I received an email this morning asking if I feel it’s a good idea to use a toothing plane on a bench top. I was slightly unsure of the intent at first but soon realised that this was a question of roughing up your bench top to increase the friction. Yes absolutely, I think that increasing grip on your top is a great idea although I’ve never gone about it with a toothing plane.
Holding work is one of the main functions of your workbench and we go to great lengths to keep it still with tail vices, bench stop, holdfasts etc. Having a perfectly smooth and waxed bench top works against all of these attempts and whilst it’s prettier and good at repelling glue a nice shiny surface will only help your work to go shooting across the workshop every time your plane looks at it!
I always create extra friction and my method is to simply finish the flattening process with a heavy cross grain pass using a slightly cambered iron. Going across the grain like this creates a surprising amount of texture and roughness to the surface and once finished the top is protected enough to repel spillages of glue but remains nice and ‘grippy’.
I got the idea for this after noticing some obvious tooling marks across the top of an old workbench which suggested it had been finished in a similar manner. I couldn’t say if the technique has ever been widely used as this bench may have been the exception but I liked the theory and decided to give it a try. I felt it had a very positive effect on the bench top and as a bonus its very easy to recreate when the top needs to be re-flattened or cleaned up – I find that unless the top’s moved to some extreme it can be re-flattened at least a couple of times by just taking the cross grain passes.
As for a toothing plane, I can imagine this would work very well for roughing things up, even more so than the method I currently use. It would maybe look a little odd though and my concern would be that the ridges would make for rather quick and uneven wear over the surface leading to a more frequent need to flatten. Mostly though I find it hard to imagine how you could clean up spillages or tiny fillings with any ease (I tend to sharpen saws at my workbench). I’m always wiping glue and finishes off my bench top and this would be pretty awkward if it’s embedded in ridges. I expect a toothing plane would give a perfectly rough surface but perhaps the benefits could be short lived.
The result from my method isn’t so obvious but I feel it gives all of the texture needed and I know that it’s made a difference because often a customer will enquire to why they’re bench top isn’t as smooth as the rest. If you’re looking to add friction then my recommendation would be to cross grain plane it – this gives a great result without any real negatives.
It would of course be interesting to hear if anyone has used a toothing plane and if so how do you find the results? Are any other top roughening methods out there or do you even feel its necessary to take this extra step?