Workbench

Workbench Wednesday (a day late) — Bench #11 (2014), Portable Bench 2.0, Part 1

I guess it says something about the nature of life in the hinterlands, I literally did not remember that yesterday was Wednesday and posted the wrong thing. — DCW

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At GroopShop 2014, which I hosted, the program included BillR and me building him a high performance portable workbench similar to my Workbench #2.  The portable bench is strictly a power tool project, for the most part I used my cordless power tools, a pneumatic crown stapler and white glue.

This bench has several improvements over the original, and on Workbench #21(?) I take the concept even further in several respects.

One of the primary modifications for this bench was to extend the length to a full five feet rather than the earlier four foot length, we kept the two-foot width.  This not only provided a larger work station BillR needed for his project but also made the alignment of the legs much simpler.  They simply abutted each other at their feet when folded as opposed to being off-set so they could be folded side-by-side in the initial effort.  We used Tom’s bench as the platform for building this one, it was perfectly flat and the same size as what we wanted.

Another change was moving to 1/4″ thick ribs rather than 3/8.”  The 1/3 reduction in rib thickness had no effect on the strength, that was all the result of the web height for the rib.  So now the whole thing could be made from a sheet of 1/4″ baltic birch and a few pieces of 1/2″.  I ripped the faces using my cordless saw and a straightedge, then ripped all the ribstock from the remainders.

The perimeter was still made from 1/2″ b.b., with the ends doubled since I wanted to make this retrofit-able with twin screws vises.  I pre-drilled the holes for the eventual tapping before I began assembly.The half inch edge stock made it simple to use a crown stapler to assemble the outer edges and make whole thing simple to build.

I also pre-drilled the holes for the vise screws to pass through the ribs.

We dry-fit all the ribs and were ready for assembling the top.  The last step before that was to mark the location of all the ribs on the underside of the face.

More next week.

(Thanks to JoshuaK for all the preceding pictures.)

Workbench Wednesday – #10 (2013) FORP Bench, Assembled and at Work

With a little logistical cogitation my pal John and I, both 60-somethings and neither of us mesomorphs, managed to maneuver the 300+ pound top of the French Oak Roubo Project workbench out into the light.  Immediately I was struck by both the magnificence of the 240(?) year old white oak slab, and the waney void adjacent to a glue line on the underside of it.  I suppose at one time I was just going to leave it as-is, an admittedly foggy memory going back four years, but given that one of the leg mortises needed to go right through the flawed region I decided instead to fill it.  I could have grafted in another piece of oak but instead fell back on a tried-and-true method of repair that I have employed several times in the past as it was especially well suited for a repair of this size.

I first sized (primed) the margins of the effected area with standard West System epoxy, thinned about 25% with acetone to get deep penetration.  One of the reasons for any potential epoxy failures, whether in adhesion, consolidation or filling, is that the epoxy does not penetrate adequately to knit the entire construct together nicely.  What then often happens also is that the differences between the high density inelastic epoxy and the less dense, much more elastic wood, may result in a fracture at their margin when they are intimately bound together in a cyclic stressful environment.  The diluted epoxy addresses the first of these problems, the filling of epoxy with large wood flakes addresses the second.

 

In this case I ran a scrap of oak through the power planer to yield the typically large shavings you would expect from the machine.  I took handfuls of these shavings and packed them down into the void that had been previously primed with the thinned epoxy.

I then drizzled un-thinned epoxy on top of the wood flakes, then sprinkled on more shavings and packed them again through some wax paper.  I left the entire fill to harden overnight.

An additional feature of fills like this is that when the volume is large enough, the exothermic reaction of the epoxy hardening causes the adhesive to actually boil in place, aerating the  fluid as it hardens and reducing further the density of the hardened fill.  This is a very good thing.

The resulting repair is much closer in density to the wood, thus reducing the risk of a system fracture at their interface, and yields a repair that can be easily smoothed with a rasp or Surform tool.

