Roubo Workbench #1: Musings

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Blog entry by Eric posted 05-06-2009 05:45 PM 4811 reads 0 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Roubo Workbench series Part 2: More Roubo Musings (and Questions) »

If you’ve been following my blog you know that we’re moving into a new (to us) house this month, and I’m planning to build a Roubo workbench to christen my new workshop space. Well I’m out of town for a few days and have a little evening free time, so I thought I’d jot down my thoughts as to what kind of Roubo I’d like to build (yes, there are many styles of Roubo!):

  1. I plan to have the legs tenoned straight through the top, including the dovetailed outer tenons. It looks cool, but more importantly, fewer mortises to chop!
  2. I’m considering ironwood for the top. It’s very heavy, very strong and very durable.
  3. Most people do laminations of 8/4 boards for the top. I’m considering using a few thicker (12/4? 16/4?) boards in the middle, and then on the outside where my mortises will be I’ll use 8/4. Fewer laminations in the middle, and fewer mortises on the outside. It’s all about saving time.
  4. I’m not concerned with the legs being square (in shape). I think I’ll laminate 4 boards together for the legs. Outermost is dovetailed tenon, then shoulder, then regular tenon, and then another shoulder. This is shown in one of Roubo’s illustrations. Whatever the thickness of that is, is what it’ll be.
  5. I plan to use a typical leg vise, but I’m still considering angling it (without angling the leg). I have metal and wooden vise hardware but don’t know which one I’ll use (the wooden one is a $10 eBay find that needs some rehab).
  6. Not sure yet about holdfasts. I got an offer to try out a couple made from crowbars that someone would ship to me (free I think except for shipping?), and I also may try to find a local blacksmith who can make some.
  7. The bench will be about 6’ long. That’ll fit in a spot that’s about 8 1/2’ wide. Enough leftover room for planing and crosscutting.
  8. I like the planing stop and plan to have one, but am not a fan of the chamfered top. I’ll either find a metal solution or just leave it unchamfered.
  9. No tail or wagon vise.
  10. Almost all the mortises will not be cut, but will exist via gaps in the glueup. The only mortises that I’ll need to cut will be in the short stretchers, and perhaps for the parallel guide on the leg vise.

There. Shouldn’t be that hard to do, right? This bench won’t be much more than just gluing a bunch of boards together!

P.S. How many of you are going to quote that last paragraph back to me in about a month or two? :^)

-- Eric at

13 comments so far

View a1Jim's profile


117062 posts in 3542 days

#1 posted 05-06-2009 05:56 PM

How hard could it be ,I wonder how many times I’ve said that. I would say the hardest part is getting the top flat depending on what tools you have. Enjoy

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View skeeter's profile


233 posts in 3306 days

#2 posted 05-06-2009 05:59 PM

i have been thinking about the roubo lately. More specifically the dovetailed tenons. I was wondering if you made the dovetail part on the leg and then matched the angle on the laminated part, it would be easier if you just applied the pin part of the top after you made the top. That way you could cut the board for the top in a miter saw. Just a thought. Well if that worked couldn’t you also make the top lamination with mortises that are nothing but voids where there is no glue and wood. Im just brainstorming but there seems like there is an easier way to build that huge bench without all the chopping of mortises, just build them in to the top. Am I crazy?

-- My philosophy: Somewhere between Norm and Roy

View skeeter's profile


233 posts in 3306 days

#3 posted 05-06-2009 06:02 PM

nevermind i thought i had an original idea, damn

-- My philosophy: Somewhere between Norm and Roy

View a1Jim's profile


117062 posts in 3542 days

#4 posted 05-06-2009 06:16 PM

Hey Skeeter
I think old Roy just had a show how to do a climbing dove tail on his bench.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View kenn's profile


810 posts in 3684 days

#5 posted 05-06-2009 06:33 PM

Take a look at some of the other lumberjocks roubo benches, I’ve used Jon3’s especially and it has helped me with some tips & ideas on mine. Good luck, it WILL take longer than expected.

-- Every cloud has a silver lining

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3638 days

#6 posted 05-06-2009 11:48 PM

The Roubo workbench is a good one.

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3787 days

#7 posted 05-07-2009 12:03 AM

I have a bench on my list, Eric and am considering the Roubo. So I will be following this with interest.

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

View kiwi1969's profile


608 posts in 3406 days

#8 posted 05-07-2009 01:56 AM

NOT ANOTHER ROUBO!!!! :-) check out saint Roy on PBS episodes 2705, 2706 and 2710 should fire you up and you might get what I refered to on your blog.

-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 3748 days

#9 posted 05-07-2009 02:41 AM

Thanks for the tips and links guys. Actually, on my blog one person said ironwood would be a bad choice for the top because it is so oily. I don’t know anything about wood species so I hadn’t considered that…so maybe not ironwood after all.

And yes, skeeter, I don’t plan on chopping any mortises in the top, but just leaving voids as you say.

And kiwi: I’m not choosing the Roubo because it’s trendy! :^) But it seems such a simple way to work wood, and for someone like me who doesn’t use any power tools, it seems a good bench. I’ve thought and thought of what I might do differently, or what else I might want (or not want), and I really can’t think of anything other than the Roubo!

