Building a roubo workbench in my apartment #1: Making the top

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Blog entry by brklnguy posted 02-15-2010 07:04 AM 23044 reads 16 times favorited 27 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Building a roubo workbench in my apartment series no next part

I never want to hear anyone complain about their shop… anything has to be better than a tiny living room in a 400sqft apartment.

This is my first project with hand tools. I worked as a cabinetmaker for 6 years, and then moved to NYC 3 years ago and changed careers. I’ve been wanting to get back into building furniture, and after a few months of reading everything Chris Schwartz has written and pretty much every other hand tool blog on the internet, I feel like I know everything about handplaning without ever even using one. :-)

I bought a LV LA jack plane, a LV LA block plane, a whole pile of sharpening supplies, I love the LV MKII sharpening jig. I watched ebay for a few weeks, and got some pretty good deals on a few planes and and saws.

I have a 7’ space in between the kitchen and the living room that I can put a bench, and after getting approval from the wife, I decided to build a 6’ roubo with a leg vise. I plan on putting a 7” quick release vise on the end later.

There’s no southern yellow pine in NYC, but I picked some up when we were in Georgia for Christmas. The top is made from 4 2×12 x12’ ripped in half and cut to 6’. The legs are pressure treated 6×6’s and the lower rails are treated 4×6’s. All the wood was under $120.

So far, I think the single hardest part about building a bench is building it without a bench. I decided to build it without using any power tools, just so I would get some experience. I have nothing against power tools, I just want to see how they used to do it…

this step took the most time, I cleaned up every glued face to get rid of the cupping and milling marks. I really missed the thickness planer for this, its easy to get each face flat, it’s a little trickier to get them parallel.

this is an old saw I got for $5 on ebay, I think it’s from an old miter saw… it seems like the length makes it cut really fast.

pre-drilling the holes for the nails that keep everything lined up for the glue up. Got the drill for $5 on ebay

Gluing up, I left gaps now to make mortises, I think this will save a lot of time later.

I wish I could have had at least 4 more clamps

Glue up #2, 4 boards at a time, any more and the glue on the first board would be dry before the clamps get put on.

The Veritas low angle jack plane with the A2 blade. I can’t say enough about this guy, the only trouble I had was edge retention with the stock 25deg blade. I went up to 30 and it helped a lot, but it still kept chipping. I finally sharpened the micro bevel to 35 and I could plane all day without having to sharpen and without any chipping.

Final glue up, if I would have kept everything lined up better, it would have saved a lot of time later when I had to flatten it.

Flattening the top… The LA jack can take paper thin shavings as well as thick, almost 1/16” shavings.

this is where I wish I had a bench or some saw horses, it’s hard on your back to plane a top thats only 20” off the ground.

I don’t know how I ever got my wife to let me do this in the living room, but I don’t think she expected this… lol.

you can see the low spot I accidentally made in the top during the glue up.

The finished top surface, once I get the leg tenons through the top, I’ll hit the whole thing with a smoother.

I got this #7 on ebay with 5 other planes for $40… It took a little work to fix it up, and about 2 hours to flatten the back on my diamond stone, but now it’s a keeper. I’ve never used a bedrock or a LN, but I don’t know how they could do any better of a job…

notice the clamps that brace the top against the wall, I had to use these for pretty much every step, I can’t wait till I have a bench to work on. The hardest part about using hand planes without a bench is keeping the piece from moving.

the finished bottom

This weighed over 190lbs before I started flattening the top… 15lbs of shavings!!!

the almost finished top, I think I ‘m going to wait to trim the ends till after its on the base. The final thickness ended up right at 5”, I had to take off almost 1/2” because of the bad alignment during the glue up.

the cat is fascinated with the shavings, when I’m planing she’ll sit next to me and watch the whole time.

It’s hard to believe that all of these shaving were made by me pushing a 8lb plane back and forth, this is all so new to me…

next step: open up the mortises in the top to the finished size and get started on the base…

thanks for looking, any comments or tips would be appreciated!

27 comments so far

View bigike's profile


4055 posts in 3490 days

#1 posted 02-15-2010 07:11 AM

very good job, keep it up. I can’t wait to see it done

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop,

View Ecocandle's profile


1013 posts in 3268 days

#2 posted 02-15-2010 07:27 AM

That is awesome, you get extra points for including the cat photos!!!

