I know there are a lot of Roubo workbench builds posted in the last few years, but I have no apologies for adding another to the pile. Why did I start this? Mainly because my current bench is totally inadequate. It is a “weekend workbench” I’ve used for a couple of years now, built before I really understood what I wanted or needed. It is made with 4×4 and 2×4 pressure treated legs and stretchers, a laminated MDF top, 2’ x 5’ in size. It has a face vise that is not flush to the top edge, and the top has an overhang that makes it not flush with the legs. It is too light, and wiggles and scoots when I apply force to something (most anything) I’m working on. I find myself fighting it to get it to hold work, when I’d rather just be fighting my project!
I’ve also been getting into hand tools quite a bit, and need the sort of workholding that a good, heavy bench will provide. I also love learning about the history and origins of tools, and techniques, (I like nerding out about that stuff). this is also just another project to do to improve on some basic skills. Like most woodworkers here, I use power and hand tools as needed or as appropriate. And so the jointer, planer, and table saw were used to prep the stock, drill press & forstner bits to clear the mortises. Chisels and hand planes were used to clean up mortises, smooth the mill marks, etc.
On to the build!
I pretty much followed the “bible” or Mr Schwarz’s seminal workbenches book, with one twist: I’m building it lefty, and it will be 2’ x 7’ (not 8’).
My first challenge was finding material. I had decided to use Douglas Fir or southern yellow pine, as it fit the budget, i thought hardwoods to be overkill, and Schwarz made a good argument in the book for why using construction dimension lumber is a fine option for a bench. (Along the way, I learned waaaay too much about construction grade lumber). I live in Chicago, and southern yellow pine is nowhere to be found. Checking my local big box stores, I was faced with the fact that their construction dimensional lumber can be one of any number of species, most of which are too soft for what I wanted. Most of the construction lumber is generically listed as “whitewood” on the box box stores signs (as in “2×10 whitewood…”), which is stamped either “Hem-Fir” (meaning it is either hemlock OR some type of ‘fir’), “SPF” (meaning either spruce, pine, or fir), or occasionally, rarely, “Douglas Fir”. The last is the stuff I wanted, as it is pretty much the same properties of SYP. But the only way to tell if any given store has it is to go there and rummage around in their stacks looking for it. You cant tell what it is through their webpages, and good luck finding anyone at the store who knows anything about it other than they have some “whitewood”.
There are about 4 Home Depots, 3 Menards, and one Lowes in a comfortable radius of my house, and in the weeks led up to getting the stock, each time a happened to be in one of them, I would take a gander and their stacks of 2×10s and 2×12s. It was always different, always changing, and rarely would the pieces be Douglas fir. Also, all the stuff was grade 2, and not the clearer grade 1 or “select”. So I was pretty depressed at having to make do with crap, or having to chase all over the area looking for the magic boards. I even contacted a big local lumber company that supplies contractors directly, and they said they had no idea where to get SYP or grade 1 Douglas Fir.
Finally, when the day came to get the material, I prepared for a long day of snagging a hopefully clear board or two from one big box, then heading off to the next, sifting through stacks of crap, rise & repeat. My wonderful wife was my helper, and quite the trooper to commit to helping out on what was likely going to be a long, tiring day.
But I was VERY lucky that day. My first stop was the closest Home Depot, and they’d just delivered and placed out fresh stacks of 2×12 Douglas Fir. as in, the WHOLE STACK was douglas fir. was able to collect some pretty nice boards with a minimum of sifting, and was out of there in 1/2 hour. What a relief.
Even better, I checked them for moisture when I got them into the shop, and the wettest one was 13%, with the average around 11%. Lucky, lucky, lucky. I stacked & stickered everything, and started milling the pieces for the legs and stretchers. After those sat overnight, I finished milling them, did the lamenations, and drilled and chiseled the mortises. I had some awesomely dry and straight white oak around, and wanted to make my own pegs. But my poor man’s doweling plate (a 3/8” hole drilled through 1/4” steel plate) wasn’t really cutting it, so I went with store bought 3/8” red oak dowels.
At this point, I was ready to assemble the base. That’s for next time!