Author Topic: MFT style bench - what top surface?  (Read 3173 times)

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Offline Toddbg

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MFT style bench - what top surface?
« on: November 03, 2021, 11:58 AM »
I'm going to be building a hybrid MFT / woodworking bench and have a question for you guys regarding top surfaces.
For the MFT section I'm using 18mm stock.
I am trying to decide between two different surfaces.

I am either going to use Formica microdot on Baltic Birch or I can get phenolic plywood.

I've been looking to see if there are any pro/con sites but so far have not found anything.

Thoughts?

Offline Paul_HKI

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Re: MFT style bench - what top surface?
« Reply #1 on: November 03, 2021, 12:22 PM »
I wouldn't bother with the expense of either.  It's a sacrificial worktop so I'd stop at MR MDF or plain old baltic birch ply.  Any more than that and it's just about vanity, not functionality.  Which is fine, but in that case it's entirely up to you really.  I wouldn't want a slick finish on it anyway and while I haven't used microdot laminate, phenolic coated plywood is either abrasive or slick as a wet fish.
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Online Packard

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Re: MFT style bench - what top surface?
« Reply #2 on: November 03, 2021, 12:40 PM »
I have three home-built MFT tables and I treat the tops as consumables. 

You are going to damage the top at some point.  If you have already in your mind made it a consumable it will not bother you so much. 

I think of the tables as "deluxe saw horses". 

I use one as an outfeed table for my table saw, and my pocket hole assembly table.

The others are on locking casters and serve various purposes, but mostly assembly work. 

If I wanted to protect it, I would use a 3/16" thick tempered hardboard held in place with carpet tape.  I use that for my workbench and it stands up very well.


Offline afish

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Re: MFT style bench - what top surface?
« Reply #3 on: November 03, 2021, 04:54 PM »
It really depends on what type of work you will be doing on the top.  If you plan on cutting on it I agree with the others MDF is probably best. I like to coat mine with whatever clear I have around (which is usually some lacquer) However,  recently I have been doing some epoxy work and the acetone will instantly eat off the finish in a second flat.  I dont do any cutting on my tops anymore so I'm looking for more durability than disposability.  The great thing about laminate is its easy to clean.  Dried glue even epoxy will pop right off BUT NOT with micro dot.  In my opinion that's the worst possible choice for that reason you will get all the negatives of having a laminate top and no positives.

 The slick finish doesn't bother me and sometimes it comes in handy but once again I dont cut on mine.  You will want to make sure edges and corners are well rounded since laminate is sharp and could easily damage a veneer. If you are cutting with dogs the slipperiness could cause issues not to mention the extra time and expense to make the top just to cut it up plus laminate dulls blades fast.  If you have ever spent several hours bent over a 4x8 sheet of MDF drilling hundreds of holes with MkII you will realize that's enough fun already without adding anything extra.  The lacquer is fast and easy.  I dont even bother spraying it just roll it on and if there is any rough spots I just go over it with a card scraper. My future tops will most likely be a smooth white laminate for durability and easiness to clean.

I also haven't priced BB in a bit but last I did it was what I would consider cost prohibitive for a MFT top. 

Online MikeGE

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Re: MFT style bench - what top surface?
« Reply #4 on: November 03, 2021, 05:27 PM »
I am very happy with the 19mm Valchromat top on my MFT-style workbench.  Valchromat is made in Portugal, but is available throughout Europe and the U.S. in many colors.  I paid about €90 for a 2500x1250mm sheet in black, so it is a bit more expensive than MDF.

My workbench top is sacrificial and I am prepared to replace it in about five or ten years when it starts affecting my projects.  However, with two coats of hardwax oil, it is very durable and any glue drops pop off easily when dry.  If I get concerned about the scratches and dings, a few passes with P150 and P400, followed by two coats of hardwax oil make it all new again.

Offline afish

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Re: MFT style bench - what top surface?
« Reply #5 on: November 03, 2021, 07:31 PM »
Valchromat is more difficult to get here in the states.  Not saying impossible but I have a feeling its probably much harder to get here than in across the pond. Especially when we are talking just a sheet or 2.  I tried to source it a few years ago and gave up.  90 bucks isnt a bad price.  Not sure how long ago that was but Im guessing pre lumber price spike since Regular MDF is half that now.  I wish it was easier to get and less than 100 bucks a sheet.  Not sure I would still spring for it over regular MDF but it would be nice to have access to it.   

