How To Choose The Right Tops For Your Workshop Benches
The top of a workshop bench defines its load rating and the types of work that can be performed on it. Wooden, steel and laminate tops also wear differently, so choosing the right top will save you money in the long run.
This article runs through the various workshop benchtops available, covering the key facts you need to know to make a decision.
MDF tops are medium-duty tops perfect for woodworking because they are perfectly smooth and flat, making moving objects easier and ensuring the surface won't scratch or damage your woodworking project.
The downside to MDF is it soaks up moisture, and damp conditions can warp it over time, so you need a dry environment to preserve its form.
MDF is also a decent anti-static surface, and although not specialised for electrical work, it is suitable for light mixed-use projects.
Wood tops are made from hardwood, usually 44mm, to create a heavy-duty surface that supports greater loads than MDF. Hardwood is more durable than MDF, so it's more suited to intensive woodworking and mixed-use projects.
The downside to hardwood is it can mark and scratch when harder objects like metal tools impact it, although some consider this part of the bench's character. In any case, you can resurface a wood top with a plane.
Wood tops are naturally anti-static and don't warp with moisture. They last a lifetime, and very little maintenance is required over time.
Laminate tops are easy to clean, letting you scrape glue drippings off and wipe down any messy liquids, oils and greases without worrying about permeation. The surface is durable and forgiving, suitable for most engineering work.
The downside to laminate worktops is the plastic can melt with extreme heat, and it is quite easy to mark if you scrape heavy objects along with it.
Laminate is perfect if you use handheld power tools, clamps, and holdfasts, standing up to years of abuse without any notable deformation.
You can also get anti-static laminate tops with a conductive layer between the dissipative top and bottom layers. This surface is perfect for electrical and electronics work, from computer fixing to re-wiring.
Steel tops are used to make heavy or super-heavy duty workshop benches, offering unparalleled strength and longevity. It's the surface of choice for metal workshops and mechanical engineering outfits.
The downside to steel tops is they scratch relatively easily and can be permanently indented if a suitably heavy, dense object impacts them.
If you work with extreme heat, oils, greases, lubricants and solvents, a steel top is the best option because it isn't affected by these. Additionally, super-heavy duty steel workbenches will easily take 1,500KG UDL.