The success of the repair can be clearly seen in the edges of the mortises I drilled and pounded through the slab and the repair.  It held together wonderfully and had working properties nearly identical to the adjacent oak.

When I set aside the oak Roubo bench 4+ years ago it was still quite  ways from being done.  The leg tenons were all cut, but only two of the dovetailed mortises and none of the rectangular mortises, so clearly a lot of drilling and chopping was in store.  There was nothing exceptional about the task or process other than it required flipping the top a couple of times to get the job done.  The last two dovetailed open mortises took about an hour to knock out.

Drilling and chopping the closed mortises went smoothly.  For three of the four.  And the fourth?  Grrrrr!  For some inexplicable reason I switched from a Forstner-style bit to a long auger bit for my drill, and it went astray.  Not just astray but bound tighter than a drum and would not move forward or backward (a theme that was not yet fully played out).  After a lot of fussing and fuming I was eventually forced to drive it through the other face using my sledge hammer.  Sheer brute force.  I was reminded of my late friend Mel Wachowiak’s quip, “With enough force you can pull he tail off a living cow.”  Or drive a 7/8 auger bit through an inch of solid oak.

This blew out a chunk of the face adjacent to the mortise, leaving me less cheery than you might expect, my anger being tempered only by the fact that all this damage took place on the underside of the slab. An hour later I had knitted together all the splintered wood and glued it back in place to leave overnight.  In the end it was a patience-expanding experience.

The good news is that the repaired place (epoxy and shavings filled) held up perfectly when chopping the mortise in that area.  The repair felt just like the adjacent wood and held a nice crisp corner with no chipping or fracture.

So now the mortises were all done and seemed to provide a nice snug fit, and I was looking forward to driving the legs home in the morning.

Oh, about that…

I was eagerly anticipating installing the legs after having it wait on me for more than fours years.  The joinery was all done, the repairs completed, and all looked well.  The first few whacks on the bottom of the legs (the bench was upside down) produced pleasing results, and flipped the bench over the finish driving them home from the top.

A few good moments of movement, then, nothing.  No mount of persuasion would budge the legs any more than about halfway in.  Even with my 12 lb. sledge nothing was moving.  On any of the four legs.  So I tried driving them back out to fiddle with the joint shoulders.  Nothing happened.  No matter how hard I beat on it.  A cold clammy sweat began prickling me all over.

Then a stroke of genius came down.  How about if I used a hydraulic bottle jack and placed it under the bridge between the two balconies with a 6×6 post filling the excess space?  I practically dislocated something patting myself on the back for that one.

The first attempts revealed the propensity for the jack force to lift up the bridge beams.  No big deal, I just cut 4×4 spacers to fit between the top of the bridge beams and the barn frame, essentially bringing the entire weight of the barn into the equation.

I began to have some results as I levered the 12-ton jack and could hear and see the legs creeping into their mortises.  Then I started hearing creaks from places far away, and rapidly backed off when I realized that the process was literally inflicting enough force to potentially tear the barn apart.

This episode opened an avenue for contemplation.  Namely, how about constructing a frame to capture both the feet of the legs and the hydraulic jack against the slab top?

Brilliant! sez I, and I set about making one such device from oak 6x6s and framing 2x4s.  I placed the lower 6×6 cross piece underneath the feet at one end of the bench and captured the bottle jack with the other 6×6 above the slab.  Good concept, poor execution.  The corners were pinned with 1/4″ lag bolts, which almost immediately bent to such a degree that the unit was not functional.

For the next iteration I ripped a pile of surplus 3/4″ CDX plywood into 5″ wide strips, the fashioned them into a more robust frame what was three pieces for the stiles and seven pieces for the beams, all glued and screwed with four 1/2″ carriage bolts holding each corner together.

I held my breath as I maneuvered the bench and the frame to their respective locations, placed the bottle jack directly over one of the legs  with a metal bar at the top to transfer the force to the frame and started pumping the lever arm.  The results were almost immediate and immensely gratifying as I worked my way around the bench from leg to leg.  With each new stroke of the handle the legs would be driven into the mortises about 3/16.”  In about 30 minutes I had all four legs seated and a huge note of thanks for the person who invented the portable hydraulic jack.

