't find it. Why, why couldn't Chris Schwarz be from the Northeast? :) What would he have used...

Peter - There is absolutely no excuse for having trouble finding suitable bench wood in your location. The folks that live in the Western US are the ones with a "problem" (even though it's not really a problem - they just have to use softwood species). The Northeast is the land of good, inexpensive lumber of almost any type. The reason that Schwarz "resorted" to using SYP is that where he lives ash, white oak, beech, birch, soft and hard maple, etc... aren't readily available for cheap.

But where you live, your cup runneth over with inexpensive hardwoods that are ideally suited for benches. I did a quick search on Woodfinder.com and found several dozen places within 100 miles of Trenton, NJ that carry maple & white oak.

The key for what you want to do is to do a bit of looking on the web and a bit of phone calling to find a small, family owned mill that wholesales lumber to the larger outlets. Steve Wall Lumber in Mayodan, NC is an example of this type of business - he sells "soft" maple (no maple is actually soft, btw) for $2.90/bf in 8/4 size. And I can guarantee that most of his stock comes from well north of here.

I can almost guarantee that you can find a small mill in Eastern PA or Southern NJ that will sell you something very suitable for a bench for very little, particularly when you call the owner up and explain that you want around 250 board feet, and you really don't care if it has sticker stain or other cosmetic defects.

Rob Fisher
08-13-2011, 9:45 AM
... he sells "soft" maple (no maple is actually soft, btw) for $2.90/bf in 8/4 size...The problem with that number is that I can buy 2x12x16's for $16 in southcentral PA. That is about $0.72/bf, even if I assume 50% waste, it is still almost half the cost of maple. Not to mention around here 8/4 soft maple is $4.50/bf, that's at Groff and Groff.

Jim Foster
08-13-2011, 10:01 AM
Several suggestions based on my experience. I used Doug fir, but in the end Hem Fir would have been more than fine, and easier to work with (I'd do this if I was doing it over). Pick boards that are 12" wide and rip them down the middle and then machine them from there to the desired width. With 12" of width, you can cull out knots that would show on the top out quite a bit because the end board will be between 4 and 5" wide

Do not use 4x4s for the top, they tend to be knotty and may not be very stable in the end, but I used them for the legs, glued up four for each leg and machined them down to size. Because the legs are short (28.5" on mine) I was able to cull out the most offensive knots pretty easily, but I don't think I saw a single 4x4x8' board post that would have been good for a top at HD or Lowe's. I think I saw some really clean ones at a contractors yard though, so I think better grade ones exist.

Try Craigslist for used beams, I recently saw some 6"x8" used fir beams I would have been all over in my local CL if my bench was not built.

I think a softwood is a fine choice for a bench. When you look at the waste when making a bench, a lot of material goes to the burning pile or sawdust bin, and it's nice to have a very inexpensive material that you can run down the road and get another piece should you make a mistake and need it. I had a few lengths of fir that were just to knotty to use no mater how I cut them, so I ran down to HD and picked a couple clean 2x12 Hem Fir boards and was back in business.

Good luck

David Keller NC
08-13-2011, 2:37 PM
The problem with that number is that I can buy 2x12x16's for $16 in southcentral PA. That is about $0.72/bf, even if I assume 50% waste, it is still almost half the cost of maple. Not to mention around here 8/4 soft maple is $4.50/bf, that's at Groff and Groff.

You may want to send that source to the OP - what he lists for availability at the local Borg is quite a bit higher than you note - about $1.12/bf, full of knots.

Rob Fisher
08-13-2011, 3:06 PM
You may want to send that source to the OP - what he lists for availability at the local Borg is quite a bit higher than you note - about $1.12/bf, full of knots.It's just the local lumber yard, Snavelys lumber in lancaster PA. And the local BORG's sell 2x12x16's for $18 if I remember correctly. These certainly have knots but they should be more than workable. It is what I intend to use when I get to building a bench.

Bill Moser
08-13-2011, 3:23 PM
Hem-Fir makes a fine bench.
204906

Build an English Workbench Podcast (http://www.logancabinetshoppe.com/podcast-the-workbench.html)
Ha! There you go, Peter. Bob's bench is beautiful, and pretty clearly rock-solid. I'd go for the Hem-Fir, whatever that actually means...

