Reader Questions: Benchtops, Trestle Tables and West Coast Lumber


Sweet jiminy I don’t need any more mail, tasks or obligations. If you have a woodworking question, you can usually find answers by using the search box on the right-hand sidebar. If you have a question about your order or a product, you can always send a note to

But occasionally I do get a question or two through the mail or friends that bears answering. Here are two good questions – and one that I cannot answer.

Benchtop Thickness

Robert in Vista, Calif., asks about an apparent contradiction in my writing. At one point I wrote that 4” is the maximum thickness for a benchtop that works with holdfasts. Later, I recommend 4” to 6”. What gives?

When I wrote my first articles on workbenches about 20 years ago (which led to my first book), the world of holdfasts looked like this: tons of crappy cast ones and a few custom blacksmith holdfasts. So I bought every holdfast I could. I helped Don Weber make me one. And when I tested them, I couldn’t get any of them to work in a benchtop that was thicker than 4”.

And so I reported my findings.

As interest in holdfasts grew, better ones became available. We started making one with a 1” shaft. These better holdfasts worked in thick benchtops. I can get ours to seat in a block that is 10” thick. But 10” is silly for a benchtop. I think 6” is the maximum I’d use.


Trestle Table Flex

James in Twentynine Palms, Calif., asks about the trestle table I built for Woodworking Magazine exactly one coon’s age ago. When his kids sit on the table, he sees the supports below the top flexing under their weight. Is this a known problem?

The trestle table is flexible; that’s one of the nice things about it. As long as nothing is groaning under the weight of the kids, you’re probably fine. The table is like an I-beam with a wooden skin on top. It’s quite strong and remains one of my favorite designs.

However, I cannot vouch for your joinery or the mass of your children. I can report that my table has survived many strange evenings.

James also writes to ask if I have any tips for sourcing wood on the West Coast (he’s new there). Species, places to buy etc.

As a Kentuckian, I have zero experience with West Coast lumberyards, except for buying alder and fir. Perhaps the readers could offer some ideas about good local woods for furniture.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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48 Responses to Reader Questions: Benchtops, Trestle Tables and West Coast Lumber

  1. says:

    I don’t want to step on any toes, Mr. Schwarz, but Popular Woodworking has a lumber yard finder for each state. I looked and there was about 12 or so Ralph

  2. Dan says:

    As for benchtops, I have two 16/4 Walnut slabs that I’m trying to convince myself not to use to make a Roubo bench with white oak legs. Can’t find a source for 16/4 yellow pine slabs and would rather not make a Glu-bo. Any ideas?

  3. Steve P says:

    Only time I get up to 29 Palms is when I camp at Joshua Tree. Closest I could recommend is Reel lumber

    However if you don’t mind driving to LA that opens up your possibilities to places like Angel City Lumber who deals with the urban stuff that would otherwise be trashed/chipped. Pretty much an Anarchist lumbershop on the heart of LA. They also host a Lie Nielsen event most years which just occurred a couple weeks ago.

  4. occasionalww says:

    I get most of my hardwoods from Edensaw Lumber in Port Townsend, Wa. They have a great selection, they let me pick through the bundles and they deliver to Seattle.

    • Andy says:

      This is a great tip. I didn’t realize they delivered. Good selection of books, too (and Jim Tolpin signs his).

  5. If you want to do W. Coast wood, two suggestions — #1 – elm, locatable with many urban forestry operations – my dining room table is made out of the original Pioneer Park elms, planted in Walla Walla about 160 years ago; and the second is claro walnut — lots of this around. It is deeply lovely, and I like it more than E. Black Walnut. I’ve also seen some very nice ornamental catalpa slabs.

  6. Erik says:

    Angel City lumber in LA is a good source.

  7. Curt Putnam says:

    There are Peterman’s in Fontana and Cherokee in Upland as well as a couple in San Diego

    • Steve P says:

      I live in san Diego, it takes me a good 3 to 3 1/2 hours to get to 29 Palms if there are no major traffic incidents. I think he could find anything he realistically needs within an hour or 2. If he does want to drive this far I can recommend some.

  8. David says:

    In LA a couple hours West but a great old school source is Bonhoff Lumber:

    Angel City Lumber is a good place for slabs and live edge, upcycling the ginormous variety of species people went crazy planting when they realized you could grow just about anything here if you watered it:

    Good resource for tools, makers and supplies is Woodworker West, a locally based magazine that’s been covering the scene for a long time (only print magazine I still subscribe to). Lots of local/regional suppliers run ads:

    There’s also lots of stuff happening in San Diego area if you look around. The woodworking programs at Cerritos College and Palomar might be good sources of info as well?

