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Need help with building a workbench top with glued 4x4s

211732 Views 56 Replies 20 Participants Last post by  joesbucketorust
I'm building a bench top made with Douglas Fir S4S 4x4s and want to make sure my plans/techniques checks out before I start. The dimensions are 28" x 58". I'm planning to simply glue them together with Gorilla Glue, then clamp together overnight to dry. Is this all there is to it to make a strong bond and quality top or should I be thinking about doing it another way?

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You can glue them together.then clamp overnight .That's normal routine. You said Gorilla glue, are you talking about gorilla wood glue or the stuff that expands?
Going to use Gorilla wood glue. Do you recommend anything better? Also, what about the wood prep? Can I just butt them up against each other, glue, and clamp as is since they're S4S, or should I prep them in any way?
I don't know if I would use the gorilla glue, up to you on that. I like titebond II & III. You might want to consider cutting a groove in each of the sides to be glued up and make a spline to fit. It would help you to align the pieces while you are gluing and keep them straight. It will also strengthen your joints. It could easily be done on a table saw.
The other thing you could do is predrill the 4xs and insert about 3 lengths of 1/2" allthread after you glue it and tighten them up for your clamps and just leave them in place. Counter bore the end so the rods don't stick out. Just a couple of ideas for you.
Mike Hawkins;)
Thanks for the allthread tip, I like that better than using clamps.
Reason is almost every 4 x 4 I've ever seen has already or will check. I'd use 2x 4's instead an look for the straightest and flatest of the pile. You are only gonna do this once, and you want to minimize the checking.
If the 28" width is critical then of course you could not use 24" plywood ripped from 48" sheets.Some ply comes in 60 x 60 so that would work better. You will probably cover it with something anyway, plywood or hardboard. http://www.kencraftstore.com/ply3.htm

Every one of my benches is made from a solid core door in 30" wide and 6'8" long covered with 1/4" hardboard except one, which is laminated maple 2 1/2" x 1 1/2" x random lengths. It's a beautiful top and more of a showpiece than a work surface at least so far. ;) bill
Thanks for the tip about using 2x4s instead. I haven't picked up the lumber yet and will give it some thought before I do. If I stick with the 4x4s, I can rip them to make sure they're square. One reason for the 4x4s is cost (only $14.81 for a 20' length at my local HD, so I can build this bench top for less than $30 in lumber). 2x4s would cost more.
Go and sight down one of those 20 footers and then see how much you want them. !0 ft 2xs arent that expensive and will bend to clamp pressure easier than a 4 x 4 if they are a little warped. And you will not want to rip the 4 x 4s they will curve like crazy after they're cut and to top it all off a 10" saw blade will cut up at most 3 1/4" and the 4 x 4 measures 3 1/2". All this is free advice of course is based on experience. ;) bill
Okay, based on what everyone is saying, I'm a little nuts for wanting to build this with 4x4s. I get the concept of 2x4s being more flexible and a better option, even though it'll cost more. From the start, I thought it would be easier with less parts, but it doesn't sound like I had thought it through. I'll change my plans for 2x4s and I'll still use three allthreads to clamp them together, instead of dowels.

I appreciate everyone giving their candid advice to save me some sweat trying to overcome a bad plan.
Don't forget that you will have to rip each 2x4 to remove the rolled edge. This will provide a flat bench top surface. Usually a 1/8" to 3/16" cut will remove even the most rolled edge of lumber from Lowes or HD. It will also give you an opportunity to cut away slight warps and bows if you use a very long fence on the table saw.

It sounds like you and I both like a solid work bench. I have three of this type of bench out in the barn with 4x4 oak legs. And yes, you could work on a big block engine on any one of them.

It sounds like you're on the right track to building a great bench. Good luck.
Thanks for the tips. And yes, I want a bench that will last longer than me. I'll build the frame tomorrow and the top probably next weekend. Here's a link to the page where I got the plans for the frame. It looks very sturdy, looks good, and the material will be less than $65.