Peter Hawser
08-13-2011, 9:57 PM
Whatever wood I go for, I know I will be happy making my own. In a moment of weakness I went to a Woodcraft and looked at their benches. They had a Pinnacle bench for $1900. The top was thick, it had a tool tray (not sure about that), but I was able to give it a little hip check (we're talking pee wee hockey here) and it shook like a bowl of jelly. Perhaps it wasn't assembled correctly? I'll never know. They also had a Sjoberg Elite. It was much more solid, but I hated the vices. I think they are $2k plus.

Randy Bonella
08-13-2011, 11:30 PM
Doug Fir for my bench. Kind of a pain to work with hand tools but makes one heck of a sturdy bench!
Mine was all reclaimed from a burn pile. I'd also 2nd to not use 4x4 but 2x8, 2x8 or 2x12 ripped to appropriate width for glue-ups. In some cases you might find some decent 4x6 or 4x8 material, at least here in the Northwest. Price was right and I'm plenty happy so far.

205046

Roy Lindberry
08-14-2011, 12:28 AM
Thanks guys, I'm learning. Another thing that confuses me is I was told it is called Hem-Fir, because it could be either Hemlock or Fir. This is what drives me nuts. We don't have Cher-Map do we? Of course not, we have cherry and we have maple!!! So if hem-fir is fir, this is NOT douglas fir, correct?

This is correct. And what is even more confusing is that Douglas Fir is not actually a fir, but a larch. Hem fir is a lumber classification that can be either hemlock or one of the "true" firs: California Red Fir, Noble Fir, White Fir, Grand Fir, and Silver Fir.

Douglas Fir is sold by itself, and has different properties, usually distinguishable from hem-fir by eye due to it's richer color (from yellows to pinks) than hem-fir which is very pale. It also has a very distinctive smell when it is cut, sanded or planed. You will not buy hem-fir and end up with Doug Fir or vice versa except by a mistake or if you are buying from a huckster.


http://www2.wwpa.org/WESTERNSPECIES/HemFir/tabid/299/Default.aspx

Andrae Covington
08-14-2011, 1:56 PM
This is correct. And what is even more confusing is that Douglas Fir is not actually a fir, but a larch. Hem fir is a lumber classification that can be either hemlock or one of the "true" firs: California Red Fir, Noble Fir, White Fir, Grand Fir, and Silver Fir.

Douglas Fir is sold by itself, and has different properties, usually distinguishable from hem-fir by eye due to it's richer color (from yellows to pinks) than hem-fir which is very pale. It also has a very distinctive smell when it is cut, sanded or planed. You will not buy hem-fir and end up with Doug Fir or vice versa except by a mistake or if you are buying from a huckster.


http://www2.wwpa.org/WESTERNSPECIES/HemFir/tabid/299/Default.aspx

Actually Douglas-fir is not a larch either, see my longwinded post here (http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?170911-Hem-Fir-vs-Douglas-Fir-for-Benchtop&p=1758051#post1758051). It is one of those trees that gave botanists fits over the years trying to classify it.

Peter Hawser
08-16-2011, 11:56 AM
Randy, I think I found just what you are talking about today. 3x6 real Douglas Fir (not Hem Fir or whatever). Pretty clear, straight and stiff. I can get enough for an 8' long 24" wide x 4" (or even 5") thick bench top for $200.

Should I do it? I think I should.

Nicholas Carey
08-23-2011, 2:26 PM
So, the question (finally). Is Hem-Fir suitable or equivalent to Douglas Fir? Can you even be sure the Douglas Fir at Lowes is NOT hem-fir? My head is spinning. Thank you.You can differentiate douglas fir from hem-fir in structural lumber by looking at the grade stamp on the boards. Both hem-fir and douglas fir are graded by the Western Wood Products Association (http://www.wwpa.org/), thoug you might see lumber graded by the West Coast Lumber Inspection Bureau (http://www.wclib.org). Here are their grade stamp booklets:

WWPA
http://www2.wwpa.org/Portals/9/docs/PDF/TG6.pdf
WCLIB
http://www.wclib.org/pdfs/GradeStamps.pdf


A WWPA grade stamp will look something like this:

http://www.wwpa.org/images/standgrp.gif

Douglas fir will be identified with this mark:

http://www2.wwpa.org/Portals/9/images/spec.df.jpg

If the species mark looks like this, you've got Hem-Fir, either hemlock or a fir other than Douglas Fir (which isn't a fir at all).

http://www2.wwpa.org/Portals/9/images/spec.hf.jpg

And if it looks like the following, you've got Douglas Fir/Larch (it could be either). Larch is, IMHO, probably better suited for a workbench than is douglas fir.

http://www2.wwpa.org/Portals/9/Home/Images/img07tn.jpg

Hope this helps!

