DIY Workbench Top: Butcher Block Style

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About: We're two college guys who love to make things and want to bring you along for the journey. Instagram @lakecitiescraft

When building a workbench, developing a solid work surface is key. Designing the surface with extra mass and stiffness allows tool strokes to be the most effective. This means that it is on the thicker side, demanding far more expensive lumber.

A butcher block style surface gets around using thick lumber by laminating thin stock along the wide face to build the surface.

My most recent project was making a 15x25" butcher block surface which will serve as the foundation for numerous future projects. I'll use that as an example in a discussion of considerations and process to make your own surface.

Supplies:

Step 1: Materials

There are a number ways to work through this project. The way you choose will depend on the materials you have access to, as well as the tools you have to break down your stock.

Material:

If you can find a hardwood dealer, get a board that combines width and low cost per board foot. I got a four-quarter piece of cherry, 6-inches wide, for $6 per board foot. I also made sure that it was S3S since I don't have a planer or jointer.

If you don't have a lot of shop tooling, hardware stores have oak 1x2 material which is glue ready on all four sides and only needs to be cut to length

Tools:

  • Table saw
  • crosscut saw
  • plane
  • sander
  • bar clamps
  • glue
  • carpenters square

Less tooling:

  • crosscut saw
  • plane
  • sandpaper

more tooling:

  • Jointer
  • Drum sander or thickness planer

Step 2: Preparing Stock

Cut strips of wood so that they are as wide as you want your butcher block to be thick. Since I used an S3S board, I was able to just make a few rip cuts on the table saw without worrying about curve. From these strips, cut out pieces an inch longer than your final surface will be. This will allow you to trim and square off any imperfections from the glue-up.

If you don't have a table saw and are using hardware store 1x2, you avoid ripping your stock to width, but will have to check for curve in each piece. The stores tend to display their stock leaned against a rack, which can induce bowing.

Step 3: Glue-up

Now it's time to laminate all of the pieces.

You'll need:

  • about 1 bar clamp per foot of length
  • 4 C clamps
  • 4 pieces of wood as long as your project is wide and checked for straightness

start by laying your bar clamps out and arranging your stock on top of the bars. Spread glue on one face of each board. Bring the pieces together with a slight rubbing motion to transfer and spread the glue between both pieces.

Tighten the bar clamps just enough that the boards don't shift on their own and clamp your straight boards about a quarter of the length from each end. These brace the lamination to prevent the project from cupping and keep individual boards from coming out of alignment. Apply more braces if your project is over four feet long. As you tighten the clamps, make sure that all of the boards are coming into alignment well.

Once the C clamps are tight and you are satisfied that the project is reasonably flat, tighten the bar clamps until glue stops squeezing out. Wipe the excess glue off with a damp cloth.

Step 4: Surface Prep and Trimming Out

When the glue has cured, you are ready to prepare the surfaces.

This step depends heavily on how well you brought your boards into alignment in the previous step. If all the boards sat flush next to each other and no edges are showing, you can go straight to sanding.

My lamination had one board which refused to sit flush with the rest, so I planed the whole surface with a (rather abused) block plane.

Once I had my board sanded to 280 grit, I took a few passes with a roundover bit in the router just to give it that really finished look.

I'm too cheap (and cool) for threaded inserts, so I drilled a slightly undersized hole, and hammered in 2 nuts with a bit of epoxy. I don't know how much load these can take, but what can the experiment cost? An hour or two somewhere down the line?

Step 5: Dog-holes (Optional)

For my future projects, I need to be able to attach things readily to this work surface. This called for a fairly tight pattern of dog-holes. To make sure that I had a good pattern, I laid out a few iterations on graph paper and settled on one that left the edges a large enough margin and accommodates a future dovetail track near the front.

I then replicated the grid on the block, taking care to center it. Then laid out my design again double checking that it still looked good on the workpiece.

Then it was on to the drill press. To make centering the Forstner bit on each mark easier, I used an automatic center punch to make a slight detent. A nail-set and a light tap with a hammer would have the same effect. One problem that can rear its head when drilling through holes, especially with a Forstner bit, is blowout on the back side of the hole. To prevent this, I set the table on the drill press so that the drill reached the end of its throw with just the point of the bit poking through the bottom. This left a very small hole on the back side so that I could flip the board over and easily complete the hole with no alignment or tear out worries.

Step 6: Finishing

Work surfaces like this often see all manner of abuse from paint and glue spill to nicks and scratches from tools, so it's important to apply a finish which will take that abuse well.

Some woodworkers recommend a drying oil as an easily re-applied finish which paint doesn't want to bond to, so I went with boiled linseed oil. This is nice and cheap, and since there are no food safety concerns, a great finish for this project.

I used an old bit of shirt sleeve to apply the oil. To finish inside the holes, I got the whole cloth soaked in oil and ran it through each hole, making sure that it ran against each edge. With that done, wiping on the top/bottom was easy. I did two coats in this manner.

I hope this instructable helps you in building a butcher block of your own.

For more projects and adventures, follow @Lakecitiescraft on Instagram.

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