MDF or Plywood for benchtop, and ? about MDF - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 18 Old 01-03-2009, 11:52 AM Thread Starter
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MDF or Plywood for benchtop, and ? about MDF

We are about to build the top of our workbench, and want to use either several layers of MDF or Plywood, depending on what is better, i am having a hard time finding out which is the best to use.

The workbench is actually made out of 4 cabinets that we bought for $20 each at a habitat for humanity restore- they are VERY sturdy cabinets that were from a doctors office. they are all glued and screwed together, so the base is VERY sturdy.

We are not planning on moving this around, so weight is not a concern.

We ARE planning on mounting a couple vises and i am wondering about the best way to do that as well-- if we end up using MDF will the MDF hold screws or should we bolt it through a couple layers and countersink the bolts?

Thanks, any input is appreciated... exp if you ahve used ply or mdf and can let me know what you like / dislike about each.

Also- is there a certain type of screws that work well with MDF? A little concerned about how the screws will hold for the vises and for screwing the layers together

Joe Lenhard
Buffalo, NY
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post #2 of 18 Old 01-03-2009, 12:02 PM
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IMHO (VERY humble !) one peice construction rules out a couple options. For my work I'm either drilling through the bench top ( NEVER on porpose mind you ! ) or digg'n or gouge'n it. I also tend to drill dog holes "at will" for whatever position is handy at the time. When I first built my bench I "figured in" replacing individual planks when needed. I think if I had a one-peice bench-top I might tend to try to live with and work around a damaged surface at the cost of quality.
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post #3 of 18 Old 01-03-2009, 12:21 PM
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Hi Joe,

Welcome to the forum!

I have three workbenches with two layers of MDF for tops. They work fine and produce a nice heavy solid top.

Don't try to use screws that thread into this material as they will pull out. The material is just glued together sawdust and has no grain to help hold wood screws. You must drill thru and use thru bolts with nuts and washers to hold your vice.

Here is a photo of one of my benches going together. You can see the complete build here.
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post #4 of 18 Old 01-03-2009, 12:56 PM
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Sounds like you are going to have a very good and solid work bench. For my built-in workbench I used 10' long 2x6's. These are covered in 1/8" Masonite. When the top of the bench gets too messed up I just replace the Masonite.

This bench is VERY sturdy. These pine 2x6's are relatively cheap and easy to handle.

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post #5 of 18 Old 01-03-2009, 01:05 PM
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I've got a couple of benches made similar to what George said. 2 x 6's butted up to one another. One bench has a piece of 1/2" plywood on top, the other has 3/4" furniture grade plywood. Both are very sturdy. If you use plywood for the top cover, get a piece of BC at least, so you have a sanded surface. Then put a couple coats of a clear finish of your choice, varnish, poly, etc. It will probably outlast you.
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post #6 of 18 Old 01-03-2009, 01:45 PM
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Mine is just 2 3/4" pieces of plywood with a 1/4" piece of oak ply on top. This way once it gets banged all to hell I can just replace the 1/4" ply and have a brand new top to work on.
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post #7 of 18 Old 01-03-2009, 01:53 PM
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My bench top had one sheet of 1" MDF for the top. If and when it gets beat up, I can just flip the top over and re-attach it and just like new again. Red

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post #8 of 18 Old 01-03-2009, 05:43 PM
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Mine are what ever I had, 3/4 ply on a couple and
one with two 5/8 osb with masonite cover.

MDF is fine, just don't screw to it.

It is nice to have a replaceable top.

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post #9 of 18 Old 01-03-2009, 08:12 PM
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Hi, I thought that I would put my two cents in. Like you I had no concerns about weight since I would not be moving it. I built mine from 2x4 for the frame and for the top I went to one of the box stores and found a damaged solid core door for $15. I attached this to the frame and then I put two layers of 3/4 MDF on top. I finished it off with some poplar trim to protect the edges since MDF will not take abuse. I then waxed the heck out of the top to help prevent glue from sticking. Since the door is on the bottom this gave me a solid point to drill and anchor to. Sarge
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post #10 of 18 Old 01-03-2009, 08:24 PM
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I have built a couple of benchs. I like to use 2 layers of 3/4 plywood and then use 1/4 hardboard for a replacable top. The haedboard is stuck down around the edges with double sided tape. I then put oak around the edges to protect the plywood and hardboard.
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post #11 of 18 Old 01-03-2009, 08:59 PM
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You could use either plywood or MDF, and then top with 1/4" masonite or plywood. You can get screws to hold well in MDF if you pilot a countersunk hole, and use a coarse thread screw. Not the cheap big box drywall screws. Drive the screw in slowly and when near tight just bump the trigger till tight. Don't drive them in fast or they will overspin.