    I’m still looking for good sources for green wood like the apple and birch and cherry our East coast friends are swimming in… might have to make friends with some arborists…

  9. Jars Family says:

    Edensaw is in port Townsend wa. It’s the the best lumber supplier I’ve ever worked with.

  10. Joe says:

    If in the San Francisco Bay Area, MacBeth hardwood is a great awesome place to go. Lots and lots of hardwood. Will deliver. I paid a bit less than $4 a board foot for cherry. Locations in both San Francisco and Berkeley.

    In Pleasanton CA (east of San Francisco by 30 miles) there is Riechert (spelling) Lumber. They carry decent seLection S4S dimensioned hardwood in various widths (cherry, oak, maple, walnut, poplar, sapele, few others). They are attached to an Ace hardware that has a decent selection of brass screws, etc.

    In Bay Area, there is a Woodcraft in San Carlos that has a good selection of lumber.

    In Bay Area, there is a Rockler in Pleasant Hill (near Concord) that has an ok selection of hardwood.

    There is a place in Sunnyvale CA that has a good selection of slabs and burls but I forget the name.

    When I first started woodworking 4 years ago, I was worried about not being able to find wood in the SF Bay Area. It’s no longer a worry.

    Up in Northern CA in Humbolt county I’ve used Almquist Lumber in Arcada CA. I’ve had them even ship some lumber to me in the SF Bay Area.

    • Travis says:

      In the Bay Area, I vote for Aura Hardwoods in San Jose! I just got some 4/4 quarter sawn white oak for $6bf and they have a nice selection of other stuff.

      Jackel Enterprises in Watsonville has some nice slabs and other interesting stuff, but the standard material is a bit more… Worth a visit if you are in the Santa Cruz area.

    • Andrew Brant says:

      You probably mean Global Wood Source in Sunnyvale. They moved just a bit south to Campbell, but it’s a great father/son operation. They mostly do big, wet exotic slabs and luthier materials with lots of offcuts for turning. Great dudes.

  11. fedster9 says:

    Pardon the ignorance, but what is ‘one coon’s age’?

  12. Charles Jackson says:

    How does your 1” holdfast work in thinner benches like a Nicholson Style bench? Most of the holes appear to be around 2” thick on that style.


  13. Bob Luth says:

    Hello Chris,
    Thanks for taking the time to answer those two questions; I’d wondered about both, so appreciate reading your perspective.

  14. kerry Doyle says:

    “survived many strange evenings” That’s the spirit!

  15. James Varpalotai says:

    For west coast woods, I have built a few out of Doug Fir, including two Roubos, and it works just fine. Try to orient the grain so that the quarter sawn face is the work surface, as the difference in density between the early and late growth rings is quite apparent. I like Fir, or any soft woods, because they are cheap, easy to work, and have the added bonus of being generally softer than the wood being worked on them. This allows them to take the impact and dents rather than a hard wood surface that will Mar your work pieces. At the Naval Fleet School where I teach, the student benches are laminated SPF 2x4s and they have held up just through hundreds of students over the years. The dog holes can take a beating and deform a bit, but they hold up fine as well. Cheers from Victoria BC.

  16. josef1henri says:

    We learn over time. Sometimes we learn new things. By the way, hope you will do the Set up & use part 4 for the jack plane soon.

  17. Doug Cahail says:

    try Edensaw in Port Townsend,Wa. great source for wood .

  18. James W Golej says:

    Chris, One of the “issues” I have had with my Sjobergs workbench has been the “non-standard” dog holes furnished with it. The one inch size of the Crucible holdfast seems an ideal solution. Would you agree? Thanks.

  19. pinusmuricata says:

    A couple of west coast yards that haven’t been mentioned: Mt. Storm in Windsor CA ( and Gilmer in Portland OR ( Thanks for the tip about Brendan Gaffney’s list. I just tried emailing him with these and got a bounceback. Any idea what’s up with that?
    I’ve been doing a lot with local Tanoak (actually not an oak, sort of transitional between chestnuts and oaks) which is now getting hammered by commercial forest managers who treat it as a weed, and by Sudden Oak Death disease, and Madrone. Both of them are tricky to dry. Madrone is lovely stuff and very popular with Krenov School students.
    Another interesting place is Arborica in west Marin County. As I understand it, the owner was an arborist who saw the potential in a lot of the stuff getting removed for whatever reason. (There’s a lot of interesting exotics planted in California.)