At “peak compression” I noted that even the seven-layer beam deflected almost a half inch due to the force.

Finally the bench was on its feet, with zero wobble and clearly no need for glue in the joints.  I installed the stretchers and the shelf, and having already completed the game of Tetris required to move it where it was going and the six steps of moving other things to make it happen, including four other workbenches to new locations,  with two 8-foot workbenches being hoisted to the fourth floor, and the 450 lb. FORP bench slid easily to its new home.

Some day I will finish all the details, but for now I am too busy using it to stop and do that.

Workbench Wednesday – #10 (2013) FORP Bench, The Making

As we tried to acclimate to the choking heat of July in south Georgia the work on our individual Roubo benches took hold.  With the slab tops readied by the monster Stratoplaner machine that surfaced all four sides, it was now incumbent on us (me) to glue two of the slabs together to make the top.  Unlike the rest of the crew who chose the mega jointer and PVA for any gluing they needed I worked with a hand plane and hot hide glue.

 

By the next morning I had a complete slab ready for trimming to the right dimension.  I must say that operating a 16″ circular saw is a pretty unforgettable experience.

Then it was on to giant joinery, all of the time.  Working with Jeff Miller, he and I created a sled jig to cut the dovetailed leg tenons on a giant bandsaw, reducing the time for producing that from a few hours to a couple minutes.

Otherwise the leg-top tenons were simply a matter of sawing and chopping.  My old faithful tulipwood mallet was up to the task.

By the third day things were looking positive for getting the unit up on its feet before the week ended.  Once again I took a different tack than the others when it came to the stretchers.  I inset dovetailed stretchers into the surface of the legs rather than the mortise and tenon route, and idea I gleaned from Bob Lang’s video on his modern workbench.  By the end of the day I had the legs all fitted together and was ready for chopping the mortises through the top, which I was set to begin in the morning.

That’s when disruption occurred.

Thursday morning I awoke with my right eye badly inflamed, and told my housemates Raney and Chris that I needed to find an eye doctor.  Right now.   That eye is my more “at risk” of the pair, having undergone at that point 19 surgical procedures according to Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and inflammation was absolutely an enemy.  (The history of that eye proves to me that I’ve got backbone, having gone through all those surgeries and being asleep for only one of them.  Nothing proves your stones quite like complying with, “Now Mr. Williams, hold your head very still and stare straight ahead without blinking while I cut into your eye with this scalpel.  You’ll feel a little sting.” Yeah, that shows your stuff.  Well, that and once facing down a drunk with a gun.)  Thanks to Chris’ smart phone we found a surgical/eye clinic about thirty miles away that could see me “immediately” and thanks to Raney’s generosity in setting aside his own day of working on the bench he drove me there for the appointment.  It took much of the day to undergo the examination (they found no foundational cause for the inflammation) and after getting some medication we headed back to the shop for the end of the day.

Needless to say my heavy work for the week was finished, having lost the entire Thursday to cultivating the screaming headache that hung on into Friday.  I wanted to get back home ASAP to let my own eye doctors on Monday take a look so I spent Friday morning packing up and hit the road that afternoon.  By Saturday afternoon I was back at the barn, having arranged with a friend to bring some of his bubba buddies to help me unload the bench top.  They were ribbing me about needing hep for moving the top, until they set their beers aside and picked it up.  Their grunts and curses soon quieted their ridicule.

The pieces of the bench were ensconced in the barn and remained essentially untouched for more than three years until I could return to it and finish it up.

And they never did find out what riled up my eye.  Sometimes the meat machines we live inside of just get cantankerous.

Workbench Wednesday – #10 (2013) FORP Bench, The Wood!

