Workbench end caps: Bad idea?

Though European workbenches commonly feature caps over the ends of the worktop material, these may hinder natural movement of the wood on this side of the Atlantic.

by Professor Gene Wengert

I am at the design/layout stage for building European style cabinet maker's workbenches for use in my custom furniture shop. My design draws from several published designs, all of which include end caps for the bench top slab which are either splined or dovetailed, and glued across the end grain of the bench top. This type of construction flies in the face of all I have learned about allowing for wood movement, yet the design is common for this type of bench. Should I consider an alternate design for this detail of the bench construction? The bench material is hard maple.

The idea of end caps is indeed a bad idea in North America where we have wide humidity (and therefore wood MC) extremes. Our use of central heating is a real problem. However, recognizing that drying out (and shrinkage) is often a bigger problem than rewetting (and swelling), if the wood is very dry (6.0% MC), you will have less of a problem. But the best idea is to only fasten the spline in the center and let it float along its length on each side.

Professor Gene Wengert is Extension Specialist in Wood Processing at the Department of Forestry, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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