I Feel You, Monsieur Roubo


“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. There are even shops where the benches are finished with planks/panels all around [a closed base] which is very convenient because that prevents shavings and dust from entering in the shelf and the tools which you put inside are less likely to be lost.”

— M. Roubo, “l’Art du menuisier” translated in “With All the Precision Possible

I’ve built a few workbenches for customers who insisted on me adding a drawer under the benchtop as shown in Plate 11 of “l’Art du menuisier.” They also wanted a lock for the drawer, as shown in the plate.

At the time I built these drawers, I considered them superfluous. Plus they interfere with some clamping operations at the end of the workbench. As a result, I’ve never added a drawer to my personal workbench. I keep all my stuff in my tool chest, like a British dude.

Today I am reconsidering my position.

During the last year we’ve had hundreds of people through our shop. Some are students. Some are customers. Some are careless. All are curious. On Wednesday when I started dovetailing a series of seven drawers I played out a familiar scene.

“Have you seen my .7mm mechanical pencil?”

“Have you seen my Tite-Mark floating around?”

“Where’s my block plane?”

When you have other people in your shop, your stuff gets moved. Messed with. Even if you lock up your tool chest at night, during the day it’s open and people will poach a hammer, pencil or ruler if they are in a hurry and not thinking.

I’ve asked students, visitors and fellow woodworkers to please put things back. Doesn’t work.

During my panic on Wednesday I made a list of my stuff that has gone missing recently.

  • Mechanical pencils (several of them)
  • Starrett 6” rule
  • Tite-Mark marking gauge
  • Small Starrett dividers for dovetails
  • Marking knife
  • Paint can opener
  • Starrett 6” combination square
  • Diemakers square

Most (but not all) of these tools were located after I searched through the shop and the machine room. But after 20 minutes of looking for a rule, I start to feel like I’m losing money.

Hmmm, I thought, all of these things would fit in a small drawer under the benchtop. And if I locked it, then those tools would always be there when I needed them.

I feel a bit like a jerk for doing this. But I figure that building a drawer is a better idea than asking for anxiety medicine from my doctor.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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47 Responses to I Feel You, Monsieur Roubo

  1. Bill Morison says:

    Trust me, it is also much less expensive.

  2. aaronkessman says:

    Welcome to the fold, Chris 😉

    Any particular reason not to put it on the left side of the leg? That way it interferes with somewhat less prime real estate than the overhang part.

  3. andymckenzie617 says:

    I found, at the last place I worked, that all I needed was a closed door. Toss something in the closet, even something I’ve loaned out a lot, and people stop picking it up. A tool in an open chest says “I’m right here, you can have me back before he notices.” A closed door (or drawer) says “Have you really thought about this? You don’t know what’s back here. It could be an angry weasel. Maybe you should find your own pencil.”

    In a case like that, at least where I worked, out of sight meant not borrowed.

  4. Daniel Betz says:

    If you make the drawer easily removable when unlocked you can always just slide it out and use it like a tool tote when it is in the way.

    • Good idea!

      • armerlo says:

        If you put the drawer on slides so it could be accessed from either side of the bench, you could just push it far enough in to go past the holes for the bench hooks and not have to remove the drawer. Spending on how deep the drawer is, it might stickk out the other side, when pushed on that far, but that shouldn’t be a problem. And this way you could access the contents even if you were using bench hooks I that position.

  5. charleseflynn says:

    I think you have just added the Three Misplaced Starrett Tools Rule to your resume.

  6. Steven Vlahos says:

    I empathise with your pain. I don’t know how you allow others to touch your stuff as it would certainly annoy the shit out of me- especially considering the time, research and $$ most serious woodworkers put into acquiring a quality set of tools. I guess it speaks to your generosity and the allowances one must make working in a communal/ public space – a minor drawback perhaps considering all the potential benefits that would provide. Good to know though, as with most woodworking challenges we face, Roubo has already encountered it and solved the problem. Given I work alone in my garage, I’ll stick to putting everything back in my toolchest (plywood version) as an “Aussie/ Greek” dude should, mainly to avoid my wife seeing them and becoming a new member of “wives againstSchwarz”.