The stage and setting for the 2013 French Oak Roubo Project workbench build has been covered like a blanket around the woodworking bogosphere so I do not need to address it again here.  Just do a search for “french oak roubo project” in your favorite surveillance vehicle/search engine and you will get a multitude of responses, probably somewhere north of 25,000 citations including blogs from about a half dozen of the participants including me.  Now I’ll spend a couple of posts discussing the making of the bench, then one on the using of it.

Our raw material was oak harvested from France following the catastrophic Christmas ice storm of 1999, which destroyed over 10,000 trees in the forests around Versailles alone.  The trees were harvested and the lumber placed in storage, eventually purchased and exported to the US by entrepreneur Bo Childs, our host for the event who in concert with Jameel Abraham made it available to us.  The most mature trees were likely alive even during the lifetime of Roubo himself, and some amatuer dendrochronology on at least one of the slabs put the seedling of the giant timber back to the Napoleanic era.  Safe to say that none of us had ever encountered lumber like this before.  These imported slabs measured up to sixteen feet long, two feet wide and six inches thick.

Soon enough on that sweltering July week we were coordinating into teams preparing the stock for the battle ahead.  The end point?  Slab topped benches made from almost 250-year old white oak, weighing in at about 500 pounds.  Impressive.  Fortunately thanks to his business Bo had the full range of machinery on hand, ranging from the forklifts needed to move these half-ton slabs around and the bandsaw mill to render them into rough slabs.

Beyond the material handling aspects, Wyatt Childs, Inc, possessed stock preparation capacity beyond anything I had ever seen outside of a full-scale furniture factory.

Before you knew it we all had slabs and legs roughed out, ready for us to get to work.  Mine is the one farthest from the camera.

Workbench Wednesday – #9 (2013/1890?) A Pale Imitation of H.O. Studley

By 2013 the Henry Studley Express was roaring down the rails, building steam and speed with every day.  I was  driving on long trips to visit the original collection, other examples of similar benches and vises, and compiling research apace.  I was almost at the saturation point when, on my birthday, I was contacted by a professor of furniture design who had a piano makers’ workbench that had outlived its usefulness for his work and he was considering selling it.  That made for a very fine birthday!  He had purchased the bench at a “going out of business” liquidation sale at a piano factory in the early 80s.  From what he said, he thought the factory had been there since the 1890s.  For years he had worked in designing hand-made furniture but in recent projects he was gravitating towards machine-made/manufactured furniture so his shop was transitioning to reflect these new interests.

We engaged in several rounds of correspondence as the portrait of the bench was clarified, and my interest in it grew by leaps and bounds.  Eventually we arrived at a sale price we could live with.  Three months after our first conversation I made the trek to upstate New York and picked it up.  The drive home was so filled with delight and anticipation that it seemed to take a week to get there, but in reality it was not even a particularly long day of driving.

The bench was a modular unit; take off the vises and separate the base from the top and it was a manageable move by myself using a hand truck.  In just a few minutes after arriving home it was ensconced in the barn.

Studying the disassembled bench confirmed my premise that for the most part it was a manufactured work station, probably through the catalog from an unidentified industrial supplier.  The base was a run of the mill cabinet that was cranked out for industrial and educational institutions by the tens of thousands, to be paired with a bench top of the buyer’s choice.  Did the options include vises? I do not know.  The top gives every indication of the same context, but is unmarked regarding its manufacturer.

Further, my investigation only heightened the mystery  about piano makers’ vises; this pair, like all the others I have seen, was devoid of any manufacturer’s identifying marks.  They were a pretty standard pair for this type of ensemble — a typical face vise that opens 15 inches and an end vise with an integral dog.

The bench has clearly had a lifetime of very hard use and was/is in dire need of a thorough restoration.  That remains on the menu for this winter. But then, it was on the menu for last winter, too.  At this point my goal is to install a new work surface on top of the well-worn extant one, getting the vises polished and perhaps plated (I located a nickel plating shop in Richmond, and Studley’s vises were nickel plated, so as an homage I must also, mustn’t I?) and making new bench dogs for those that are missing.  I wonder what the odds are that the new dogs will be spring-loaded ebony blocks.

