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How to flatten an uneven workbench top

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Shortly after assuming his duties as our new project builder, Chuck Hedlund made it a priority to flatten the benchtops in the WOODŽ magazine shop. Why the rush? According to Chuck, "I find a flat work surface essential to assembling square boxes, flat panels, or four-legged projects hat don't rock. I can't work on a benchtop that's not true." So, we've asked Chuck to show us the best way to level a troublesome benchtop. Here's how he does it.

Note: These procedures work for any solid-wood top that's at least 1" thick. We recommend you flatten your benchtop if it's uneven by more than 1/32:. (You can check for flatness by moving a straightedge across your benchtop.) Do not try these flattening steps on laminated tops made of plywood, particleboard, hardboard or similar materials.


To show you how this technique works, we searched for a bench badly in need of flattening. We found a doozie in the workshop of John Hetherington, one of our photographers. As you can see in photo A, left, this turn-of-the century bench had a warped, irregular surface that was out of flat by more than 1/2". The bench was a great-looking antique, but John wanted to restore its usefulness as a woodworking tool. Although the flattening process that we'll describe here bared new wood on the benchtop, John restored the antique-patina look by rubbing in a combination of stains afterwards.

Start by preparing the bench Before you flatten the bench, you need to make any necessary repairs. As shown in photo B, right, our sample bench had delaminated edge boards that required our attention. You may have to remove the top and retighten, reglue, or reinforce the joints in the base to make it solid and rack-free.

Since you will be routing into the top in the following steps, you need to remove any embedded metal fasteners (such as brads and staples). A metal sensor will aid your search, and save you from dulling or destroying a router bit.

Next, place the bench in the spot in your shop where you will be using it. Check the top for level, and add wood shims to the bottom of the base's legs as necessary (see the drawing below).

With the top as level as possible, attach the shims with adhesive or fasteners. Mark the position of each leg onto the floor so that you can always return the bench to its level location.

Continued on page 2:  Start by preparing the bench


Comments (10)
canageltx wrote:

Good article and information to know.

12/30/2015 11:11:27 AM Report Abuse
rogerfeeley wrote:

thibbs7: I see no reason why you can't use this technique to flatten your mdf table. The only problem is that you will be left with a surface that wouldn't be smooth and kind of soft. You could reface the mdf with a new sheet of masonite.

8/8/2013 09:57:18 AM Report Abuse
thibbs7 wrote:

Great Idea, how would you recommend flattening a work bench made our of MDF?

8/7/2013 11:50:51 AM Report Abuse
shanson1608776 wrote:

I have the same bench in my work shop,very old but works great.

1/26/2012 10:19:50 AM Report Abuse
gei wrote:

I used a very similar technique to flatten a chainsawed oak burl slab for a coffee table top. It works well!

2/11/2011 08:28:24 PM Report Abuse
rlbeers4047162 wrote:

Just in time. I have noticed my bench top is not as level as it was when I made it a few years ago. Where is the pdf of this so I can download it? I like to keep your good tips so I have them when I get time to complete them.

2/11/2011 09:37:53 AM Report Abuse
wdchip wrote:

That's all for now. Get a life, some of you are thinking. I have one. Just have to crusade now and then.

2/10/2011 01:58:48 PM Report Abuse
wdchip wrote:

"Use only as many shims as necessary." seems superfluous. If a person doesn't know the purpose of shimming is to achieve near perfection they shouldn't be allowed to use power tools without adult supervision.

2/10/2011 01:33:11 PM Report Abuse
wdchip wrote:

Would increasing the width of the router carrier by a couple of inches on each side allow for clamping that wouldn't interfere with router handles or base as you slide the router back and forth/side to side in the carrier?

2/10/2011 01:23:45 PM Report Abuse
wdchip wrote:

Why not use metal studs sandwiched together if necessary for rigidity for the carrier guides? Saves jointing and ripping a 2 x 4.

2/10/2011 01:13:27 PM Report Abuse

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