The Roulleau Roubo Workbench

Another long overdue reflection:  My workbench.   When I started it, it was a couple of months before Chris Schwarz started (talking about) his Roubo 2010 When I finished, it was a couple of months AFTER he had finished the bench and published his latest workbench book, a follow up to his first book which was used as one of several sources of inspiration for mine.  In the past year, just about everyone and their brother (or sister) has built some version of Monsieur Roubo’s bench (pronunciation guide: Roulleau rhymes with Roubo), including some of these that I took inspiration from:  Shannon Rogers’ (The Renaissance Woodworker) bench from 2010(?), Jameel Abraham’s Bench (see video of Jameel’s Roubo) and may I add, I love the benchcrafted stuff, maybe on my next bench. (although there is the other side of this bench…hmmm).

For those who have not yet built, or want to build another bench:  A lovely pictorial workbench homage from WIA 2011 was put together by Kari Hultman (aka The Village Carpenter), who is about to (is currently?) design and build her own bench, which I’m following with interest, and Marc Spagnuolo (the infamous Wood Whisperer) is about to start a build of the Split-Top Roubo with the guild, a design by Benchcrafted. I’m really looking forward to seeing how guild builders are going to modify their own benches in clever, unconventional ways.

If you want to view these as a slideshow instead of a bunch of images, click ‘view with PicLens’.

 Where to begin: I suppose the way I (think I) built it.

The top:  in 2007, I demolished a small, poorly built circa 1985 addition to my c.1880 house, to make room for a better-built, not to mention bigger addition, with additional basement space for a workshop.  The ceiling had “decorative”  beams 15′ long, not holding anything up, just to match the existing construction.  They were painted, but nothing a planer with some old blades couldn’t handle.  I cut them in half, and cleaned them up.  It seems that a couple of them were fir with nice tight growth rings, and a couple were some other kind of evergreen (spruce, pine, ?) with a much larger rings.  I laminated them in groups of two, then laminated the three of the pairs together. The last pair I left off to route the dog holes.  The member which was routed for dogs, as well as the mating piece were also cutaway to form the ways for the wagon vise.  The ways themselves were formed with a router and chisel.  More on that in a minute…  The end cap was added so that the wagon screw collar would not be putting force on end-grain.   It is a breadboard end (i.e., the top is tenonned and pinned in the end mortises.  However, I wanted to have more than just the draw=bored pins resisting the force of the vice, so I added the double dovetail on the vice-end of the end cap.  This was a little tricky: I had to slide the end cap onto the tenons, off-center, then draw it sideways to seat the pins between the tails, THEN put the pins in.  If the vice ever needs service, I can knock the pins out from below, and take the end-cap off.  Lastly, a groove was routed underneath for the sliding support to slide in.

The wagon vice:  pretty simple, based on a reasonably priced Lie-Nielsen screw, with the fixed collar recessed into the end cap,and held in with some big screws.  The wagon itself is + shaped, basically an ash block with a couple of tenons that ride in matching grooves on the sides.  It is a lamination with a dog hole in it.  Most of the fitting was chisel and plane, test, chisel and plane, … then a nice coating of wax on all bearing surfaces, and a piece of suede on both gripping faces.  Works nicely except for one thing:  When the screw is cranked out, I’ll invariably crash into it and it gives a nasty charlie horse.  The next one will work more like the Benchcrafted, where the nut rides the screw and the handle is captive and can’t stick out too far (actually, the next one will probably just BE a Benchcrafted).  To preempt the question, yes it collects shaving a little, but nothing that stops the vice and can’t be solved with a quick puff of air.

The Base:  All ash, sawed and air-dried from the tree I talked about in my last post.  Each leg is about 4″x5″ made of a lamination of pieces of a 2″ slab from that tree.  The rails are laminations as well from 5/4 boards with a chamfered top edge for the sliding support (and in the future a sliding leg vice) to ride on, and  a rabbet behind that, to support the shelf boards.  The joinery is all M&T and drawbored, solid as a rock, and heavy as the dickens. On the top of each leg, a through  dovetail and tenon was cut, by hand, and then pared for everything to be square to the leg.  And as I recall, I’ve never slept harder than the night after cutting these things.  The shelf is just tongue and groove ash made from cutoffs, not fastened.

Once the base was complete, the layout for joining it to the top involved flipping the whole shebang upside down on some sawhorses, then marking the tenons and dovetails on the underside of the top, flipping the whole thing back and transferring the markings to the top, so I could work from both sides.  Making the mortise and dovetail housing was a little easier, since I could wast away a lot more with a drill and saw before paring it to fit.  When it was done, it fit tightly and required a big ‘convincer’ (hammer) and a lot of dropping onto concrete:  using its own weight, dropping it over and over finally dropped the top snugly onto the legs.  If I ever have to move it, it will come apart into two pieces,  the base and the top.  For final flattening….plane, plane, plane…quite a workout.

The leg vice: A big hunk of ash, with a maple retaining ring to hold the wood screw, and a maple parallel guide.  The nut was dovetailed into the back side of the leg.  The threads were oiled and waxed, as were the threads on the nut.  Spins nicely, and it has a ridiculous capacity, like 15″ or something I’ll never need.

I added a couple of work-holding features: rectangular bench dogs, made of ash with ash springs and suede on the clamping face, holdfast holes with Gramercy Tools holdfasts (an outstanding value), a planing stop, which I added just last week, after reading this from Peter Follansbee, which after I read caused me to slap my head and say ‘Doh’.  (Its so obvious that I can’t believe it took the picture of a pile of shavings NOT in the middle of the bench to demonstrate the value of planing off the end, rather than on the wagon vise end. His is a truly enlightening blog.)  The sliding support was planned from the start, and I mostly use it a a sliding holdfast mount, to clamp against the side face of the top.  I’ll likely add a sliding leg vice to replace, or supplement it.

A couple of tool holding and work accessories round it out:  A Schwarz-inspired French tool rack, though not as pretty as his, made from left over cherry flooring, a place to hang the mallet on the end of the bench, and another Schwarz inspired addition, the Moxon vise which is a real back-saver, and wonderful for cutting dovetails in large case panels.  Mine holds up to 23 1/2″.

The finish:  A few coats of Boiled linseed oil, that’s it, and I’ll probably add a coat or two each year.  In a hundred years, when my kids, kids, kids use it, it should have a nice patina…

Total cost, $70 for the end vice screw, $30-something for the holdfasts, and $45? for the wood threading set.  My favorite part of the bench:  The whorl of the grain on the front face of the top, it’s really hard, …and mesmerizing if you stare at it too long.  Maybe I’ll add a close-up of that later.

My favorite part of the bench:  The whorl of the grain on the front face of the top, it’s really hard, …and mesmerizing if you stare at it too long.  Maybe I’ll add a close-up of that later.