-- Brian Meeks,

View blackcherry's profile


3338 posts in 4025 days

#3 posted 02-15-2010 07:34 AM

Hey it will serve many purposes in a small apt.service table, dinning table, work bench , and futon for extra guest…great build and blog…wood is in your blood my friend, I like you spirit … Oh and by the way nice work on your plane and the biggest difference with a Bedrock is the frog set up rock solid , it hold the blade so stiff that the shaving just fly out the throat.Blkcherry

View brklnguy's profile


6 posts in 3226 days

#4 posted 02-15-2010 07:38 AM

haha, thats sorta what I was telling my wife, “We can just put a table cloth on it and you wont even know its there”...

View blackcherry's profile


3338 posts in 4025 days

#5 posted 02-15-2010 08:06 AM

Wait till it done and she won’t let you put any more tools on her table…LOL

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3317 days

#6 posted 02-15-2010 10:35 AM

great blog thank´s for sharing
I like you do it unplugged
and it looks like this will be
a great bench i´m looking
forward to see the rest
and welcome to L J


View Jeison's profile


968 posts in 3309 days

#7 posted 02-15-2010 11:23 AM


-- - Jei, Rockford IL - When in doubt, spray it with WD-40 and wrap it with duct tape. The details will attend to themselves.

View Tim Dahn's profile

Tim Dahn

1570 posts in 3767 days

#8 posted 02-15-2010 01:11 PM

Very cool, thanks for showing us.

-- Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement.

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 4024 days

#9 posted 02-15-2010 02:28 PM

You have posted a well documented blog on the bench’s construction. And your wife must be a very patient and understanding woman. I can guarantee you that if I even asked to do something like this it would not be a pretty sight at all. I get yelled at for tracking sawdust into the house if my wife sees sawdust on the floor of my shop. :)

I also enjoy seeing the build done with hand tools. I could not do this but respect the abilities of those who have taken the time and put in the effort to develop their hand skills. I am looking foward to seeing the next installment.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3875 days

#10 posted 02-15-2010 04:30 PM

You is off to a great start!

View rtb's profile


1101 posts in 3915 days

#11 posted 02-15-2010 04:49 PM

You’ve got a real keeper there hang on to her. ( The wife, you can always build another bench) I also want to see the pictures of moving the bench the next time you move.

-- RTB. stray animals are just looking for love

View Kacy's profile


101 posts in 3287 days

#12 posted 02-15-2010 05:19 PM

That is a fantastic bench and wife—even beats mine, who didn’t complain when I was drilling and chopping mortises at the kitchen table last night because my back was killing me.

-- Kacy, Louisiana

View RandyMarine's profile


236 posts in 3571 days

#13 posted 02-15-2010 08:54 PM

Wow I am envious! I could never build something like that by hand…where did you get your handtool trainging or did you just pick up a plane and the rest is history?

My woman would be right there with the cat and a dust broom…but she’d let me do it.

Nice work on everything welcome to LJ’s!

-- Semper Fi, Randy Sr.

View brklnguy's profile


6 posts in 3226 days

#14 posted 02-16-2010 12:05 AM


I picked one up and the rest is history… lol I used to be a “machinist” woodworker to the worst degree, my favorite shop tool was my Starrett 6” dial caliper. It isn’t hard at all to use hand tools, it just takes a completely different mindset. The thing I keep reminding myself is that almost every bit of furniture built before WWII was built this way. You should get a LV LA jack and practice squaring up some lumber, its a lot easier than you think.


I don’t know if I’ll ever be that good, but reading about his shop last fall was one of the main inspirations to put a bench in my apt. Well, actually I came across this guy first: Matt Paldy, but I knew that the noise and dust from the machines wouldn’t go over very good with the wife or landlord.

View patron's profile


13640 posts in 3543 days

#15 posted 02-18-2010 03:24 PM

now that you have a new dinning room table ,

maybe you can start getting rid

of some of that furniture ?

and make some ’ bookcases ’ for the planes ,

and some ’ end tables ’ for sawhorses .

keep the wife !

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

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