French Oak Roubo Project: Day 4

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I have never counted how many benches I have brought into the world, either through my hands, by teaching classes or writing books.

No matter what the number is, I can tell you that this bench will be my favorite. Not because the design is perfect – it’s a direct copy of A.-J. Roubo’s bench in plate 11 of “L’Art du menuisier.” And not because of the material – we’re using 18th-century French oak. It’s a great design and it’s great material, but the reason I love the unfinished bench that is now hanging out the back of my Nissan Xterra is because of the people I built it with.

Woodworking is a solitary endeavor for the most part. So getting to build a workbench with a bunch of guys, day in and day out, was new. I didn’t have to teach people how to cut a mortise, a tenon or a dovetail. There was no hand-holding.

And together we brought 16 benches into the world. What kind of designs? Who cares?

What height? Don’t care.

What kinds of vises? Lots.

The joinery? All kinds. All good.

Look, based on my writing you might assume that I like one kind of bench over all others. That’s not exactly true. My favorite kind of bench is the one that gets used.

When we kicked off this French Oak Roubo Project on Sunday night, I made a pledge to those participants who might use their bench as merely a decorative object (kitchen island? Dining table?). I vowed to sneak into the house and leave a flaming bag of poo on the benchtop.

Now, I’m joking, of course. I don’t think I could actually poop into a bag. (I haven’t tried since I was in Cub Scouts.) And I don’t think it would be all that flammable.

But still, the point I’m trying to make is this: Even if it’s a hollow-core door on sawhorses, it’s an awesome bench if things get built on it. There are other designs that might make it easier for you to hold the work, but if your hollow-core door inspires you to build birdhouses or highboys, then it’s a good bench.

In fact, the only thing that sucks about this class is that I have to leave it a day early. I managed to cut my sliding dovetails (yes, by hand) and rough out the through-mortises (yes, with a drill), but I didn’t get the whole thing assembled.

But I will.

When it’s done, I know that some people will wail about it. I will not add finish to it. I will tooth its benchtop. The leg vise will not have a parallel guide or a garter. And I’m going to use a toothed metal planing stop, which will surely mark my workpieces and utterly destroy my handplanes.

Despite all that, I will build a lot of cool s#$t on it.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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7 Responses to French Oak Roubo Project: Day 4

  1. 1961sg says:

    Awesome. As someone who has built a Schwarzian bench, thanks for sharing this all, can’t wait to see what comes out (off?) of this bench.

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  2. abtuser says:

    “My favorite kind of bench is the one that gets used.”
    Sounds strangely consistent with “The best sharpening technique is the one you learn and works best for you”. Or something paraphrased like that. Great pics, thanks for documenting the build. Looks like a lot of fun was had by all.

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  3. Jim Muhaw says:

    Loved reading all the reports, Chris! It would be great to see the full array of benches built and their proud owners. Wish I could have participated.

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  4. jonathanszczepanski says:

    “…the reason I love the unfinished bench that is now hanging out the back of my Nissan Xterra is because of the people I built it with.”
    Now you know how your students feel.

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  5. tsstahl says:

    Woodworking is one expensive hobby.

    Sure, you start building gravity race cars and birdhouses for peanuts. Before you know what happened you pine over a 7k workbench that will last several lifetimes and the inception of the bench is a seminal moment in a single lifetime. Sigh. Nope, I’m not even a bit envious. 😉

    Best woodworking wishes to all sixteen bench builders!

    Now, is this the point where you announce that a small film crew documented the whole thing and there will soon be a documentary aired on PBS?

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  6. Yeah yeah nice benches and all that. I want to know if you will be selling high res posters of the above picture of Don “Bunyan” Williams. I need one to hang next to my “Don’s Golden Rules of Finishing” poster.

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