I’ve often thought, especially while browsing some of the beautiful workbench projects that have been posted here, that building a masterpiece of a workbench is truly a rite of passage for a woodworker.
I’ve been into woodworking for a few years now, with practically no background in the trade, and am self taught. (Save for 6 months of shop class back in grade 8.) I started out mostly as a power tool woodworker, but as i’m trying to achieve better results, I have been moving more and more towards hand tools.
To say the least, working with hand tools is a pleasure. Woodworking is my hobby, my shop is the place I go to melt away the stresses of daily life, and do something I truly enjoy. Making shavings with a plane, and making dust with a handsaw is as close to zen as it gets for me.
However, as I hone my craft and get further into hand tools, I have quickly found the limitations of my current work bench. Built years ago, when it wasnt really intended for wood working, it was made out of 2×4s and ply wood. It stands 42” tall (I’m 6’2) and 8 feet long by 3 feet wide, and I thought it was a great height for working on mechanical projects, rebuilding motors etc., and it is! But what is sucks at is woodworking. Its too high to plane on, it doesnt have much work holding ability, and it takes up way to much valuable realestate in my shop. For this reason, I have decided to make the journey and commit to a good workbench that I can use over the years to enjoy countless hours in the shop.
I chose the roubo for a number of reasons. Firstly, it just looks good. It’s a fine looking bench and I wouldnt mind showing it off to my friends and neighbours. While looks arent everything, I just find it to be an attractive looking bench. Secondly, I like the solid heaviness, the co-planar front and rear, the work holding ability (leg vise with sliding deadman, dog holes and tail vice and holdfasts.
The first part of this process is deciding what you want. I wanted a bench that would end up being 6 feet long ( I just don’t have the space for anything bigger), 20 inches wide, 34 inches tall, with a 4” thick top.
The second part is finding the wood. It’s easy to go down to the mill and order up about 100 board feet of Rock maple. Just plonk down the credit card and about a thousand dollars later, walk out with what you need. Unfortunately, I don’t have that kind of budget. Therefore, I took to Kijiji (Aka Craigslist for Canadians) and found a fellow advertising “20 boards of maple and oak – good for countertops $200” The guy lived about 10 miles away so it was worth the drive. I talked him down to $120 and walked away with this:
It was about 50-50 red oak and hard maple. The maple was mostly 8/4 and anywhere for 6 inch wide to 14 inch wide, and a few 4/4 planks. The oak was mostly 4/4 with just 2 8/4. I decided to make the top out of maple, and the legs out of oak.
After a few weeks of sitting in the garage acclimatizing, it was time to start milling them down to shape.
I laid out the maple to figure out where the cuts needed to go:
Then I started to cut them to size with my table saw. The 8/4 hard maple was seriously tough stuff and put my poor Rigid table saw through its paces. Think i’ll need a new blade after that lot tho.
In the above picture, you can see my invaluable rip sled, which allows me to get a nice straight edge with which to start sawing to size. I line up the board on it and take off just as much as necessary to get a straight edge. Also in the picture is a nice hunk of walnut, which i’m considering using as the chop for the leg vice. It will look great, but not sure if the walnut is hard enough for the application.
After a hard day of milling (Did i mention that this hard maple is seriously heavy stuff!), I ended up with the boards to make a top. Clamped together i’m at just over 22 inches, however, I think I will lose that when I joint the faces for glue up.
Now, of course, the maple has some flaws, a few knot holes and a few surfaces that ended up with a bit of the live edge (which will end up on the bottom), I supppose they will end up filled with epoxy… any suggestions on that front?
As you can see there are a fair bit of blade burns. Unfortunately, the weight of that maple was making my saw sway pretty good, it was also windy out on the driveway which wasnt helping, but this is the first clear and warm day we’ve had in months. That should all disappear once the boards have had a few passes over with a jointer.
Hope to get some time this week to start jointing the surfaces. With all that work, I threw my back out and and currently laid out on the floor with the heating pad (which is good in the sense that I have time to blog about the build).
Anyways, I hope you enjoy following along! Cheers!
-- Will, Ontario Canada. "I can do fast, cheap and good, but you can only pick two... "