Go and sight down one of those 20 footers and then see how much you want them. !0 ft 2xs arent that expensive and will bend to clamp pressure easier than a 4 x 4 if they are a little warped. And you will not want to rip the 4 x 4s they will curve like crazy after they're cut and to top it all off a 10" saw blade will cut up at most 3 1/4" and the 4 x 4 measures 3 1/2". All this is free advice of course is based on experience. ;) bill
I'd like the "buther block" look when done. My question is without planning the 2x4 faces, would I get the look I want OR will it be sloppy looking.
If you want the butcher block look, you will have to have the 1.5" edge on top. I won't repeat removing the rounded edges, as that has been suggested a few times already.

I will say that wider boards, like 2x6, or 2x8 usually are more select than 2x4's. If you orient the wide face for the top, you don't need too many. If you buy 10' lengths you'll get two per length.

IMO, whichever way you orient the lumber, i.e., on edge or flat, and try to do a glue up with all thread, it won't work like using clamps and cauls. I know because I've tried to do it that way. By the time you drill all the holes, get the glue applied, get the rod in, washers, and nuts, and start to tighten them up, your glue will start to kick. You may not have enough time to line everything up, as the nuts on the thread don't turn that fast.

So unless someone tells me something better, this is my plan: I'll use 2x10s and rip them in half and rip the rolled edges. Then do a quick sanding of the board faces so they butt up clean, I'll make a jig to line up 3 dowel holes on each piece and I'll chamfer the 1/2" dowels too. Doing a dry run will help me to see how things will line up. If everything checks out, I'll glue, clamp, and let sit for week. Then I'll clean up the ends on the table saw, then run a sander over it (I don't have a planer or joiner). Finished with a urethane to protect it going forward. It'll be a lot of work, but I looked online for butcher block tops and they go for at least $250 for this size. No way I'm paying that much!
For a glue up, IMO, the dowels are unnecessary, just glue and clamps and cauls. For a workbench top, you might want to rethink the finish. A film finish will get damaged, and it's a PITA to refinish. So, the question is...do you want a conversation piece, or a work top?

You could throw on a sheet of 1/4" tempered Masonite. It's cheap, hard, and will protect the top. Replace when needed.

My thoughts on the urethane was to simply protect it from moisture and any oils that get spilled on it. I don't want to put masonite or other surface on it. I like the butcher block look. Is there a finish I can put on it that would do what I'm looking for?
There are some excellent resources out there to use. Almost all of the woodworking mag's websites have plans available.

I can personally recommend "The Workbench Design Book" by Christopher Schwarz and the Popular Woodworking Staff as a book that actually discusses why some folks do it one way and some another and the plusses and minuses of each design. In the end, I built Bob Lang's design, and it has worked out great for me.
Thanks for the recommendation. I built the frame yesterday (I tried to attach a pic, but I couldn't get the pic size small enough to upload here) and will build the top next weekend.
If you have a router then it is very easy to flatten the top once you've got it glued up, so I'd just skip the dowels and clamp them boards up in pairs, then glue up the pairs, and then the pairs of pairs and so on until you have a top as big as you want. Let it dry, put it in place, and flatten with the router. (I like handplanes, but all the glue-lines make router easier.)
I'd also forgo the tempered hardboard or 1/4" masonite or all the other fake tops that are used to protect the bench. Tops get dinged, scratched, gouged etc. When it gets too ugly for you to look at, screw the rails on the sides and route off just enough to make it flat. That's one of the advantages of starting with a thick slab.
What do you mean by "flatten the top" with a router? (I have a router but haven't used it much). Are you saying that there's an attachment I can use to sand the top using my router, instead of using a belt sander? I was planning on using a belt sander with 100 grit paper to get everything smooth, but I'm open to suggestions for a better way.
It's easier to show a picture for explanation.


The router sled (or skiis, your choice) rides on known flat rails and the depth of cut remains the same on the router to achieve a dead flat surface.