For now the bench serves well for students in the classroom but after the restoration I suspect it might get moved.

Workbench Wednesday – #8 (2012) The Planing Beam

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of a beefy planing beam ever since I learned of the concept by Toshio Odate in his book Japanese Woodworking Tools.  With the advent of the barn becoming a reality I knew early on I wanted one here too, albeit slightly modified to fit my work.  In 2007 with the barn en route I went to a sawmill and bought a number of large SYP timbers to use if necessary during the assembly and erection of the barn, but the barn broker included several surplus timbers from his inventory so I wound up with a pile of mondo timbers that were partly seasoned by the time I was able to make the planing beam in 2012.

My starting point was one of the 8-foot southern yellow pine 8x10s from the pile.  Since I had none of the industrial scale machinery needed to handle the work piece I just put it up on my bench and started to make it square, flat, and straight by using hand planes.  It was heavy enough to stay in place all by itself, and hand planing was a real workout.

Coincident with that was making some half-trestles to place it on when it got finished.  The tail ends of the fixtures were fastened to the wall and the dovetailed legs simply sat on the floor.

 

The beam itself just sits in place on top of a pair of anti-skid pads, needing not much else to stay in place.

I soon added some planing stops, first in the form of counter-sunk screws then with a rising dog at the end, made for scraps of tongue-and-groove flooring, and put the tool to work.  Visitors from near and far came to see it in action.

It was/is a crazy simple but high-performance work accessory, and if push came to shove I could probably get by with just this (I have also added some holes of holdfasts).  It turns out I rarely need to use it to its fullest, but it would be perfect for its function at whatever length I might need.

The only downside is that a timber this massive needs occasional care as it continues to equilibrate to the environment as it seasons.  A local tradition here in the mountains is that lumber needs one year of seasoning for the first inch, an additional two years for the second inch, and so forth.  By that rubric this beam should be pretty well settled in another three decades.  In the mean time I need to touch it up every couple of years with a fore plane and a toother..

Workbench Wednesday – #7 (2011) Roubo Sawing Bench

In great part due to the rapidly forming manuscript for To Make As Perfectly As Possible – Roubo On Marquetry and the number of my essays describing the seemingly arcane practices of 18th Parisian workshops, in 2011 I built a slightly diminutive (2/3 scale) version of Roubo’s sawing bench as illustrated in Plate 278, Figures 10 and 11.  The dimensions for my version were determined by the space in my basement workshop; I now wish I had made it full sized.  Doing so would have doubled the mass of the bench, and in this instance mass is really the only important thing.  The construction was real meatball woodworking, I simply fit and fastened together 4×6 tulip poplar stock then drilled holes for the vise screws all the way through the top horizontally.  For the female threads I simply used the wooden vise nuts that came with the threaded screws.

This workbench has only one purpose and function, to hold a work piece firmly while it is being resawn.  What we found immediately in battle was that the bench vise did a fine job of holding the work piece in its jaws tightly.  Unfortunately the bench was simply too light to perform well in action as the whole thing danced around the shop with every saw stroke.  The only way we could get it to work was placing anti-skid pads underneath each leg and then loading it up with as much weight as was handy.  Currently this sawing bench is the storage home for several hundred pounds of fire bricks I keep handy.

Roubo alludes to this problem himself, extolling the virtues of massive weights being stored on or under the bench to hold it steady, or even more likely bolting the entire unit to floor.  In my old basement shop this made no sense on the concrete floor in a tiny space, it makes more sense now that I have wooden floors and lots of them.

Most recently I used the saw bench during my demo at Working Wood in the 18th Century at Colonial Williamsburg, employing an attendee as my stabilizing weight.  In preparation for that demo, and in response to my having cannibalized the unit to use the original vise screws on other benches, I made new screws and screw nuts with my Bealle threading unit.