  20. Chris says:

    Can’t help with particular westcoast lumber yards, but can offer some insights on species:

    Red Alder is one of my favourites to work. It’s cheap, and can look quite nice depending on the colour of the particular tree, with subtle but pleasant grain. It works easily, and can be found in decent dimensions. I’ve seen it referred to as suitable for “paint grade millwork”, and I think that opinion is selling it significantly short. Its a great wood for smoking too, so the scraps can be put to tasty use.

    Non old growth Douglas fir is nice for utility furniture like work benches. It can be found with very straight grain, and is fairly stiff and tough, so I’ve been experimenting with it for legs, and I’ve had some good results turning it. I’ve made a staked stool out of it for my workshop, and so far the 1.5″ thick seat hasn’t split. Overall it’s fairly splintery, so doesn’t plane terribly well. Any reversing grain can cause horrible tear-out in my experience. There density of the early wood and late wood are usually quite different, and quite distinct looking. I don’t view it as suitable for show surfaces on fine furniture, but can be used out of sight. Given the very dense latewood (at least in the local coastal stuff I have), I’ve thought of using it for drawer runners, but haven’t yet. The floors in my house are 80+ year old second growth douglas fir, so it seems to be reasonably wear resistant. Can also be quite sappy and pitchy, so make sure it’s well dried. Tight grained old growth fir is a whole different, more pleasant, animal, but other than salvaged boards I don’t use old growth wood.

    Yellow cedar is a lovely, soft wood to work with, and can be found in large widths. I have some 18″+ wide boards that are destined to be a 6-board chest.

    Maple is quite available on the west coast too.

    Arbutus/Madrone, and Pacific yew are not suited to hand tool work in my opinion. They often have interlocking or reversing grain that makes them a bear to plane.

    almost all of the pine I’ve used is garbage, with lots of internal tension. I suspect this is due to be kiln dried. It will change shape every time you plane or cut it.

  21. James Watriss says:

    I hear the fir on the slopes of Mt St Helens is a joy to work with…



  22. Jason in Golden says:

    Continuing the list of places nowhere near Twentynine Palms, I used to go to Austin Hardwoods in Orange. With all of the high-end houses in Palm Desert, you’d think there would be a hardwood supplier there. Talk to some of the builders in Palm Desert. Otherwise, your best bet might be to make friends with an arborist for when a rare yard tree goes down. Or, resin cast and turn palm and joshua tree. (Kidding, joshua trees are protected.)

  23. Steven Peck says:

    In Sacramento, CA we have a branch of Aura Hardwoods which is a nice place. There is also Hughes Hardwood. Both have hardwood and a variety of plywood.

    For slabs, there is Millers Milling. Granted they just announced they are selling everything and shutting down in 90 days as he can’t run the sawmill anymore, but will be re-opening as Northern California Sawyers Coop. He has a large group of NorCal sawyers ready to fill his store once he empties his current stock.

    Then there is Urban Wood Rescue which focuses on reclaimed trees and is an offshoot of the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

    There are a few other small shops around but I haven’t used them and don’t have their links.

  24. Eric Blanpied says:

    I’m in Oakland, and two sources that haven’t been mentioned in the East Bay are Ponderosa Millworks (Oak) and Moore-Newton Quality Hardwood.

    Ponderosa is mostly a slab outlet, sourcing their lumber from urban tree cutting (started as an offshoot of a tree service biz). They’ve got a remarkable range of interesting wood, and knowledgeable staff. They also sell finished slabs, and have an amazing planer/multi-drum sanding machine, and can prep to whatever level you wish. In interesting urban-reuse small business.

    Moore-Newton is more of a distributor than retail outlet, so they’re not enthusiastic about people who want just a few board feet, but if you’re doing any work with a decent price tag on materials, they have a huge selection, know a lot, and I’m particularly fond of their option to get wood either surfaced or “rough”, which generally means skip-planed – it’s nice when your 4/4 starts out around 7/8 or more.

    I also shop at MacBeath Hardwoods, but they were already mentioned. They’re the grandaddy of the industry around here, and have a decent selection in a retail-friendly layout, but their prices are high and they mill their stock within an inch (1/16th?) of it’s life.

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