Nov 18, 2013
There is something old-school and familiar about a workbench with a top made of 2" x 8" planks. The planks are nearly black, soaked with oil, and every scar, cut and hole, is a memory of a successful (or unsuccessful) repair.
But some farm shops take workbenches to a higher plain. Some have industrial-style benches with metal legs and metal tops with rolled front edges and a "back splash" along the rear edge. A recent trend I've seen is for farmers to build traditional work benches out of wood, then have a local metal shop form a sheet metal top for the working surface. If you give the metal shop the dimensions of the workbench's top, it's easy to bend the front edge and back so the result is a smooth, durable, flame and spark-proof place to fix things.
Thickness of the tops I've seen vary from 1/8" to 3/16". I've seen a few 1/4"-thick bench tops, and one welding bench that had a top that was 3/8" thick. The 1/8" tops work pretty good for generic shop work, but the 3/16" tops don't dent as easily and "bounce" less when you're hammering on things.
The only potential downside to a metal benchtop is rust. I've seen farm shops that sat idle with the doors open during a humid spring planting season that had benchtops coated with a powdery layer of rust. A quick cure for that is to spray the metal bench top with WD-40, JB-80, FluidFilm or any other rust-cutter and preventative, then wipe it down with a shop towel. The surface will gleam and the oily film will prevent future corrosion. I oil my benchtop at work about once a month, or whenever I take time to actually clear away all the tools, broken parts and other debris, and actually tidy up my work area.
Uh--now that I think about it, let's just say I oil my benchtop semi-annually.