Add a Drawer to the Roubo Workbench

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Most drawers attached to the benchtop of a workbench get in the way of clamping, the bench dogs or the holdfasts. And so when I build a workbench for a customer, I typically omit the drawer (with their permission, of course).

But this bench that I’m finishing up needs a drawer, and so I was determined to make it look just like the drawer in A.J. Roubo’s Plate 11 and not get in the way.

Roubo didn’t have much to say about the drawer: “One should place a drawer at the end of the bench so that the workers can close up their minor tools like gouges, compasses, etc.” That brevity gave me a lot of leeway as to how the drawer should be constructed and hung.

As to construction, the drawer is built like a typical 18th-century drawer. The rear corners are joined with through-dovetails. The front corners are joined with half-blinds. The bottom slides in through the back of the drawer via a groove in the sides and drawer front.

The sides, back and bottom are all 1/2”-thick pine. The remainder of the parts are made with 7/8”-thick oak. The drawer itself is 7” high, 10” wide and 15-1/2” deep. I came to this measurement by scaling Roubo’s drawing of the drawer compared to the rest of the bench.

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But how to hang the drawer? If I were worried about theft, I would design the mechanism differently. But as this bench is destined for a private shop, I decided to make the runners and slides robust and repairable.

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The two drawer runners are each constructed of two pieces of oak screwed to the underside of the benchtop to create an “L” shape. Then I glued two slides to the drawer sides that slide back and forth in the runners. It’s basically a side-hung drawer. You’ll note that the slides are about 17” long, which will allow for some over-travel if the drawer is pulled out too far.

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I nailed a couple of drawer stops to the benchtop and oiled everything up to match the bench.

All this is left is to mortise in the strike for the lock.

This might not be the way that Roubo would have done it, but until I get my Ouija board dialed into 1767, this will have to do.

— Christopher Schwarz

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21 Responses to Add a Drawer to the Roubo Workbench

  1. deepsouthbuck says:

    Do you think the drawer might bind a bit as the top continues to move until it finds equilibrium?

    • It’s unlikely that would happen because of the grain direction of the top. But the runners can be removed with screws to true everything up if something goes wrong.

  2. I don’t understand putting it outboard of the legs. Are there no vises? I’m not familiar with the subtleties of Roubo’s writings, so perhaps you can share his thinking with us. Granted, your client knows what he wants.

    • This is the only place I’d put a drawer on a bench (besides under the stretchers). And this is how it was done on French workbenches.

      Putting a drawer between the legs would definitely impede clamping, as every owner of a bench with this feature will tell you. This bench has no tail vise – it doesn’t need it. So that area is best served with a drawer.

  3. greenebelly says:

    Is the whole point to stay as close as possible to remain true to the plates? Would a drawer case, attached to the bench with slots/screws for movement give more room for a clamp(s) on the end? I’m not being critical, you just got my mind going on this post.

  4. tpobrienjr says:

    The dog/holdfast hole will provide a little sprinkling of sawdust. Roubo would approve, no?

  5. kendewitt608 says:

    Like this bottom slide a lot. Will try to rig one up on the tool stand I keep at the end of my bench,
    easier to move if it gets in the way. just a cheap $40 table that will now get a bottom shelf for
    a draw.

  6. meanmna says:

    Where did you put the stops? Not sure I see them in the pictures. I notice your slides are longer than the drawer as you indicated for the over travel. But, the pictures appear to show them jutting out the back of the runners but no stops? I am going to assume that given this your stop(s) is not within the runner, but perhaps just to one/both sides of the holdfast hole to keep the drawer from running underneath it?

  7. Rachael Boyd says:

    ” I don’t like draws they hide things” CS…… I know this is not your bench so it’s okay to add one. I don’t like draws on my bench I can hang my 10in. compass ,wooden square and other stuff I need a lot on the wall. but most of my tools get but in my large pink tool chest to be locked up……

  8. That is exactly how the Dominys did it. Did you know that or did you coincidentally come up with the same solution they did?

  9. pereqa says:

    Now where is that cat, it has got to be in the photo somewhere, I just haven´t found it yet!

  10. tman02 says:

    I recently used similar drawer slides to add a couple of drawers to an existing bench. The bench was attached to a wall (my dad built it) and trying to use modern drawer slides was not practical. I rubbed paraffin on the slides to reduce friction, snd so far they slide in and out just fine.

    I added stops at the back of the drawers that extended up and hit the bench front so the drawers cannot be pulled out. But they can be rotated 90 degrees in case the drawer ever needs to be removed.

  11. John Sisler says:

    The cat is named Schrodinger,and he’s inside the drawer…

  12. wsparkman says:

    I would like to suggest an article or at least a blog post that could be titled :

    “Roubo My Sjobergs, Nicholson: Tweaking The Commercially Made Bench.”

    A lot of guys bought a ready-made bench that they could quickly press into service, many more so back before the idea of building your own bench became popular. What does that commercially made bench need to bring it up to snuff? How can it really be improved?

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