The MFT Workbench Top

January 30, 2024 | 3 min read | By: Len Smith

For most of us, our workbench takes center stage in our workshop. As a flat surface, we rely on it for workholding and stock preparation, glue-ups and assembly, finishing, as well as many other uses.  Workbenches come in many designs and can range from the most basic and utilitarian up to furniture-quality cabinetmakers’ workbenches.  The primary role of a workbench is to provide the craftsman with a stable, dead flat, and secure method of workholding.  Different styles of workbenches may each approach workholding needs in unique ways.  The marketplace also offers many jigs to help with workholding.  No matter what style of workbench we may have in our shop, we will eventually run into gaps in our workholding. 

This article will cover a different approach to the workbench: the MFT workbench. In this article, the term workbench will apply specifically to the workbench top and not the construction of the bench’s underlying structure.  Also, because the origin of the MFT style top flows out of Europe, the measurements will be in metric.  One interesting (and anecdotal) bit of information is that because space is at a premium in Europe, many woodworkers rely on their MFT top along with a track saw and related jigs in place of a table saw.

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What is an MFT Workbench

The term MFT stands for “Multi-function Table.”  The current understanding is that this style of workbench top was first popularized by Festool (Wendlingen, Germany).  The top consists of a precisely uniform grid of 20mm (dog) holes that extend through the top’s surface. The distance between the 20mm holes is 96mm on center.  Tops can range in thickness from 18mm to 24mm.  Overall dimensions of the top can vary, based on need and the desired application. 

Is it possible to implement the MFT-style grid as part of a traditional workbench?  Yes, but there are some cautions.  Traditional workbench tops typically rely on wood such as maple and are thicker.  Drilling the required holes can be exceptionally challenging.

The compelling benefit of this style top is the precise geometry used to create the grid of dog holes.  This provides the craftsman with highly accurate points of reference, as well as a high degree of flexibility when it comes to workholding or the use of related accessories, such as fences, or track saw support, to name a few.

Building an MFT Top

Typically, MFT-style tops are made of MDF or a similar engineered material.  You’re not limited to the use of MDF however, it’s simply an easier material to use.  The thickness of the top is an important consideration, within reason of course. Thicker tops provide more surface area for the seated dog, which ensures there is no lateral flex when the dog is in use and under stress.  Over time, lateral flex can compromise the integrity of the hold resulting in a loose-fitting dog.  While most MFT tops have the 20mm holes arrayed across the entire top, that is not a requirement.

It’s also important to keep in mind how the workbench’s structure supporting the top may intersect with the 20mm grid.  For example, you don’t want a supporting cross brace to overlap a row of holes.    

Building an MFT top requires a high level of precision and care.  As a result, there are several vendors that market products that are specifically designed to help you with the required geometry and the accurate placement of the 20mm dog holes.  A best-in-class solution is sold by TSO Products and is called UJK Parf Guide Drilling System – Mark II.  There are other solutions available as well. Unfortunately, these jigs can be a tad expensive for the casual woodworker, especially since it’s likely to be a one-time-use product.  You can find “how to” videos on social media that show you how to create a DIY jig to help with the required geometry, but that can add additional complexity and risk. 

Once drilled, the 20mm holes are then chamfered to make it easier to insert dogs.  It’s recommended that you chamfer the holes on the underside of the top as well.  This allows you to flip the top over should you get to the point where you need a fresh top – if your workbench design so permits.  Many users recommend that the MDF be sealed with something like a hard wax oil and then a paste wax to help protect the top from damage and make clean-up easier.  If you do that, be sure you treat both sides and take care that the finish doesn’t collect in the dog holes.

Workholding and other Accessories

You will find that several vendors offer a variety of MFT workbench accessories.  I have provided a list to the right of the categories of products you can find, but there is much more.  It’s important to keep in mind that you must purchase accessories that are appropriate for the 20mm dog holes.

You’ll find that most of these accessories are made of high-quality, precision-engineered aluminum or steel and will last a long time.  The downside is that an initial investment can be a bit expensive.

Let Parkerville Make this easy for you!

Why spend all that money and effort to create the MFT top’s grid of holes, when we can produce the required holes with engineering-level accuracy using our CNC router – and – probably for less than you’ll spend on a hole-making jig.  Interested?  Give us a call or stop by the shop and we’d be happy to give you an estimate.

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Do you need help with a woodworking or wood-related project and don’t know where to turn?   We’re here to help.  Whether you’re looking for consultation and advice, want help with design options or you’re simply looking for the right selection of wood for your project, we’re more than happy to assist you.  Need help when it comes to milling or other services?  We can assist you with that as well.

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