Bob Smalser
08-23-2011, 3:44 PM
I suggest y'all get out of the 4X4 and 6X6 business entirely. You are getting questionable advice.

Structural lumber marketed as Hem-Fir and Doug Fir is only kilned to 19% MC, and has some shrinking yet to do to get to the 7% or so it will reach in your heated shop, or even 12% in your unheated shop. 4X and 6X stock are much more likely to warp along the way than 1X stock laid on edge (or 2X if that's all you have available), which is also more likely to be uniformly dried as opposed to wetter on the inside than the outside like the posts. Add to that most posts are boxed-heart centers, and it'll only take one taken from a badly leaning tree full of reaction wood to ruin your benchtop. Under no circumstances use a boxed-heart post where the pith is dead center on one end and off center on the other.

http://pic20.picturetrail.com/VOL12/1104763/7297605/271071449.jpg

This top is a mixture of 4/4 scraps...primarily Doug Fir with Pacific Madrone and Bigleaf Maple mixed...and it's laid up like a bowling alley...another structural problem in building a surface most likely to remain flat...and, in fact, the bowling alley is the school solution to the problem dating back 100+ years.

If you are buying structural lumber, then buy...in priority... either Doug Fir, Southern Yellow Pine or Spruce-Pine-Fir for its qualities of hardness, stability and likelyhood of remaining flat. Hem-Fir is also fine for interior use, but I woudn't buy it if DF was available, and as they grow together, they are usually offered together, except you may have to go to a lumberyard that caters to builders instead of homeowners to find DF.

The best logs are reserved for long 2X12's, with the price break generally occurring at 18'. Hence your best value is highgrading the heartwood from 18' DF 2X12's which run 90 cents or so a bf in lumberyards here.

http://pic20.picturetrail.com/VOL12/1104763/18208631/286276040.jpg

These 20-footers are easily highgraded to several pieces of nice, vertical-grain heartwood for the good projects with the center flatsawn pieces reserved for lesser use.

Peter Aeschliman
08-23-2011, 6:16 PM
Bob, that was a very informative post. Thanks.

Aaron Rappaport
08-24-2011, 2:42 AM
+1 on thanks, Bob.

To thicken the plot, I went to my local Home Depot in Maryland several weeks ago, expecting to start a long process of looking through the #2 & BTR DF 4x4s for the one or two per load that had an acceptably low density of acceptably small knots. But ... somehow, all of the 4x4s this time were #1! Avoiding those with heartwood, I bought 8 on the spot for about $11.50 each.

My take is that if you live right for long enough, the good wood will appear :).

Wilbur Pan
08-24-2011, 7:11 AM
I suggest y'all get out of the 4X4 and 6X6 business entirely. You are getting questionable advice.


I think that the issue is not whether the piece of wood you are using for your bench was sourced from a 4x4 or a 4x6, but the quality of that piece of wood. If you are patient (and lucky), you can assemble a supply of 4x4's more than suitable for a workbench. I did that for mine. Of course you shouldn't use wood that contains the pith, but that is true regardless of the dimensions of the board you're starting with. Here, the kiln dried Douglas fir 4x4's are dried to much less than 19%, and I had no problems with warping as the 4x4s acclimated to my shop. And the bench wound up being pretty nice.

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-TS-DflTDuhQ/TUi7R6RqrpI/AAAAAAAABUg/XvmnvzMkBz0/s640/IMG_8943.JPG



https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-M4kLLx84hqk/TV35rI1bz2I/AAAAAAAABVI/eS9U60GF2Nk/s640/IMG_9027.JPG


+1 on thanks, Bob.

To thicken the plot, I went to my local Home Depot in Maryland several weeks ago, expecting to start a long process of looking through the #2 & BTR DF 4x4s for the one or two per load that had an acceptably low density of acceptably small knots. But ... somehow, all of the 4x4s this time were #1! Avoiding those with heartwood, I bought 8 on the spot for about $11.50 each.

My take is that if you live right for long enough, the good wood will appear :).