I cannot say I have used this bench enough to become facile at resawing veneer, the best I can do is about eight leaves per inch.  Only time will tell if I ever get to the point where I can saw a dozen leaves to the inch like the old timers, but if I do this bench or one like it will be part of the equation.

Workbench Wednesday – A Detour

Before I move forward to discuss the next workbench in my inventory let me be diverted to discuss the retro-fitting of a previous bench, my Smithsonian Roubo, such that its location, role and function in the studio are completely new and immensely more valued.  Over time the bench had come to occupy the end of the classroom space, primarily because it was the only bench I had that could fit there.  It was not really large enough to suffice as a student bench for workshops so instead I employed it primarily for metal-working type projects including saw making and sharpening, hardware mounting, parts fabrication, etc.  (sorry for the lousy picture; I had already removed the leg vise for another bench, replacing it here with a Record 53)

When I recently removed the generic end vise and mounted instead the ~125 lb.  Emmert Universal Vise in its place, one piece of a convoluted equation began to take shape.  I knew the vise needed a robust platform and this little-used bench performs the function perfectly.

A second element in this equation was expanding the work space on the side of the barn housing my shop; I reorganized it so that my own shop would extend an additional nine feet to include the full footprint of the 14′ x 36′ bay in the timber frame.  (Of course that meant that I needed more workbenches there.  Stay tuned on that one.)

A third component in the equation was a beloved niece-in-law had expressed an interest in learning woodworking (actually I have four beloved nieces-in-law, but this is one in particular).  The odds are pretty good the second of the petite Roubos I built originally for my Handworks booth would eventually end up in their apartment.  So, I removed it from the critical space it occupied adjacent to my third child before it became too disruptive to do so.  I moved that little bench down into the newly opened space, for the time being.

Since nature abhors a vacuum something needed to go into that space previously occupied by the petite Roubo.  Hmm, I really did like having a metalworking-ish bench in the middle of my herd of woodworking benches…  Palm, meet forehead.  Soon I had the old, almost extraneous Roubo bench relocated, revived and recommissioned, sitting where it will be used daily.  I removed the second vise and stocked the space underneath with a lot of my mechanicky tools.

I have additional plans for this bench which I will chronicle when they unfold.

Here is a gallery of the Emmert Universal Vise showing off its moves.

Workbench Wednesday — #6 (2011) A Vise-less Roubo

Almost coincident with my previous Roubo this much more successful bench was built in the barn, using surplus SYP timbers from the barn itself.  The barn floor plan had been reconfigured from its days as a dairy barn so there were several pieces of unused timber available for new projects like this bench.

From the outset I made the objective that this bench would be the simplest possible, big slab, big legs, no vises relying instead on holdfasts.

Since we were not yet living in the Highlands the schedule of the bench project depended on my periodic visits to work on and in the barn.

The almost 6-inch-thick slab was glued up on an unseasonably warm January day when we were able to get the shop space up to almost 50 degrees with my two kerosene heaters.

The next session of working the slab was less than a month later when the outside temperatures were near single digits, and we were barely able to crack freezing in the space.

In another three weeks it was mild enough to work in shirt sleeves.  Ahh, weather in the mountains.

Once the top was dimensioned and the mortises cut and chopped, the leg tenons were worked with the pieces being held in my Emmert K1.  The legs were tulip poplar timbers left over from who knows what project, measuring 6″ x 8″.

Soon it was time to sledge home the leg tenons into the top mortises.

I added oversized stretchers and left the bench pretty much like this, in use, for another couple of years.

Eventually I spent the time on the final flattening of the top and filled its voids to make it a first-class working surface.  It was not smooth but I didn’t really care about that as long as it was flat.

Immediately after that I sealed the whole bench with thinned varnish/tung oil mix.  That really emphasized the cross-hatch pattern employed during the flattening process.

Once the sealant had hardened I toothed the entire top and pushed it up against the window and it remained there until last summer, when it was relocated to the other end of the shop where it still serves as my primary finishing station.

