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.