Raney Nelson had exactly the same experience with a load of kiln dried Douglas fir 4x4's that showed up at his local borg. He called me to see if I liked my Douglas fir bench, then he bought a load, and made a workbench that is fantastic. Sometimes you get really lucky at the borg. ;)

john davey
08-24-2011, 7:24 AM
ey Aaron. Just out of curiosity what magical HD in MD had these for you? I am in College Park and most 4x4's in our local HD look like bananas :(.

Aaron Rappaport
08-24-2011, 9:58 AM
It was the one in Bowie, 3 or 4 weeks ago. Now I'm wishing I'd posted about it!

Bob Smalser
08-24-2011, 12:19 PM
Luck isn't a management tool. Observe in the USDA graphics below how even a FOHC 4X4 will move seasonally, and what off-center and spiral piths portend.

Put the same investment into understanding your materials you put into understanding your tools. Study Bruce Hoadley, the USDA Wood Handbook, and invest in a decent moisture meter.

http://pic20.picturetrail.com/VOL12/1104763/3075040/189555324.jpg

http://pic20.picturetrail.com/VOL12/1104763/3075040/53583907.jpg

Wilbur Pan
08-24-2011, 1:05 PM
Luck isn't a management tool. Observe in the USDA graphics below how even a FOHC 4X4 will move seasonally, and what off-center and spiral piths portend.

Put the same investment into understanding your materials you put into understanding your tools. Study Bruce Hoadley, the USDA Wood Handbook, and invest in a decent moisture meter.

I'm sure I'm missing something here. By being picky about the 4x4's I used for my workbench top, and paying attention to grain orientation when I glued the thing up, I essentially have a large quartersawn lamination for my bench top. None of the 4x4s that I used contain the pith. Is that a problem?

A moisture meter told me that the 4x4s I picked up were about 12-13% at the time that I bought them.

Bob Smalser
08-24-2011, 1:41 PM
... By being picky about the 4x4's I used for my workbench top, and paying attention to grain orientation when I glued the thing up, I essentially have a large quartersawn lamination for my bench top...



I think that's terrific. But can the dozens to hundreds of others who took the advice to use 4X4's say the same?

Aaron Rappaport
08-24-2011, 2:00 PM
Lots of folks (like me) will be preparing all the stock for their benches by hand planing, possibly without a bench to do it on. Under those circumstances, 4x4s are attractive because they halve the total glue joint area, and they are thick enough to deflect negligibly when just using sawhorses to support them while planing up those glue joints.

The question is whether these benefits outweigh the drawbacks that Bob's mentioned, particularly if one selects 4x4s very carefully. (Factors of two count in life expectancy, income ... and planing effort!) Other options that are often mentioned are:

1) Finding a small lumberyard that can sell pieces even wider than 4x4, already kiln dried. (As I recall that's what Bob Rozaieski did for his top.)
Or,
2) Face laminating two 1.75" thick countertops together using screws as substitutes for ultra-deep-throated clamps.

Looking nervously at the ones I selected, I see that all are FOHC (i.e. no pith), all have ring lines that are fairly straight, and most are approximately quartersawn. On the other hand, the thickness of the rings varies in some (reaction wood or growth spurt?) and the color in others.

To show what I'm talking about, here are three 4x4x6' sections that I've clamped together to use as a temporary bench top while I have the other pieces separated to dry. Just this temporary, non-flat, benchtop has revolutionized my capabilities compared to where I was before.

Wilbur Pan
08-24-2011, 2:11 PM
I think that's terrific. But can the dozens to hundreds of others who took the advice to use 4X4's say the same?
To be fair, the advice was not "Grab any 4x4 that you can find."

At the beginning of this thread, Peter referenced my workbench build thread and said, "My Borg's have 4x4's they list as Douglas Fir, but are such low quality and I am too impatient to collect one or two good boards at a time over the coming months."

At the beginning of my workbench thread (http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?102141-New-Year-new-workbench-mucho-pics!), I said this about collecting wood for my workbench, which I'm fairly sure prompted Peter's comment about being impatient:

"I've been collecting kiln dried Douglas fir 4x4s from the borg for this project. I'd go there every few weeks from work, pick through their pile and leave with three that were clear, and knot free. I picked the best looking ones for the top. When I'm done gluing this up, I expect to have a benchtop that's essentially clear quartersawn Douglas fir with pretty tight grain (21-38 rings per inch, if I counted correctly)."

