The Train Wreck is Behind You


I don’t sleep as well when I have French workbench in pieces in my shop. Even a little wood movement in the joints can make assembly a bear, or at least a ticked-off warthog.

Yesterday I fit the legs in their mortises. Today I got everything major assembled. Some specs for the curious:

  1. The base is drawbored with 5/8” hickory dowel stock. The drawbore offset was a strong 1/8”, and I drove the pins in with a sledge.
  2. All the joints are strengthened by Titebond Liquid Hide Glue.
  3. This bench is 9’ long – the most common size called out in “l’Art du menuisier.” It’s more than a 1’ longer than my bench but seems a lot longer.
  4. Height is about 31”, as per the customer’s request. A nice height – almost as nice as 38”.
  5. Benchtop depth is 21”, one of my favorite depths.


Next comes the fun part. This customer asked for the full-on Plate 11 treatment. So it’s getting two Peter Ross holdfasts, the fully joined tongue-and-groove shelf, Peter Ross planing stop and iron bits for the vise, a dovetailed drawer, swing-out grease pot and tool rack at the back.

This will be the closest full-on Plate 11 bench I’ve yet built. The next closest thing involves a time travel machine, which Stumpy Nubs is currently fabricating on an X-carve in Baltic birch.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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39 Responses to The Train Wreck is Behind You

  1. hgordon4 says:

    Wow, that is going to be (already is) a beautiful bench when you’re done.


  2. That brought a smile to my face, thanks! 🙂 Oh, and nice bench!
    -Stumpy Nubs


  3. toolnut says:



  4. That made my day, thanks! -Stumpy Nubs


  5. paulstraka says:

    Beautiful! What is the purpose of the large square hole ?mortise? Also, how thick is the top?


  6. Brad says:

    Personally I would go for three holdfasts. I have two from Peter as well, but when I’m dovetailing, I use both to hold the Benchcrafted Moxon vice for sawing on the right side of my bench, and need another to secure the pieces for chopping the waste on the left side of the bench. So I am constantly borrowing/returning one from the Moxon.

    The customer is getting a bench that will last multiple generations – bite the bullet on the third, you won’t regret it!


  7. ctregan says:

    Nine feet is close to three meters. Make me wonder if Roubo was a metric guy?


    • Not if you read his text. No metric anywhere. All “feet, thumbs and lines.” Very traditional. The 9′ length makes it easy to stick 8′-long moulding, which is very convenient for casework and housework.


    • proclus153 says:

      I’m pretty sure the metric system was purely an academic exercise until it was adopted by the French Academy during the revolution. It was probably out of hostility to the revolution (or, maybe, everything French) that the Anglophone world refused to have anything to do with the metric system for so long, despite its practical advantages. They say mathematicians in China were using Leibniz notation in calculus before the English switched from Newtonian notation, for reasons purely related to national pride. In some obscure contexts in France you can still find pre-revolutionary measurement systems; if you buy a french beret, for example, its diameter will likely still be designated in “pouces” (which I believe literally means “thumbs”.


  8. bronzy935 says:

    I’m not envious. I’m going to make one too. Maybe only six feet long.


    • It will be close to 400 lbs. is my guess.


      • Joe Eberle says:

        How many bodies did it take to carry that bad boy into your shop?


      • karlfife says:

        400 LBS was my guess too. However, my bench (of the same origin, dimensions, thickness etc) appears to weigh in at over 550 LBS. Here’s what I see:

        I can’t weigh the whole bench directly, but the shipping weight for the TOP alone was 485 LBS. Naturally, that included the supporting pallet, straps and plastic wrap, etc. Therefore I estimate the top at over 400 LBS, because all of the packing materials were well under 85 LBS). The undercarriage for the bench was directly weighted at 140 LBS (i.e. legs, stretchers, chop, and cleats/slats). This did not include any of the bench’s the iron work, like holdfasts, tommybars, plane stops etc. This suggests a finished weight closer to 550 LBS. I expect the bench will become lighter as the wood dries and the MC reaches equilibrium. I don’t know how many pounds of weight that represents, but I assume it could easily be calculated based on its known current MC of 15% and its equilibrium MC of 9%.


  9. And also it’s “Fee times a mady”


  10. Hi Chris, what is the length of the overhang at each end of the bench? Would you change the dimension of the overhang on the left if you weren’t including the toothed planing stop? Thank you!


