Fair Woodworking

September 12, 2017

Toothing Your Bench. The Deconstruction of Bench Destruction, 6 Months Later.

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog — fairwoodworking @ 9:18 pm

Last March I had a little stroke of good fortune. As occasionally happens at work, I had a four day weekend coming up. At the same time, one of our national airlines was having a seat sale, and Lie-Nielsen was having a Hand Tool Event in Cincinnati. As a result, what started out as a hair-brained scheme, somehow got the blessing of my loving wife.

While there, I got the chance to talk to a number of really interesting people including Raney Nelson (little tip, he’d prefer you didn’t bring up Public Education…), and Scott Meek, who’s Three Plane Class is just a month away and I can hardly wait to go!!!!

But that has nothing to do with today’s topic.

During the Hand Tool Event, Lost Art Press also had one of their open houses, where I got to spend some real time examining the Low Roman Bench before I built it.

And a Staked High Stool, that I had never ever planned on making.

But that also has nothing to do with today’s topic.

Near the end of the open house I got a quick chance to talk to Chris about toothing bench tops. I’ve been intrigued by the concept for a while now. I even got a plane and blade for this one task… and then built a softwood bench.

The thing about softwood is that it is a little soft and spongy. This both increases grip, and also makes it a little delicate, and so I’d assumed it was both unnecessary, and produced a weaker surface. Despite my unfounded opinion, Chris asked if I’d be willing to try it if only to see what happens.

Well Chris… This post is for you, and this is what happened. (even though you probably don’t remember the conversation, and you were probably already thinking about your first beer of the night.)

Before I get into what happened, I want to address what I’ve found to be the most common argument against toothing your bench. It is most often shared in the form of a question like this, “Why would I want to risk ruining a perfectly good workbench by toothing it? What if I don’t like it?”

Answer – If toothing your bench will ruin your bench (Said in a Jeff Foxworthy voice), You might not be a woodworker!

Toothing planes have little tiny teeth, the toothing process is done after the first pass, and if you don’t like it, it could be removed in one thin shaving of a jointer plane. If such a resurrection is outside of your skill set, so is flattening your bench.

But enough of belittling my readers.

Toothing, as I understand it, is to increase the grippy-ness of your bench so when you clamp something to it or are simply working on the bench, your work will be less likely to slip away on you.

I will be honest and say that I really didn’t notice a difference after the toothing, well, not really until I went to sweep some shavings off the bench and saw how much dust had accumulated. I think I hadn’t noticed because the dust had settled in the grooves of the toothing???

So yes, I think you will find it a little bit morether grippyer, but I don’t think it’s a game changer.

Also, all those little ridges were not strong enough to withstand the wear and tear of woodworking life, and as  you can see, in the last 6 months, it is quite dinged up as well. So on a softwood bench, it really doesn’t last that long.

But there was one aspect that I didn’t expect that may make this process worth doing after all.

Toothing creates a texture that you can both see at almost any angle, and also feel. A quick pass over the bench would leave noticeable tracks on any missed high spots, and leave bare any low areas as well. After flattening, a quick toothing blends the whole bench together, and I kinda like that.

Like most other woodworking techniques, toothing is no magic bullet, but I’m pretty sure this is not my last bench that will face this treatment.

Hardwood, or soft.



  1. Toothing a bench top to increase grip is one of those odd concepts that may sound clever at first glance but turns out to be deeply flawed. There are several good reasons for this, but I’ll offer a big one based on simple physics. The attractive forces between two surfaces are affected by several factors, but the most important of those is surface area. Those attractive forces, whether strong or weak, are directly proportional to contact surface area. When you do anything to reduce that contact area you reduce the power of those forces. As an example, the reason you “slip” on a patch of ice is because the pressure from your foot, ice-skate or rear-end as the case may be, creates a mini-melt such that the contact area between you and the ice is broken by a lot of tiny beads of water. If it’s truly cold enough for that not to happen you’ll stick fast – consider the old tongue on a very cold pole trick. So if you want to tooth your bench for esthetic reasons go for it. But if you think it will make your bench top “grippier” you’ll be in for a disappointment.