So the advice about using 4x4s includes basic things like paying attention to grain direction and the quality of the wood. To be sure, any old 4x4 will not be ideal for a workbench top. But that's not the same as dismissing all 4x4 material out of hand.

john davey
08-24-2011, 2:15 PM
Good to know. I play golf in Crofton all of the time so I am near the Bowie store. I will check it out since the local HD in College Park is just horrible. It is very rare that I can get any worthwhile help and the lumber is way worse than the sometimes bad stuff other home centers offer. Several times I have gotten very good help and advice from one gentleman in the tool section though. The poor guy must go nuts working there. I did let the manager know of his help but he didn't seem to care :(


It was the one in Bowie, 3 or 4 weeks ago. Now I'm wishing I'd posted about it!

Bob Smalser
08-24-2011, 2:31 PM
But that's not the same as dismissing all 4x4 material out of hand.

There is only one cut of 4X4 sufficiently stable for use as a workbench top, and that's pure qsawn like shown in the upper center of the graphic below.

http://pic20.picturetrail.com/VOL12/1104763/3075040/189555324.jpg

As in a typical lumberyard stack of 4X4's those are the rare exception and not the rule, dismissing 4X stock out of hand in favor of 1X and 2X stock makes sense to me.

Aaron Rappaport
08-24-2011, 2:50 PM
Bob, what about the cut shown just to the right of the pure quartersawn one?

Wilbur, are you sure about your 21-38 rings per inch number? I counted on your picture and got more like 10 rings per inch. 21-38 seems almost too good to be true. Maybe with old growth (fortunately not cutting too much of that anymore, at least in the U.S.) . Otherwise - drought-year wood? shade grown DF??? Droughts that last over 10 years are rare and DF is usually grown commercially in non-shady conditions (clearcuts).

Wilbur Pan
08-24-2011, 3:17 PM
As in a typical lumberyard stack of 4X4's those are the rare exception and not the rule, dismissing 4X stock out of hand in favor of 1X and 2X stock makes sense to me.

And as I said above, sometimes you get lucky. There's no harm in looking. There are also other sources for workbench wood.


Bob, what about the cut shown just to the right of the pure quartersawn one?

Wilbur, are you sure about your 21-38 rings per inch number? I counted on your picture and got more like 10 rings per inch. 21-38 seems almost too good to be true.
The cut to the right is a rift sawn piece. I had some of those, and used them for stretchers. I'd pass on them for the top. As far as the ring density goes, I did come up with 21-38 when I originally counted them, and I arranged the boards so that they were in order of ring density, with the most dense at the front, and least dense from the back. That shot is from the back part of the bench.

I could be off. I'll count them again when I get home tonight. I do remember counting the rings looking at the end grain. In any case, I really like my bench.

Bob Smalser
08-24-2011, 3:34 PM
Bob, what about the cut shown just to the right of the pure quartersawn one?


The riftsawn post shrinks and swells from a square into a rhombus, inducing stress into the top that makes it more likely to twist against its mountings. So will a riftsawn 1X or 2X board, but with a whole lot less force than the 4X. In edgejoining or laminating, you even out those stresses by "flipping the cups" (below), and the thinner the stock, the more likely you will cancel them out entirely. In turn, the thicker the stock...the less likely.

http://pic20.picturetrail.com/VOL12/1104763/6791366/87637952.jpg

Aaron Rappaport
08-24-2011, 3:39 PM
Thanks Wilbur. I wasn't intending to criticize your counting. My concern is that 21-38 rings per inch may set the bar unreachably high for those of us trying to source "big wood" from a Borg. I would love to know that it's unnecessarily high too.

I see the problem with rift-sawn now that I think about it. The cross-section of these timbers is going to become a parallelogram as the wood moves with the seasons. Hmm, I wonder if a viable work-around is to place the rift-sawn pieces all together with their ring orientation parallel, so that they all become a parallelogram that's tilted in the same direction? The other uses would be stand-alone, as in the strethers that you mentioned. They won't work for Roubo-sized legs because those are bigger than 4x4. I other than a workbench I don't have much need for such large pieces of wood, so might end up discarding them (they're already rough cut to length, so can't be returned.)

Jim Foster
08-24-2011, 3:45 PM
I think picking the best material for a Roubo also depends on geographic region and what's available, and what's convenient. I used DF from a local contractors yard and it was a pain and had poor selection, most yards had to special order it, which meant I would have to take what I get. Hem-Fir at HD was in plentiful supply and I could cherry pick boards. The Hem Fir was also much easier to work with and hand plane. So again, I think the advice given needs to be tempered by what makes sense for a given region.

