Best work table surface color/finish? - RC Groups
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Mar 06, 2013, 04:45 PM
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jbarnhardt's Avatar

Best work table surface color/finish?

Hi all. I've recently completed a large-ish (6' x 4') work table for the center of my workshop that I'm really pleased to have. The table surface is MDO (MDF top and bottom surfaces, but the core is plywood for greater stability), which I've edged with wood trim. I like the raw look and smoothness of the MDF surface, but need to seal/finish it and am now considering the options. I've applied a couple of primer coats with a brush, which I now need to sand a little to regain smoothness. I'm interested in any opinions people may have on colors and finishes for this kind of work surface. It's currently a matte white (the primer color), which I'm not particularly fond of, and definitely needs a harder final coat to withstand the perils of aircraft construction. FYI my primary uses are composite glider fabrication and assembly (cutting fabrics, doing layups, using molds, vacuum bagging, trimming/sanding parts, joining components, installing electronics, etc), balsa aircraft assembly and miscellaneous household (non-aircraft) jobs. I'd welcome any thoughts or discussion on this topic. Thanks,

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Mar 06, 2013, 05:53 PM
cityevader's Avatar
hmm...At one dept of my my work, car bumpers are shipped wrapped in a large sheet of plastic-backed foam approx 1/8" thick. The foam is tough and vaguely resembles micro bubble wrap whose air pockets are dense and overlap, if that makes sense (I've no idea what type of foam it is), but it'd be pretty forgiving in terms of model assembling and easily removed if a harder surface is needed. I've also seen rolls of cork (typically for tool box drawer liners) that might work. Or a sheet of plastic (expensive) is another idea, but if HDPE used, most glues won't stick to it.
Mar 06, 2013, 06:16 PM
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wizard of odd's Avatar
Formica kitchen counter top laminate is extremely hard and impervious to solvents. That makes it easy to clean up those cyano and epoxy spills.
Mar 06, 2013, 08:56 PM
Registered User
I use the clear plastic sheets that are used on big or wide screen projection TVs. You can pick them up for free at TV repair shops and I have several of them for future use. Also, razor knives stay sharper longer. My bench is painted white underneath.

Mar 06, 2013, 08:56 PM
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Norm Furutani's Avatar
Originally Posted by wizard of odd
Formica kitchen counter top laminate is extremely hard and impervious to solvents. That makes it easy to clean up those cyano and epoxy spills.
X2 - My bench is covered with a light gray gloss Formica. I clean it with lacquer thinner and you can scape the glues off with a razor. I use a wood plank to build on and when covering, a large self healing mat.

- Norm
Mar 06, 2013, 09:19 PM
Registered User
I used to use Formica, but I kept burning and gouging it. Then I went to wood, periodically sanding it down and repainting it.

Now I use a layer of Masonite, painted with Polycrylic and screwed down to the wood. When it gets chewed up, I recoat it with Polycrylic; when it gets really chewed up, I replace the Masonite with another sheet.

Mar 06, 2013, 09:25 PM
Micro Crazy Man
epicdoom's Avatar
My bench wraps around a corner I have formica on one section I use for soldering, painting and electrical work and a piece of drywall 1/2" on my building section the drywall allows me to build rite on the bench as pins push in easy and hold well when one side is done I flip to the other. I also have a section that has the non slip rubber matting I do most of my sanding there as there is no need to use clamps the matting holds items very well. across from that bench is another with my Mill, lathe, Belt/disc sander, bandsaw, grinder and drill press that bench is 3/4 ply I would like laminate it as the metal chips can be a bear to get off the plywood surface
Mar 06, 2013, 09:53 PM
cityevader's Avatar
Good call, epicdoom... I had initially thought to reply with how I'd set up my own shop if I had that amount of space, utilizing multiple types of surfaces. Somehow I ended up thinking the OP was asking for a single-type surface.

jbarnhardt...are you looking for a homogeneous surface (like Formica), or looking for ideas on multiple different types of surfaces?
Mar 07, 2013, 12:14 AM
Registered User
jbarnhardt's Avatar
Gents (I presume) - thanks for all the excellent feedback. Lots of suggestions I hadn't even thought of.

Cityevador - good question, I should have clarified my intent a little more. This work table will be a single type of surface. It sits in the middle of the room and is surrounded on two sides by a hardwood, very sealed workbench that is good for soldering, mold curing, staging stuff, light stationary power tool placement, etc. I also have a CNC machine and larger power tool space in my adjacent garage, so the work table is intended for active fabrication/assembly/staging work. I think my primary goals are relative smoothness (for cutting lightweight composite fabrics without snagging) resistance to liquids/solvents, ease of cleaning and, well, that's about it. Thanks again for the responses.

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Mar 07, 2013, 12:40 AM
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wizard of odd's Avatar
Originally Posted by Norm Furutani
X2 - My bench is covered with a light gray gloss Formica. I clean it with lacquer thinner and you can scape the glues off with a razor.
Exactly why I love mine
Mar 07, 2013, 12:41 PM
B for Bruce
BMatthews's Avatar
If you'll be cutting films and fabrics directly on the table with knives or roller cutters then look at topping the table with a full coverage self healing mat.

That's not the only supplier but it's one which came up first when I did a google.

What you can do is add a shallow lip around the edge that sticks up not quite 1/8 inch. Then the mat is held by the lip. If you want a different surface that is expendable then slip out the cutting mat and replace it with a panel of 1/8 hardboard for painting and glueing and the rest of the stuff. The 1/8 hardboard panel simply gets replaced for cheap when it's seen better days. And that way your cutting board stays clean.

In fact make the lip a little deeper so the hardboard and self healing covers simply be slid out from under and back over top of each other. Less storage issues that way.

I like this last idea enough that it's now my plan for my own rolling work island to be used for covering and other such stuff. I was going to install a self healing mat over the whole top anyway. But I like this idea of being able to switch out a rough work top to protect the cutting mat.
Mar 07, 2013, 12:54 PM
AndyKunz's Avatar
Thick plate glass for assembly.

A large cutting mat for covering.

A small cutting mat for sticks.

An insulation foam for quick work.

Mar 07, 2013, 01:16 PM
cityevader's Avatar
Have the whole table spin on a rotissiere like a James Bond license plate, to access each surface...JK
Mar 07, 2013, 03:13 PM
You know nothing....
Stuart A's Avatar
I use a door,topped with 9 mm fibre board.A roll of 1200 grade lining paper gives me a fresh surface when needed,Also handy for drawing lines for alignment etc- and doodling,making notes etc.I have 6 12"x18" cutting mats arranged in any configuration needed.Also 2 18x24" fibre boards mounted on 2"foam that I use for cutting/assembling small parts while sat at ease in an arm chair.
Mar 08, 2013, 04:15 PM
High Exalted Poohbah
planeman's Avatar
For years I have used a 30 " x 40" heavy (about 1/8" thick) white art board obtainable from art supply stores ( I like the white matte surface to work on, you can cut into it with a razor blade or X-acto knife without dulling them - though I use a small cutting mat when I do cut to save the art board - and you can drive pins into it. When one side gets too messed up I turn it 180 degrees and use the other side. For me, a board lasts 3 to four years. When I buy a new one I place it atop the old one so I can push pins deeper into it.


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