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Thread: Any reason not to use Ipe for a woodworking bench?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Location
    Seattle WA
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    406

    Any reason not to use Ipe for a woodworking bench?

    The local hardwood supplier here has it for $2 a foot, for a 3/4" x 3.75" board. Its exactly the thickness I want, and its already planed on two sides. So for $550 I can have a ridiculously heavy workbench that will last a lifetime. There is some wood that is cheaper, but its not already milled to the thickness I need, so I will have to feed the board through the table saw, which is a pain and wastes a lot.

    I know its pretty hard to work with, and will need to be cleaned with acetone to remove the oil on it before gluing. I assume its very stable? A big concern of mine is the bench staying flat over time.

  2. #2
    Ipe moves a lot over time....starts moving right away. I don't think it's possible to keep it edge glued for long.

  3. #3
    Join Date
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    I can think of several reasons why you shouldnít. If your planning on using the bench for hand tools your better off picking a wood thatís friendly to occasionally hand plane flat.
    My opinion maple is the best choice for a woodworking bench. Lay out the boards if your right handed so you can have nice flat bench around the dog holes.
    The dust from ipe is foul .
    Aj

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2013
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    Northwest Indiana
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    Splinters. Painful little buggers that are almost too small to pick out. Not a surface i'd want for a workbench. Made a great deck though, and an excellent table base for another deck. (local lumber yard had a special order that didn't get picked up, and i got 250 linear feet of 5/4 x 6" for $110 delivered. Still have a little left)

  5. #5
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    Bring home a piece and see how it behaves.

  6. #6
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    In Seattle, where forestry is king, I'd be looking for local hardwood. It should cost a lot less than wood imported from halfway around the world. For instance, bigleaf maple is lovely stuff. Glues easily too.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
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    Okotoks AB
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    How are you planning on gluing up the top? If edge to edge, then 3/4" thick is terribly thin & would make a poor top for hand tool work. Laminating into a 3" - 3.5" would certainly be solid enough, but I bet you'd find that those faces are not milled well enough for good glue joints. Any wood should be milled just before gluing, before it has a chance to cup, twist, or warp.

    Once sanded, ipe is not prone to giving slivers, but anytime there is a gouge or nick put in the bench there will be slivers a-plenty and as mentioned, they're miserable buggers.

  8. #8
    Join Date
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    Ipe is not dried when you get it from the lumber yard. It's milled in the tropics and shipped wet, and will be very unstable when you buy it.

    One mature ipe tree grows in 7 - 20 acres of forest, and to get to that tree there is a huge amount of wasted nature. Yes it's a super hard very durable wood, but we have plenty of good woods here in the USA and in my opinion we should use local materials instead of contributing directly to the depletion on the rain forests.

    Plus it's awful to work with. I made a couple of table tops from reclaimed ipe fencing. Won't work with it again.

  9. #9
    Itís sawdust is hostile to tools. I built a garden bench out of ipe years ago and use epoxy to glue it up. There were a couple curved pieces I cut on my Inca bandsaw. The dust got into a worm gear inside the saw and destroyed it. I tried cleaning it thoroughly but it never worked smoothly after that and I had to replace it. Iíll never touch it again for anything other than a deck.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gibney View Post
    Ipe is not dried when you get it from the lumber yard. It's milled in the tropics and shipped wet, and will be very unstable when you buy it.

    One mature ipe tree grows in 7 - 20 acres of forest, and to get to that tree there is a huge amount of wasted nature. Yes it's a super hard very durable wood, but we have plenty of good woods here in the USA and in my opinion we should use local materials instead of contributing directly to the depletion on the rain forests.

    Plus it's awful to work with. I made a couple of table tops from reclaimed ipe fencing. Won't work with it again.
    You make some very good points there. But my deck is ipe & if I was doing over again, I'd probably go with it again. There's nothing I don't love about the surface after a dozen years in the sun (no finish).

    I used some leftovers to make a weighted base for a deck umbrella & it is finished with a penetrating oil finish. It is beautiful wood, but sure is a stinker to work with. Any edge that isn't carbide will be destroyed right quick. Even the good quality HSS drill bits I used for pilot holes only lasted a couple of hundred holes before they just wanted to burn rather than drill.
    Last edited by Frank Pratt; 04-27-2021 at 8:38 PM.

  11. #11
    Nope, I'd go completely the opposite. You want a relatively soft workbench because it's easy on your tools, and if you drop a workpiece it'll dent the bench rather than your work. I used SYP kiln-dried beams and slabs for my workbench. 6x9 beams and 2.5" thick slabs. Weighs a ton and nice and soft. I don't really understand why people always want a hard workbench, even maple I think is a waste. Looks nice but kind of impractical.

  12. #12
    Join Date
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    Definitely use it and Please let us know which tools survive this trial by fire.
    Bumbling forward into the unknown.

  13. #13
    its a work bench not a piece of furniture. My ulmia benches one especially are beat to crap, so what. I had no issues machining IPE. I dont like the dust and it sticks to everything like it has a charge. Got a few slivers and it was only an hour or two where I was infected and swollen, self surgery number 10 exacto and junk and sliver come out together. Nasty slivers as others have said. it lasts 80 years untreated on boardwalks. Dont see it for a work bench. The dropping and denting and tool aspects, sorry but it makes no sense. Nonsense id say.

  14. #14
    Something not yet mentioned is that IPE is an oily, tropical wood. I am uncertain if that means it will complicate your glue up.

    I also submit that a lifetime bench top can be made from wood not ridiculously heavy nor expensive. A fine bench can be made from ash, soft maple, oak, beech or even poplar for (in NJ) under $150 (2021 red herring pricing notwithstanding).

    It's stability you should be after. Mass can assist stability - but IMHO it's a distant second to a proper base design.

  15. #15
    id say the real issue is that it stays flat and not stability unless you meant flat by stability. Cross grain expansion should make zero difference if a bench is designed right and mine are not, they get a hump in the middle. ("I have a hump?" )

    I planed the one i use the most flat and some time later nother season likely summer humidty up, the hump came back and only cause it was not designed right to allow for back and forth movement. That bench sits six or seven feet in front of my woodstove so other times of the year it gets tortured the other way. Far from ideal but ive come to love the feel of the wood stove on my back when im at the bench.

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