Another Roubo Workbench: Fin

People want me to bless their mistakes when they design a workbench.

Just about every week, someone writes or calls me to say that they have designed their own workbench. But because it violates some of the principles of good bench design (as I see it) from my book “Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use,” they want me to sign off on it before they start cutting wood.

No matter how silly the bench is, I always sign off on it. That’s because here’s what I’ve learned about people during the last 41 years: You cannot change their minds without a monumental effort. Believe me, I’ve tried pushing that rock up that hill. And I’m dang tired of it.

Build what you want because… listen, can you hear that? It’s the sound of trees growing. You can always build another bench.

Today I finally completed my latest workbench, a fairly pure Andre Roubo-style bench using massive timbers and built using (mostly) hand tools. After I built the skeleton of the bench, I decided to add some tool storage that was in the spirit of the the great Roubo. Here’s what I did:

I turned the lower shelf into a tool well with a covered lid. I’m sure someone has done this before, but I haven’t yet seen it in any old (or new) book (Edit: Roy Underhill did this. See below). In essence, I put a shelf inside the stretchers of the workbench’s base, then I added a lid that covers the shelf. The idea here is to provide just enough storage for your daily users. Pull them out of the toolbox, place them on the top of the lid and get to work. Put them away at the end of the day.

Also, I added an authentic French “rack” to the back edge of the benchtop. This rack holds all my chisels, vital marking tools and turnscrews. I secured it with some awesome Roman-style headed nails. Those were fun to install.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be sure to add a locking drawer under a portion of the benchtop that I don’t use so much.

The bottom line here is that tool storage on workbenches was fairly minimal in the 18th century. And I think it should be minimal today, as well. So what should you do with all the tools you haven’t touched in two years? Get rid of them. I’m of the mind (and you’ll be reading more about this in the coming months) that you should be focused on purchasing fewer high-quality tools instead of a metric diaper load of poor-quality tools.

But that is the subject for another book.

The finished bench is awesome. I know because I have been using it (to the disdain of my 2005 Roubo-style bench) almost exclusively.

Is it worth the trouble? Find out and see. The completed bench will be at the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event on June 4-5. And it will be at Woodworking in America on Oct. 1-3. Check it out and let us know what you really think.

— Christopher Schwarz

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19 Responses to Another Roubo Workbench: Fin

  1. Shannon says:

    Looks great Chris. I had gone so far to set aside wood to make that door over the shelf toolbox idea then I decided it would get in the way since I put a sliding leg vise on my Roubo and the parallel guide would prevent the lid from opening. It is still a great idea and I may give it a try someday. The tool rack I am going to add because I’m tired of walking back and forth for the same 4 tools. How do you feel about the smaller size after having worked on the large bench for so long. Do you feel cramped?

  2. Christopher Schwarz says:

    Shannon,

    As far as mass goes, this bench is great. No complaints. As far as width goes, it’s narrow and I really like it that way. No complaints there. I always wish that every bench I’ve built was longer (even the 10-footers). But a 6′ bench does the job.

    Chris

  3. Eric says:

    What a beaut! I will be curious to know if you prefer the bench-level tool rack over the one mounted in the window. I suppose the advantage of the window rack is that you can more easily see the business end of the chisels, which could be handy if you have many with the same style handle.

    I love the idea of the lid for the tool well, but the disadvantage is that you have to be very diligent about NOT putting things on top of that big inviting flat space under the bench. I can already see 30 seconds of throwing stuff from the lid up on to the bench (or floor) just so you can get inside of it!

    I also plan on installing a drawer, but I think I’ll have the runners (slides? I don’t know the term) go just about the entire width of the bench, so I could slide the drawer all the way back out of the way if I need that space for clamping.

  4. Gene says:

    "So what should you do with all the tools you haven’t touched in two years? Get rid of them."

    You saw it here first! Chris is getting ready for a tool sale. I don’t know about you guys, but I’ll take a flyer on his cast-off tools. (OK – maybe not the plane he whacked with a hammer…)

    Another special event at the F&W office?