Online MikeGE

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Re: MFT style bench - what top surface?
« Reply #6 on: November 03, 2021, 08:22 PM »
I bought my Valchromat last November after I changed my mind on using 18mm MDF.  I had already bought the MDF and then found a stocking vendor for the Valchromat about 16KM from my house.  The vendor had 19mm in six or seven colors, including purple, yellow, and red, but I picked black.  The full sheet of MDF is still in my garage secured flat to the wall waiting for a project.

I just checked the vendor's online shop, and the price for a full sheet of 19mm Valchromat is €87, so a few Euros less than last year.

Offline simnick

  • Posts: 50
Re: MFT style bench - what top surface?
« Reply #7 on: November 03, 2021, 08:30 PM »
Yeah, haven't even found someone who has Valchromat here is Seattle, WA, USA. I'm certain someone does, but not obvious to find. I'd love to get some black Valchromat.

Online MikeGE

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Re: MFT style bench - what top surface?
« Reply #8 on: November 03, 2021, 08:55 PM »
I can't vouch for any of these vendors and don't know if they have stock, but it's a starting point:

CPS Garten in Lake Forest, CA

Trinity Innovations (can't access the website from Germany)

D&M Lumber in Brooklyn, NY

Offline afish

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Re: MFT style bench - what top surface?
« Reply #9 on: November 03, 2021, 09:23 PM »
looks about right. im pretty sure thats the same place in ny. i called years ago.  pretty much need to buy a full lift to make it worth it. its just not popular here. wish it was but its not.

Offline Mini Me

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Re: MFT style bench - what top surface?
« Reply #10 on: November 04, 2021, 07:15 AM »
The first thing you should do to a new bench top is hit it with a hammer. Now the damage is done you can use it without worrying about how good it looks.

Offline jeffinsgf

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Re: MFT style bench - what top surface?
« Reply #11 on: November 04, 2021, 08:06 AM »
I made my most recent MFT top from MDO plywood. It's a little tougher than MDF and I think it is more dimensionally stable. You still have the advantage of the smooth, grain-free surface. Both Roseburg and Boise-Cascade make an MDO product. One (I think B-C) uses a thick-ish layer of MDF for the outside plys. The other uses a paper. I like the MDF skin better, but they're both nice.

This product is more expensive than MDF, but significantly less than Baltic Birch and certainly less than laminated Baltic Birch.

Offline afish

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Re: MFT style bench - what top surface?
« Reply #12 on: November 04, 2021, 08:10 AM »
Agreed, My first top I destroyed in about six months (cuts everywhere and thick overspray from painting on it) .  Back then I made them by hand with Parf MkII.  To say I dont enjoy the process of making a full 4x8 is an understatement.  After that I made a more conscious effort not to destroy the top so quickly but at the end of the day its a work bench.  The labor to make one is the biggest motivation for me to not abuse it. 

Offline afish

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Re: MFT style bench - what top surface?
« Reply #13 on: November 04, 2021, 08:35 AM »
I would respectfully disagree with the MDO.  MDO can still warp and twist it is plywood still after all.  MDF will not, as long as its supported it will stay nice and flat.  It can sag if the the supports are spaced to far apart but otherwise its very dimensionally stable and thats the biggest reason its popular choice for doors.  I have no experience with the MDF faced MDO only the paper faced but unless the MDF face is the "waterproof" type of MDF it seems like you could get the negatives of both twisting/warping of the plywood and the swelling of MDF if it gets wet.  MDO is supposed to be exterior rated so I dont know what type of MDF they are using for the skin.  If its like the Extira MDF then ok if not then calling it MDO is confusing since MDO is exterior rated.   

Offline cubevandude

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Re: MFT style bench - what top surface?
« Reply #14 on: November 04, 2021, 09:32 AM »

I am either going to use Formica microdot on Baltic Birch or I can get phenolic plywood.

Thoughts?