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post #12 of 18 Old 01-04-2009, 08:44 AM
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My bench top is one layer 3/4" plywood, topped with one layer of 3/4" melamine coated MDF. It is heavy, stable, and quite forgiving when it comes to stains and glue...the melamine releases drips of dried glue pretty easily. I would toss that around, if you're going to be spending 40 or 50 bucks a sheet, anyway...

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post #13 of 18 Old 01-04-2009, 09:47 AM Thread Starter
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MDF workbench UPDATE and more questions...

OK- we decided to go with 2 sheets of 3/4 inch MDF and 1/4 inch hardboard/masonite, bolted thru the cabinets. for trim around the edge, we have a lot of scrap white oak, and my wife is making 1/2 inch molding to go all around the outside- 1/2 inch thick, 1 3/4 inch tall, probably just a roundover bit on the top.

What would be the best way to attatch the oak trim to the edge of the 2 sheets of MDF?

Thanks for all the input...

Joe Lenhard
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post #14 of 18 Old 01-04-2009, 11:15 AM
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I'ld go with ply, screwed down so you can change it out easily. As a couple of the guys mentioned (and as I do all the time), you don't have to sweat having to screw in temp. dogs or jigs, or the occassional "Opps, I screwed it right into the damn table top" sort of mishaps. Also, in my garage, I don't have the room for a sepereate "finishing table" for painting/staining/glueups, whatever, sooooooooo, my table top looks like something you'ld see in a modern arts studio. Hell, when I'm working on a project, I sometimes look like something that should be hung on a walll someplace. Good luck.
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post #15 of 18 Old 01-04-2009, 11:28 AM
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For finishing and gluing I bought some transparent sheet vinyl at (ugh) Walmart in the fabric department. Glue peels off it easily and stain washes right off with solvent. When I'm not using it i just roll it up and put it on the shelf. I also use narrow strips of it along my clamp bars to keep the glue off the clamps and keep the cheap clamps from staining the wood.
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post #16 of 18 Old 01-04-2009, 12:30 PM
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workbench top

When I built my bench, I decided to use a solid core door that one of my contractor friends had in his scrap pile - flat, smooth, heavy, etc. I put cleats on the bottom that fit into the top of my bench and put a 3/4 inch mahogony trim around the edges of it. I also put a round plug where the door knob was. When I destroy the top, which I will undoubtedly, in time,I'll get another door and do the same thing. It has work well for quite some time.
Just my .02.
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post #17 of 18 Old 01-04-2009, 01:52 PM
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There are special screws for use in MDF.
Consider a steel plate for under the area of your vise if using MDF.
For a finish....I used Rock Hard Table Top finish. I needed to reflatten my butcher block topped bench and figured some light passes with an orbital sander would remove the finsh for planing. WRONG. I had my belt sander loaded with the most agressive grit and my arms were tired from sanding that hump. It is tough stuff and keeps a fresh appearance.
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post #18 of 18 Old 01-04-2009, 04:08 PM
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Joe - Concerning the edge trim, since the MDF is basically glue and sawdust to begin with, I would think you could use a good glue like Titebond II or Gorilla Glue and clamp it up good and tight overnight. Both glues are pretty much waterproof and solvent free, so they should work for your workbench application. Also, as noted in previous response, there are screws for MDF, but since I have not used MDF, I don't know how well they work. Whatever you decide to use, if you have some scraps, do a little experimentation on your own. You might even try to shot a couple of finish brads in the trim to see how well the MDF takes them. Just trying to suggest options for you. Oh, one more thing about putting on the benchtop (and you've probably already thought of this), leave a wide enough lip all the way around the bench (at least a couple of inches) so you can use clamps to secure projects or jigs to the workbench surface. Sometimes it's good to state the obvious because that's the stuff we miss, especially when you get to be my age ("senior moments" don't ya know). Again, Good Luck. Ken
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