It takes awhile, but it's a known solution and not too expensive assuming you own a router.
I've never tried this method before. What kind of bit do I use? And with the sled in place, do I just sink the bit to whatever depth I need and trim the entire top? If I'm picturing this right, this will take quite a while to level this top.
So I ripped the 2x8s into 2x4s last weekend and have started gluing those boards together two at a time. Once those are ready, I'll put the pairs in clamps for final glue, then I'll need to trim the ends...and this leads to my next question. Since this bench top is 30" x 60", I'll need to build a crosscut sled to make an accurate 90 degree cut. Does anyone have any plans or 2 cents for an easy to build sled to cut a piece this size? If it helps, my table saw is a Ridgid R4510. Thanks.
I wouldn't try to do that with a table saw. A circular saw with straightedge should do the trick.
My bench is 3" thick and the circular saws I've looked up have a max depth cut of 2 1/2". So the only way to use a circular saw would be to make one cut, then flip over the piece, hope that I line up the straightedge exactly right, then make the second cut. Is this doable...yes. But I was hoping for a more foolproof way to get a clean edge. Any advice?
Yes, that's what I'd do. Cut one side to 2" then flip it and cut the other side. Hopefully your glue-up left the board ends a reasonable distance from each other so you shouldn't have to cut off very much. Just clean up the edge. You should be able to get close enough that any evidence can be erased with a sander. I've also seen this done with a router in a build from one of the WW mags.
I think this is my best bet to minimize the end clean up I'll need to do with a straight bit in my router. After reading some circular saw research, I'm leaning toward the Milwaukee 6390-20 with a tilt-lok handle for $129. It has a lot of good reviews.
That'll work! :thumbsup:

I splurged on a Milwaukee router and couldn't be happier. I'm jonesing for more Milwaukee tools including that circ. saw. Just not in the budget yet. I've got an older B&D that needs a serious attitude adjustment. :laughing:

Good luck and throw some pix up when you can. :smile:
Will do, I'll post some pics when I finish this thing.
First of all, I router planed the bench top this past weekend and it turned out great. So thanks for the great advice to flatten it over belt sanding it! To plane it, I built the base out of 4 by 8 sheet of 5/8" mdf and attached 1"x4"s for the rails; built the sled from 1/2" sandeply and 1"x4" rails. I cut a slot in the sandeply for the 3/4" bottom cleaning cutting bit. It took me about an hour to flatten both sides.
So now I need to attach the top to the base and have a question about the best way to do this. Since the top will expand/contract over the next year, should I attach it with L brackets, but drill an oversized slot into each bracket to allow for slide movement? Is there a better way to attach it other than L brackets? If I attach allowing for movement, how much should I expect the top to expand/contract?

I attached two pics showing where the bench lies now. The top will sit on two rails and have plenty of areas to attach the L brackets. I plan to sand and apply danish oil to the top this weekend and finish this up...for now. I'll cut some bench dogs once I pick up a couple vices for the front and side.


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Spit is better than that stuff.

Gorilla glue was developed as a tropical ( super humid) environment glue for oily hardwoods for the sweat shop patio furniture assembly industry.

It was a failure.

But it was an expensive failure that cause d people to put on their thinking caps to see if they could still make it pay. Soooooo the people whom I despise most in the world (marketing) decided to re-brand the failure and market it to unsuspecting people promising all manner of things about it's strength and wonderfulness. All false promises.

It is not strong, it is not sturdy, it does not gap fill, it does not adhere well at all.
BEHOLD the power of marketing.

You want a superb glue? Titebond. Any of them is worlds and worlds better than that gorilla garbage.

Did you know that Sam Maloof only used plain old white glue on his rocking chair rails?

Oh by the way: Nice progress on the bench~!!
Interesting, I didn't know that about Gorilla Glue. I ended up using Titebond III to give me extra set up time.
Except for when you have to move it! How much does that behemoth way?

Nice looking bench either way though, good job!
Thanks for the kudos. Yes, it's definitely heavy. Best estimate is the frame weighs about 100lbs and the top weighs over 120lbs. I have a great spot picked out for it in my shop and I won't need to move it.
This bench is a stepping stone for me to build up my skills and it'll give me a great platform to have fun learning how to do more advanced joinery and projects that will end up in the house (need the wife's seal of approval).
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