If I was going to plan a bench today, I'd watch the Craigslist and look for some interesting old wooden joists for a months and see if I could find old big joists that were good enough to use.

Wilbur Pan
08-24-2011, 5:15 PM
Thanks Wilbur. I wasn't intending to criticize your counting. My concern is that 21-38 rings per inch may set the bar unreachably high for those of us trying to source "big wood" from a Borg. I would love to know that it's unnecessarily high too.

My counting the rings was mainly for gloat purposes. 21-38 rings per inch is unnecessarily high. ;)

Seriously, the more important thing is to get pieces that are as close to quartersawn as possible. If the choice was between more quartersawn grain and higher rings per inch, go with quartersawn.

Aaron Rappaport
08-24-2011, 6:08 PM
Could it be that your count was really 21-38 rings per 4x4 rather than per inch? That's approximately what I got counting off your picture.

Peter Hawser
08-24-2011, 10:10 PM
To be fair, the advice was not "Grab any 4x4 that you can find."
At the beginning of this thread, Peter referenced my workbench build thread and said, "My Borg's have 4x4's they list as Douglas Fir, but are such low quality and I am too impatient to collect one or two good boards at a time over the coming months."

At the beginning of my workbench thread (http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?102141-New-Year-new-workbench-mucho-pics!), I said this about collecting wood for my workbench, which I'm fairly sure prompted Peter's comment about being impatient:

"I've been collecting kiln dried Douglas fir 4x4s from the borg for this project. I'd go there every few weeks from work, pick through their pile and leave with three that were clear, and knot free. I picked the best looking ones for the top. When I'm done gluing this up, I expect to have a benchtop that's essentially clear quartersawn Douglas fir with pretty tight grain (21-38 rings per inch, if I counted correctly)."

So the advice about using 4x4s includes basic things like paying attention to grain direction and the quality of the wood. To be sure, any old 4x4 will not be ideal for a workbench top. But that's not the same as dismissing all 4x4 material out of hand.

Gees, I had no idea such controversy emerged from all this! I certainly understood Wilbur and that he took great care in selecting 4x4's for his bench. Come on guys, did you expect me or someone to go and by some pressure treated fence posts for a bench top then report on disaster here on SMC? I know some of us are new to all this and I know I can ask some dumb questions, but I'm not THAT dumb! :D

Wilbur Pan
08-24-2011, 10:29 PM
Could it be that your count was really 21-38 rings per 4x4 rather than per inch? That's approximately what I got counting off your picture.

Good eye. It was 21-38 rings per 4x4, not per inch. I must have gotten excited.

Nonetheless, it was really great working with this stuff. And it makes for a great bench top, both in performance and in looks.

But for me, the bottom line is if you are looking for appropriate wood for a workbench top, go for cheap and easy to work with. And pay attention to grain direction, which plays into the easy to work with criteria. If Douglas fir 4x4's at the borg fit these criteria, go for it. If it's easier for you to find SYP 2x material, use that. If you have a line on cheap straight grained 12/4 poplar, use that.

If a load of purple heart falls off a truck in your neighborhood and is there for the taking, take a pass. Purpleheart is too hard to work with. ;)

Aaron Rappaport
08-24-2011, 10:41 PM
Gees, I had no idea such controversy emerged from all this! I certainly understood Wilbur and that he took great care in selecting 4x4's for his bench. Come on guys, did you expect me or someone to go and by some pressure treated fence posts for a bench top then report on disaster here on SMC? I know some of us are new to all this and I know I can ask some dumb questions, but I'm not THAT dumb! :D

Well, controversial tone or no, I'm learning a lot in this discussion about the problems with the portion of my bench wood that's rift- instead of quarter-sawn. I am still interested if anyone knows if I can get away with laminating my rift-sawn pieces together as long as their ring-orientation is the same. Then when they dry into rhombuses (rhombi?) in cross section, at least all the rhombuses will be leaning the same way. I should mention that my bench top will probably be in two pieces simply to make it easy to move out of our apartment when the time comes. So, I was thinking 1 piece from the quarter-sawn stuff, and the other from the rift-sawn.

Peter Hawser
08-25-2011, 1:27 AM
That is super helpful Nicholas!