-- Eric at

View Tim Scoville's profile

Tim Scoville

97 posts in 3300 days

#10 posted 05-07-2009 03:38 AM


I has lusted after a decent workbench for some time now. Still haven’t gotten around to building one yet. The roubo looks intriguing, but I really like the design of the “new-fangled workbench” featured in Fine Woodworking.

NFWB video

It uses basic pipe clamps and consumable benchtop pieces that can be sacrificed and replaced after abuse. It has capability for holding large objects like a door for planing an edge at the right height. Very functional for me. Not the nice heirloom workbench you see in many of the magazines, but it will be my bench of choice soon, I hope. If I can finish my master bath remodel, window install, lean-to roof replacement, and fence rebuild and escape significant work travel, maybe I can put mine together by September. If I do, I’ll share.

Whatever you decide, looking forward to witnessing your adventure.

-- Tim S, WA

View Jon3's profile


497 posts in 4070 days

#11 posted 06-04-2009 09:03 PM

1. Doesn’t really change the number of mortises. You DO have to make those mortise walls perfect though!

2. Ironwood can be incredibly pricey. Plan to sharpen your tools a lot.

3. In the long run, the raw stock size and laminations don’t seem to make that much difference. The only time this might be useful is when you’re trying to do the type of ‘automatic tenon’ method that Chris Schwarz uses in the Workbenches book, which doesn’t seem that relevant to you, given the mention of the traditional roubo top tenons.

4. Don’t really understand this. With shrinkage any bench or table can go pyramid on you, but thats no reason to start out that way. Think of the Children! I mean, Think of the Joinery!

5. Not sure what you mean by angle. The traditional leg vice gets angled by the offset on the bottom of the vise. Are you implying that you’d curve the vise body itself?

6. I recommend them. They’re so useful. The ones from Joel over at TFWW are both inexpensive and quite good.

7. If you’ve got the wood, and you’ve got the space, go for longer. You can always trim back the ends if you find it too big. Benchwise, bigger is almost always better.

8. I skipped the planing stop myself. I just use a dog, since I marched my dogs almost all the way to the end. Maybe I’ll add one later, should the dog stop working well. But so far, it hasn’t.

9. I must now shake my head. You’ve no idea what you’re missing!

10. This only works if you’re guaranteeing that your lumber ends up all dimensioned identically. Which is fine, but ‘embrace the extra thickness’ is a really really good thing to keep in mind when building a bench. There’s a lot to be gained with that extra mass, and a lot less work on your tools when you don’t have to plane a board down to 1.25” when it planes out cleanly S4S to 1.75” or 1.9” !

I just built my Roubo. Feel free to click through the blog and see what I ran into =)

View PurpLev's profile


8534 posts in 3613 days

#12 posted 06-04-2009 09:46 PM

Eric – I think it’s best if you painted that last phrase in BOLD RED on your wall, and look at it everytime you work on the bench… :)

I’m working on my bench now as well, and will use several features that the roubo uses (leg vise, wagon vise) but still go with a ‘traditional european’ style legs (for most part -except for the leg vise) and a 2” thick top as this is what I have to work with. my point being – it’s one thing to think it’ll be easy to chop some wood and glue it together – but a whole other story when you actually have to make it fit – just like any other woodworking project. finessing is the name of the game – so might as well come prepared to the table, then get it in your face.

waiting to see your progress. it’s a good bench choice.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 3748 days

#13 posted 06-05-2009 05:12 AM

Jon, wow, thanks for the point-by-point critique! Love it! My comments:

1. I know it’s the same number of mortises, but it’s fewer to CHOP. Without any mortise chisels, I’ll take all the help I can get! It’s fewer to chop because I’m just going to leave gaps in the glue-up for the leg tenons. I know it’ll be tricky to keep it square when gluing up, but I’d rather deal with that than chopping those 2×6(ish) 4” deep mortises.
2. I’ve changed my mind. Ironwood is apparently really oily as well, so I’ll stick with the kapur wood that is so abundant here.
4. I don’t mean that the legs won’t be square to the top, I just meant I don’t care if the legs are a perfect 6” by 6”. In my glueup, if it’s 6” by 4.5” I’m okay with that. But square to the top – absolutely!
5. What I mean is that maybe I’d have the leg canted towards the middle at – oh I dunno – a 10-20 degree angle. The parallel guide at the bottom would be maybe on the outside of the leg. This would allow for a greater clamping area since the screw would be further out of the way of the top of the jaw. I’m not sure I’ll do this, but am just mulling it over.
7. I don’t think I’ll have the space. Like I said, I have 8 1/2 feet of space, and I need to leave room for plane run-off. But hmm…maybe I’ll go ahead and try to add another foot. See how it goes. If I keep bonking the cabinet, I’ll cut off 6” and reassess. Thanks for the encouragment.
9. I was persuaded to forgo the tail/wagon vise after reading what Ian Kirby said about the planing stop. I really don’t see the need to pinch a piece in between dogs for planing when the plane will push the board only in one direction. Is there any other reason I need a tail vise? Convince me!
10. Thanks – I’ll browse through your postings and check it out. Thanks for all your comments Jon!

PurpLev: I know, I need to keep it real. At least I’m wide open about it here whether I’m feeling cocky or humiliated!

-- Eric at

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