    Comment by Mike Cooper — September 12, 2017 @ 10:23 pm

    • Hi Mike, thanks for your comment, and welcome.

      Based on your irrefutable facts listed above, I would assume you’ve never tried it…
      I’m also thrilled to hear that as my truck tires go bald I’ll actually get better traction. (bad news for Goodyear)
      This also explains why sandpaper only works when it’s truly cold.
      Speaking of cold. It’s odd that you would suggest that ice is slippery, when everybody knows that the rough texture of warm asphalt is the slipperiest surface known to man.
      With tongue in cheek, have a great night!

      Comment by fairwoodworking — September 12, 2017 @ 11:21 pm

      • I like your tire comparison better than my ice analogy. I believe the primary reason Goodyear puts tread on street tires is to allow water to escape when driving on wet roads so you won’t hydroplane. But the drier the conditions, on average, the more contact area manufacturers will build into their tread patterns. The extreme case I suppose would be the racing tires used by Nascar types which are as slick as they can make them. The equations that describe attractive forces between surface have were developed a long time ago and include science nerdy stuff like surface free energy and van ver Walls forces, but surface contact area is one of the primary terms. Now on the other hand, if you’ve got two rough surfaces in contact, and each can fill the others void spaces, then that’s a different story. So if you want to tooth your workbench for better grip then be sure to tooth your work piece surfaces as well 😉

        Comment by Mike Cooper — September 13, 2017 @ 8:54 am

      • Again. Your argument tells me you’ve never tried it and that your hands on experience with a toothed bench is limited. Your physics don’t mean squat in the real world if you can identify what forces are the issues when woodworking. Go. Do. Try. Learn. You will be surprised.

        Comment by fairwoodworking — September 13, 2017 @ 1:36 pm

  2. There are no such forces as “attractive forces” between two surfaces. There is the force of gravity which defines the weight of one object on another. When an object slides across the other there is a resistance. This resistance is due to the coefficient of friction of the surface. The force required to slide one object over another is based on the weight times the coefficient of friction. The area of contact is not part of the equation. (simple physics). The reason you slip on ice is that it has a lower coefficient of friction.

    Comment by jimarrington — September 13, 2017 @ 1:48 am

  3. Given the “physics debate” here I felt the need to post this xkcd comic about the four fundamental forces: https://xkcd.com/1489/

    Comment by tnogden — September 13, 2017 @ 8:30 am

  4. My question: If you tooth your bench to make it more grippy and corrugate your plane to make it reduce friction, which one wins?

    I have not tried this, though I would, if I had the requisite iron… and flattened my bench after having it for only a year… I can imagine that the dust might be the key to folks swearing by it. Since I’ve found only a little dust on a smooth flat surface to be like ball bearings (rolling resistance is an order of magnitude less than sliding resistance) Toothing the surface could give the dust a place to go increasing the friction coefficient. A shop with lots of sanding dust would be a good test for this theory.

    Comment by Jeremy — September 13, 2017 @ 11:00 am

  5. Talking about tires in a woodworking blog… I have seen everything! Tire people are the lowest of the low and have never belonged in a real working shop. How dare you?

    Comment by Bob — September 16, 2017 @ 7:37 am

  6. I have been reading this blog for a while now.
    Mainly to see if your prediction of the world ending would come to pass.
    It’s three days later, you need another date so I can keep reading.

    Comment by Chuck — October 29, 2017 @ 12:31 pm

    • Ha. Right. But to be clear, I never predicted the end of the world. Just the end of the world as we know it. This was a prediction I think I made about 5 years ago. I was off by about 12 hours…
      I’ll try to write about it soon.

      Comment by fairwoodworking — October 29, 2017 @ 11:44 am

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