The morning that I first proposed building a Roubo-style workbench to my co-workers, I was running on about four hours of sleep and five cups of Italian roast coffee.
Earlier that week, I had proposed a cover project for the Autumn 2005 issue of Woodworking Magazine that was not working out. It was a set of contemporary interlocking shelves. I had mocked them up several times using foam-core insulation and presented them to the staff.
No one liked them. Me included.
So the night before our all-staff meeting about that issue of the magazine, I stayed up until 2 a.m. making the first CAD drafts of what would become the workbench I work on today. The staff approved my draft. Not because of its merit, but because of the semi-crazy mountain man look I had in my eye.
Today I embarked on a similar mission to build a super hardcore version of André Roubo’s workbench using the original joints, massive timbers and only hand tools.
Housewright Ron Herman of Antiquity Builders in Columbus, Ohio, delivered the cherry planks to our shop this morning, which I stickered in front of our wood rack. The wood is fairly dry – about 12 percent moisture content – and completely massive. The two boards for the top plank are about 5″ thick and more than 11″ wide each. The leg stock is 6″ square.
That’s the good news. The bad news that is the wood is punky in places, a result of its time on the forest floor or its time in Herman’s tree lot. After the wood showed up, Publisher Steve Shanesy took one look at my mound and just shook his head.
Senior Editor Glen Huey, always the diplomat, asked what I would do if the wood didn’t work out the way I wanted it to do.
Senior Editor Bob Lang – always the Silent Bob – said nothing.
I love it when people tell me I cannot do something. I was told I should leave journalism school. I was told I’d never become editor of Popular Woodworking. I was told I could never drink an entire growler of Bell’s Hopslam IPA (who’s slack-jawed and drooling now?).
And so as I stickered this cherry this afternoon I was already mentally cutting it up to remove the punky places. I was reviewing Roubo’s workbench instructions, which I have committed to memory. And, most importantly, I was reminding myself to pick up some more Italian roast coffee on the way home. It’s going to be a good winter.
— Christopher Schwarz
17 thoughts on “The Sweet Smell of Failure”
I will for sure follow you thrue this one! I’m in design process of my next bench, and the top will be made of 2 pieces of 4x12x96 DF!
But let se what yo can do with that cherry!
I was calculating how much the finished bench was going to weigh, and remembering how much fun we had flipping over the first Roubo. My French to English dictionary translates Roubo as "dead elephant.
Sorry — maybe it’s an East Coast/West Coast thing — but what is "punky"? Do you mean rotten (squishy, soggy…)?
Yes, little rotty and soft.
I, for one, am glad to see someone at a magazine use less than stellar wood. I saw my own wood and end up with a lot of lumber that has issues. Seems like every magazine article you come across is some guy whining about how hard it is to plane his $30 bf old growth curly maple. I think working around wood defects could be a good article.
PS. After looking at Glen Huey’s last book I think it’s time to stage a figured maple intervention. 🙂
is that bob villa in the backround?
I’m so excited but this project! I can’t wait to see how you will tackle it.
I was supposed to do this for myself too but I don’t feel ready yet.
Vila works here now.
There is something inherently exciting about a plank this thick. I guess it is as close as we furniture makers get to working with a whole tree. While they must be heavy, I am envious with just how easy the top glue up will be with only one glue joint to play with. And to think I was excited to have some 16/4 stock to play with on my own Roubo that moved my glue lines from 15 down to 12. Can’t wait to follow this build.
This is going to be awesome. I can’t think of any particular advantage to building a bench with huge slabs (as opposed to a glue-up), but it’s going to look really cool. Thanks for sharing.
Oh, yes! What a winter it will be! I have my DF stickered and waiting to go for my bench. It will be a hybrid Roubo, also built entirely with hand tools.
This is going to be awesome! Get those saws and planes sharpened and get to work!
Get that pit saw ready!
It’s called working on the ragged edge, some thrive, some dont. Should be an interesting project.
Speaking of punky wood, has anyone in here tried PEG or Pentacryl to keep large slabs from cracking/warping? For those not familiar with these chemicals, heres a commercial link that sells/ decribes what it is. I recently purchased a wide slab of walnut and considered treating it but chickened out.Anyone with any experiences in using these chemicals?
That is interesting, I have just started my "german" Roubo bench 3 weeks ago with planks that looks like these less the rottening parts. I used an hybrid approach of hand tools/machinery to work my way out. With pieces this size, you definitely ease the process by straightening them as much as possible with your jointer plane and have at most one or two passes on the powered jointer… I have better ways to entertain myself than swinging 50++ pounds planks over and over on the jointer. 😉
I will follow this project with much interest.
Hopslam IPA = GOOD Beer! 🙂
Oh and love the bench idea as well 😉
This is a huge workbench , I need a little one but like you I would take it as a challenge, I am going to try it first time but hope I will get success.
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