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Easy Plywood Bench Top


This bench is over 20 years old. It was my first workbench. You can still see the 3 holes in the left side of the top where I used to have a vice mounted.

The top is made of melamine-coated MDF glued to some plywood and wrapped in oak edgebanding. Most of this was found or scrounged materials, so it was pretty cheap to build.

After 20+ years of use the top is done. It's stained, marked up, and no longer fixable. As well, I find it hard to deal with the fact that is white. Since I film so much in my shop, I find the glare off the white is annoying, and makes it hard to take pictures.

I've considered replacing this entire bench, but I don't (yet) have a plan sorted out for this. Instead, I'm just going to replace the top at this time.

I do like that this bench is mobile. I can move it to the side, I can tuck it up against the tablesaw to use for outfeed purposes. I can position it in the middle of the floor when using it as an assembly table.

Since it originally had a vise on the front, the front edge was longer than the other sides. But the downside is that it makes it clamping things to the bench more difficult. So on the new top, this will have to go.

One smart move I did all those years ago was to attach the top with bolts. So it is relatively easy to loosen these four bolts and pop off the old top. On the new top I just need to put a cleat on the bottom with the same spacing as the old top.

I usually have the lumber store make the first cut, since it makes it much easier for me to manage the plywood. This time I had them make two cuts, which took care of most of what we needed. The two pieces on the right side of the photo are roughly 2ft x 5ft, which is the size I need. I did then run these pieces through my saw to clean up the edges.

I slathered on a lot of glue and then screwed two pieces of plywood together. These screws would be on the bottom, so they are not marring the top.

I attached the mounting cleats with pocket hole screws in several spots. It is my hope that these will help keep the top flat.

I also added two more cleats lengthwise, again to help keep the tabletop flat.

I had some 1/4" thick oak boards left over from a previous project. I ripped them down into strips and glued and nailed it to the edge of the top to act as edgebanding.

I left the strips wide, to make it easier to attach to the top without worrying about perfect alignment. I then used a handplane to plane them flush, and then used a trim router to roundover all the edges.

I finished the bench top with seven coats of wipe-on polyurethane. This was probably more than needed. However, I had an older can that I wanted to finish off, so I just kept applying it until the can was empty. As well, I did want a thick and strong finish on the bench.

I drilled matching holes in the cleats under the new top and fastened it to the existing bench's mounting holes. There are t-nuts mounted in the bench legs.

Here is a photo of the finished bench top. I know, it's too pretty to be a piece of shop furniture. I was almost tempted to spill some paint on it, or deface it in some way... But instead I'll just wait, as I'm sure it will develop it's own "character" through the normal course of shop events.

Some of the Tools/Supplies Used In This Project: (Affiliate Links)

SensGard ZEM hearing protection
Stanley Leverlocks -- love these tape measures
Other auto-locking tape measures
Minwax Wipe-on Poly
3M Finishing Pads / Scotch Brite
Kreg Pocket Hole Clamp
Kreg Pocket Hole Jig
(I have older versions of these Kreg tools)

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See Also:

Fixing My Tablesaw Stand

A Board With A Hole