This was my first truly massive bench, so heavy I can barely move one end of it at a time.  I love the thick slab top but the legs are a little too large and the stretchers are just ridiculous.  With a re-do I would reduce the legs to more like 6″x 4″ and the stretchers to 3″ or 4″ wide at the most.

And, a bench without clamping vises works just fine, thank you very much.

 

 

 

Workbench Wednesday – Opus #5 (2011) my first “Roubo”

In the title Roubo is in quotation marks because this bench was not strictly a Roubo, it was more Roubo-lite.

2011 was a turning point in my bench mania.  In the preceding quarter century I had built or salvaged only four benches.  From 2011 forward, inclusive, my inventory grew by more than a dozen.  To be sure, going from a home basement workshop footprint of slightly over 200 sq.ft. to one closer to 7,000 s.f. in The Barn probably had something to do with it, but the truth is I was simply becoming increasingly fascinated with workbenches and vises, and now had the time and space to indulge that fascination.

My first personal encounter with a Roubo bench was back in the 80s when I got to test Rob Taruleh’s bench at an event where we were both speaking.  It was intriguing but I was not then in a place to give it a go.

By around 2004/5 my successes and seniority at the SI allowed for my daily activities to become almost entirely self-directed; as long as I was productive within a broad framework of organizational priorities, did not ask for too much money to spend on my projects, and was not a trouble maker my daily activities were in great part at my own discretion.  I made certain not to abuse this freedom, I remained productive in my scholarship, projects and publishing, I obtained almost all of my discretionary funding via external collaborators, and bit my tongue on a regular basis.  (This last one was my biggest hurdle — Mrs. Barn says that one of my greatest challenges is that I am generally unsuccessful in hiding my contempt for knuckleheads and grifters).

Despite a sufficient number (4) of top-of-the-line German workbenches populating the furniture conservation studio I occupied for almost three decades at the Smithsonian Institution, my growing involvement with L’Art du Menuisier combined with the incessant evangelizing of Chris Schwarz compelled me to give the Roubo workbench a try in my own daily work space.

This is a fairly long-winded exposition as to why I made this Roubo-ish bench, it was because I wanted to.  Even then I did not cause any waves using only surplus materials laying around the storeroom or my conservation studio, or in the case of the legs from my pile at home.

By 2011 with the Roubo franchise building a head of steam I felt it was time to experiment with the form, but not really go whole hog.  Instead I took a couple days and built a Roubo-“ish” bench that was a so-so success.  My starting point was a five-foot-long slab of laboratory counter top (missing one corner) that was about to be sent to the dumpster.  Since it was only 2″ thick I backed it with a piece of 3/4″ plywood (yes, I knew even then this could be problematic, but thought I could get by with it being inside a tightly climate controlled space; little did I know that within two years I would go from climate control to climate, and lots of it) and grafted on another piece to fill the corner.

I also made the mistake of cutting the dovetailed tenons through the top at 45-degrees.  In more recent work I have stayed with 60-degrees.

Once the unit was assembled I flattened the undulating top with a fore plane and a jointer, before finally surfacing it with a toother.

For the leg vise I used a vintage vise screw I had in my collection, but made the movable jaw out of some oak that was laying around.

For the next almost-two-years this was my everyday workbench and I liked it a fair bit, and it provided the validation I needed to develop my experience even further. It was a little too small and lightweight, issues that have been addresses in subsequent models.

When I departed the Smithsonian they had no interest in keeping this workbench for the furniture conservation studio so I just loaded it up with all my stuff and took it to The Barn.  Soon enough the unregulated climate there wreaked its havoc on the composite top, crowning it almost a half inch.  With a little time and a scrub plane this was resolved.  It has remained pretty flat over the past three years.

The bench is too small and unrefined for my work now, although it is in the inventory.  It’s at the end of the classroom, and at the moment I have it set up with a Moxon vise on top for saw sharpening and making.  The leg vise was removed, being both in the way and needed for another project.