I have known that I wanted to build a Roubo bench for a long while now. A few months ago, more than I want to try and figure out, I purchased enough 2×10x12’ hem-fir to build a bench 24” x 60” with 3” square legs and a 3” thick top. I brought the unwieldy 12’ long boards home and cut them all in half on my back deck then brought them down to the basement and stacked them temporarily (read improperly). It was at this point I undertook a wedding gift project and proceeded to finish my custom table saw extension project.
So the hem-fir sat until about two weeks ago when I finally decided that I had had enough of trying to work on my tiny light weight bench. I went and re-read Christopher Schwartz’s book on work benches and headed down into the shop to evaluate what I had to work with.
I was pleasantly surprised that all of the boards were 6’ long as I thought I had bought 10’ boards to make a 5’ long bench, the same length of my current bench. Ready to get to work I cleaned and rearranged the shop so I would I have enough room to feed the long boards through my thickness planer. My plan was to get them reasonably flat in the planer then joint and rip them on the table saw as there was no way I was going to joint them with a handplane on my current bench. As with many of the best laid half thought out plans this did not go well.
I was able to flatten the first board in my planer and moved onto the second when the trouble started. The board started to feed and then stopped and the whole machine starting barking madly at me. I killed the power and tried to remove the board with no luck. So I turned it back on and started a very strange Elvis impersonation to encourage it through the planer. It turned out the rubber rollers on my 40 year old planer have seen better days and were not gripping very well. “OK” I thought, “let’s rethink this”.
I decided the planer would be a lot more happy if I ripped the boards down first. Now if you think that ripping rough softwood that has been improperly stored on the floor of a laundry room for several months sounds like a bad idea you would be right. Regarldess of that fact, I pressed forward. It was at this point I conceded that there was no way I would get a 3” top of this wood if I were to rip it and then clean it up, so with little remorse and a hint of a smile I decided the top would be 4” and ripped the 9” boards down the middle.
Why was this a bad idea? All of the boards were cupped and three were twisted. I had to feed the saw slowly to avoid binding the blade. On top of that I don’t think any of the boards were close to jointed along the sides and the boards would wander, even with my makeshift “feather” board clamped opposite the saw fence. What I ended up with was a whole bunch of boards with wildly varied widths. BUT, I did end up with enough boards plus some extra to assemble the top.
I was making progress now and it felt good. So with a few more hours until my wife got home from class I decided to run them all through the planer. This was a Major pain. I still had the binding problem I had with the full width boards, though it was less pronounced, and got to practice my pelvis thrusts to help the boards through as I wheeled the planer back and forth with each pass in order have enough clearance on the infeed and outfeed (the “shop” or laundry room is only about 16’ x 10’ if IIRC, and with many other things in it). After an hour I had finished 22 boards to no particular thickness. I just passed each board through until it was flat enough. I do not see as a problem because 1. it’s a workbench, not a master work and 2. I’m laminating them all together so what does it matter? I can just joint an edge down to attain my desired top width.
At this point I called it an evening. I had done more woodworking that evening that I had been able to do in the previous two weeks and that is always a very satisfying feeling. And to boot I had made a lot, and I mean a LOT, of saw dust and shavings. The next night I would start the glue up.