  11. jonfiant says:

    Another great bench Chris! I really missed seeing all of you guys this past week, but a living has to be made, and I couldn’t get away. Oh well, maybe next time….
    Jon Fiant
    “The human saw stop”


  12. I don’t think we really addressed the question last week, but why did you choose to glue all joints, and especially the double tenon? With the amount of shrinkage we’re expecting from this wood, I feel this will only cause more problems.

    For what it’s worth, I haven’t glued mine, and it is solid as a rock. Even if the double tenons have already shrunk considerably.


    • Francis,

      The way I see it is that the glue cannot hurt. If the wood is going to shrink significantly, the glue will not stop it. But it will hold parts together.

      Mine was tight without glue, but I decided to use it anyway. We shall see how it goes.


  13. duckfarmer27 says:

    Chris –

    I am hoping that there will be some pictures of the finished product. Very nice.



  14. ouidavincent says:

    Yes. Would you post pictures of it is ok with your client?


  15. Niels Cosman says:

    Dude, you think you lose sleep when you’ve got unattended French bits in your shop for a week?
    Try two years and then we can swap stories of dread and self-loathing. I am sure Unicorn still loves me, but I know he/she cries rainbow tears when he thinks no one is looking.
    All that aside, that’s one sexy French bench! I dig the massive single drawbore pegs.


  16. Rachael Boyd says:

    wow that thing is HUGE ……….my first one was 5 then I made a 7 I don’t know what I would do with 9..


  17. karlfife says:

    I’ve heard the suggestion that one wait until the [dry] dead of winter to do the final fitting of each leg’s sliding dovetail and tenon (while the wood is the smallest/driest), thus getting the best fit possible. That struck me as a very good strategy until you mentioned your concern about fit.

    Now that you mention it, I’m wondering if the larger concern with fitting legs into a one-piece top like yours is that the top would move out-of-flat, such that in the dead of winter, there may be a ‘peak’ on the heart side, and a ‘valley’ on the bark side resulting in some fundamental geometry problems when fitting. In theory, each leg could fit like a piston, but be unable to fit into the top once the stretchers are in place. Am I off in the weeds, or is this your basic concern?

    If ones dovetails and tenons have been only rough-cut with a good amount of margin remaining, is it better to wait until winter to fit them, or is it better to “strike while the… wood is flat”? When you glued your tenons, did you immediately drive wedges too?

    As always, your guidance is valued and appreciated.


    • The ideal strategy would be like chairmaking: Bone-dry legs into a slightly moist mortise. That’s what I do when I use construction lumber for these benches. With this French oak, I don’t have that luxury. Nor do I have the luxury of time; I have no place to store this beast.

      So I fit everything tight – I needed a sledge to fit the legs. Both the top and the legs are about the same MC (12 to 17 percent on average). So I know there is some movement ahead, but probably only one season (MC for oak in my shop is 9 percent).

      There is zero chance of joint failure, even with much wetter components. The only risk is that some gaps will develop around the leg-to-top joints. Wedges fix that easily. This top will definitely distort and develop a hump in the middle. Those are as per Roubo’s instructions for Plate 11. It is fixed with a plane.

      The net result of all this is that within two years you will have a top that doesn’t move. It’s too thick to respond to the seasonal changes in humidity. That is what has happened to the two other two slab benches I have in this house.

      I’m sure there are other equally valid strategies.


  18. Mostly for the academic interest, I am curious about the French foot (Pied du Roi) referenced above, my understanding was that “The French foot is 12.44″” compared to a U.S. Customary foot, making the AJ Roubo 9′ bench 111.96 U.S inches or just under 9’4″.


    • Indeed the French measurements are a little different from this period in history. We covered this in “Roubo on Marquetry” and will repeat the explanation in “Roubo on Furniture Making,” though Wikipedia has a good explanation for the curious.

      I did not use the ancient French units for this bench. I used Standard American – so it’s 108″ long.


  19. I sawed up some 4″ x 24″ x 10′ red oak slabs a few years ago when all the cool kids were using 3″-thick benchtops. Now I fear that my bench will look puny in comparison to these massive 5″- and 6″-thick benches that everyone is making today. Oh well. One more year and it should be dry enough to use. I was never one of the cool kids anyway.


  20. Dan Zehner says:

    Holy cats, that thing is the size of a small aircraft carrier… Come to think of it, it would be pretty cool to paint up a workbench to look like an aircraft carrier flight deck (but not this one, obviously!)… 😉


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