I would choose the phenolic from those two types.  The formica is really hard and can chip.  In Canada we don't have many choices in high grade sheet goods.  It's just starting to get easier to find Russian baltic birch, but these two types you are planning on using are very difficult to find without ordering a whole lift of it.

Offline jeffinsgf

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Re: MFT style bench - what top surface?
« Reply #15 on: November 04, 2021, 10:37 PM »
...
MDF will not, as long as its supported it will stay nice and flat.  It can sag if the the supports are spaced to far apart but otherwise its very dimensionally stable and thats the biggest reason its popular choice for doors.  ...   

The 1/2" sag in my MFT would apparently indicate that the supports "are spaced to far apart".

I've built a fair amount of shop equipment with the MDO and have yet to see any kind of warp or twist. Everything I've ever built from MDF has eventually failed at the mechanical fasteners. I'll stick to MDO.

Offline Bertotti

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Re: MFT style bench - what top surface?
« Reply #16 on: November 06, 2021, 08:15 AM »
I have given up on MFT tops with holes everywhere. I have no need for so many holes. I lay them out along two edges then add in some cross holes and an area of isometric holes which I may get rid of as well. Now that I have the TSO MTR I don't really need it. My next top will be a nice hardwood with two or three dados for sacrificial inserts. I have found that virtually all my cuts wind up in the same area. I'll still keep an MFT style all MDF top around for the odd cuts but my main benches will be nice and long-term tops, not completely sacrificial. I also thought of just having a couple of sacrificial tops to toss on my nice bench when needed then store underneath when not needed. For on-site it will be the standard MDF top on a bora and an mft3.
I want to populate SD with trees because I miss the forests of the river bottoms.

Offline afish

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Re: MFT style bench - what top surface?
« Reply #17 on: November 06, 2021, 09:18 AM »
I have given up on MFT tops with holes everywhere. I have no need for so many holes. I lay them out along two edges then add in some cross holes and an area of isometric holes which I may get rid of as well. Now that I have the TSO MTR I don't really need it. My next top will be a nice hardwood with two or three dados for sacrificial inserts. I have found that virtually all my cuts wind up in the same area. I'll still keep an MFT style all MDF top around for the odd cuts but my main benches will be nice and long-term tops, not completely sacrificial. I also thought of just having a couple of sacrificial tops to toss on my nice bench when needed then store underneath when not needed. For on-site it will be the standard MDF top on a bora and an mft3.

For myself, The holes are for clamping and fixturing exclusively. Sometimes its very handy to have holes all over.  I just did a bunch of miter folding projects.  The holes allowed me to clamp one side down flat to the bench and with some 90° jigs I made I could clamp those down to the table and keep the other leg of the fold at a perfect 90° while the epoxy set up.  Without all those holes for clamping it would have been much more difficult to keep everything straight, flat and square.  Personally Im not a believer in dogs for cutting. A nice fence and dashboard style rail hinge provides way more consistent results. If there is one thing I have learned is everyone is unique and has their own methods and needs, there is no one size fits all.  What works for one person my be completely wrong for the next. Plus needs are always changing, at least mine.  I was very happy with the Lacquer coated MDF tops I had until I started splashing some acetone around. I might be the odd duck here, but I use my bench for everything. I might be building some cabinets one week and pouring/vibrating concrete forms on it the next. Now Im thinking laminate for the next one (but not micro dot) 

So, I'm not trying to be argumentative when I or someone posts contradicting methods.  Its just about posting the methods that work for your situation or use, its up to the reader to decide what makes sense for the work they do or workflow.  It is helpful to have or see multiple points of view so they can make an educated decision on what might work best for them.  It doesn't make one or the other right or wrong just different.  Success is often the result of multiple failures. However, its always better if you can learn from the failures of others.

Offline Bertotti

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Re: MFT style bench - what top surface?
« Reply #18 on: November 07, 2021, 11:34 AM »
Agree, everyone’s needs or desires are different. I still have a full size table and 2x4 with holes all over for clamping but I don’t use them a lot. Sometimes I just use a longer board to clamp everyone’s got their way so whatever suits ones needs is best.
I want to populate SD with trees because I miss the forests of the river bottoms.