  5. Jamie Bacon says:

    Hey Chris. Nice additions to a nice bench. In regards to the lidded tool storage underneath, Roy did this on his "French Bench" episode of The Woodwright’s Shop (2007). Great minds really do think alike. :)

  6. Christopher Schwarz says:

    Slaps forehead.

    Yup! That’s right. Thanks.

    Chris

  7. Ed says:

    "Fewer high-quality tools" I can’t agree more. The hard part is disposing of the tools that prove unnecessary!

  8. Eric says:

    @Gene: I’ll take a pass on the Chris Schwarz Used Tools Sale. Remember how much someone paid for his discarded woobie? :)

  9. Megan Fitzpatrick says:

    A locking drawer? Gonna put your Lunn DT saw in there to make _sure_ I don’t use it?

  10. Josh Parker says:

    Great bench, I have enjoyed seeing you work on this. I already have two bench designs by you in the shop (Nicholson and Holtzappfle), I don’t need a third but really want one. The question I have is where did you find the Roman-style headed nails?

  11. Steve Branam says:

    That is one gorgeous slab, worth the trouble. This is starting to look like fine furniture!

    I like the close accessibility of the French rack, but I would worry about running things into it. I like being able to make a clean sweep. And so far I’ve resisted putting a shelf on my bench. The dreaded horizontal surface, there to collect dust, shavings, rags, books, and whatnot on top of the tools.

  12. John Walkowiak says:

    Chris,
    The bench looks great, but I have a couple of questions about it. With the relatively short top, why didn’t you put the legs closer to the ends? I would think the legs could be within 4-6” of the ends without impacting any end clamping needs. I am sure it doesn’t need the stability of a wider stance, but the leg vice would be able to clamp a longer board for edge jointing, ect. That would also have given you more space in your lower covered shelf. And why don’t the dog holes go to the end? It looks as if you are losing about 2 feet of clamping length between the dogs.
    John

  13. Christopher Schwarz says:

    John,

    Good questions.

    1. I didn’t put the legs closer to the ends because it would interfere with the end vise on the right and it would mess with the original proportions from plate 11 if I messed with the overhang on the left. As-is, the leg vise can grip a 2 x 12 x 8′ for edge jointing with no problems, so I don’t foresee a problem.

    2. As to the dog holes: I probably will add more holes for dogs and for holdfasts in the coming weeks. I always add these incrementally and with some thought. As it is, I can clamp stuff more than 4′ long on the benchtop, and that will get me started.

  14. Adam says:

    Are the through tennoned/ dovetailed legs still a feasible/ wise option if you are using laminated SYP? or is that pretty much for a solid slab? Have all of my SYP ready for some interpretation on your benches, and I’m trying to figure what I like from several. I love the through T/D, but I’m not sure if it is a good idea for the material I have. Thanks.

  15. Greg Millen says:

    Chris, like a lot of others I thoroughly enjoyed your book. It was used to help me design my bench which has been two years in the (part time) making. One thing I have completed is the storage under the bench (I call it the clamp cubby) where my Bessey style clamps reside. The under shelf storage is very convenient, it adds weight to the bench and save a lot of space in my workshop. This link shows some pictures of the clamps. The build has been documented on the Australian Woodwork forum:

    http://www.woodworkforums.com/f213/wip-groggys-workbench-76785/index5.html#post1143936

  16. J. Watriss says:

    No crochet on this one?

    Just curious, why not?

  17. Christopher Schwarz says:

    James,

    A crochet and a leg vise are a bit of a "belt and suspenders" approach to work holding. Roubo shows both, but not on the same bench. I put both on my first bench so I could switch back ad forth between them and see what works.

    You probably only need one. But both are so dead simple to build you can do both without wasting too much time.

  18. Bill Melidones says:

    Chris,

    Purchasing a metric diaper load of high-quality tools is the answer. My only problems are: how to pay for them, where to store them.

  19. Tom says:

    I’m interested in this book idea based on minimal tools. I really like the idea of having fewer, high quality tools. Look forward to seeing it.

    Tom
    QLD, Australia.

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