    • Wow. It has been years since I’ve heard the words “Wives Against Schwarz.” I guess they’ve gone underground….

      • Steven Vlahos says:

        I’m sure they’re still there, and future generations are in the pipeline thanks to Google. The ones who have quietened down have just capitulated and finally accepted the tools as part of their natural environment. Of course, there are the others who are worthy of being fully fledged members that are simply unaware of the group’s existence. Good. Let’s keep it that way. The quiet is a sign we are winning the war!

  7. PatientlyWaiting says:

    It wasn’t all that long ago, on these very pages, that someone promised us an nice oil-skin vest with many pockets. Would be the perfect sort of dress to hold many items on your list upon your person.
    Nudge, nudge. 😉

    • An update is coming (I hope this week). It’s a moleskin vest (waistcoat in the U.K.). Tom Bonamici – the designer – should have the finished prototype soon for his approval. I’m just as eager as you to get one!

  8. No one is ever in my shop, except the cats. So if something is missing, it’s my fault. I also hate wandering forever looking for a pencil, hammer, tape measure, etc. Thats why I own a billion of each.

  9. Anxiety medicine is good juju. Make drawer anyway.

  10. Eric Kuehne says:

    I built the Benchcrafted split top roubo a couple of years ago and, while I subscribe to the idea of keeping your workbench underside open clamping capability I’ve given some thought to a low, maybe, 8 in high drawer box to replace the bottom shelf. It would compromise clamping space a bit but I think it might provide the best of both worlds. Now you’ve got me thinking about the drawer under the bench top.
    As to the drawer you are suggesting under the bench, your tool chest locks so I’m having trouble understanding what you would accomplish with the bench drawer unless you would lock while your tool chest was unlocked.

  11. fitz says:

    This Is Just To Say

    I might have
    a pencil
    that was in
    your chest

    and which
    you were certainly
    for dovetails

    Forgive me
    it was aureate
    so slim
    and so there

  12. aaronkessman says:

    More useful than plums in the workshop for sure!

  13. gdblake00 says:

    I know just how you feel. When teaching woodworking to Boy Scouts and a few adult classes I would find tools missing from a set of totes that held specific tools which were easy to travel with and stay organized. For whatever reason the “borrowed” tools never showed back up. I built a Dutch tool chest and stocked it with suitable, but less expensive tools. I found that turning the toggle on a hasp to lock the lid down put an end to vanishing tools. I think the principal of out of sight out of mind comes into play.

  14. Peter McKinlay says:

    Just as a though, Chris, you might like to consider using a magnetic lock as used to keep kids out of kitchen cupboards. That way, rather than fussing with a key every time you need to get into that drawer, you can just hold a small magnet near the front to disengage the lock. That will remove a disincentive to close and lock the drawer each time you need something.

  15. Pascal Teste says:

    Do it. Nothing wrong with wanting your tools when you need them. I always had that problem on job sites with my guys. Drove me bananas!

  16. Pretty sure all that would also fit into a Garfield “I hate Mondays” coffee mug. Everybody knows not to mess with the stuff in a Garfield mug.

  17. JAshley73 says:

    I built 2 sliding-lid boxes and hung the “lids” from the underside of my mini-roubo copy.
    The intent was to hold all the small gadgets for dovetailing & the like, just as you described.
    My thought was that the “lid” would interfere less with any clamps that might end up there.

    When I’m use, they’d be on the workbench anyway.

    Just one more idea for the meat grinder…

  18. Sam Okerlund says:

    You could make the guide rails for the drawer extend from front to back, enabling you to slide the drawer forward or back if it were truly in the way at either edge. Sam

  19. Gav says:

    Beware of what has befallen Paul Sellers on more than one occasion. Instead of the interloper enquiring as to the opening of said drawer being permissible they simply opened it. Due to the deliberate lack of stops to facilitate removal the drawer and contents encountered a swift descent to the floor.

  20. Jon says:

    Agree with the above, stops on the drawer to keep the unwary from pulling it out too far (and onto the floor). Would be easy enough to have the stops pivot down when you wanted to remove the drawer for clamping/whatever reason.
    Not being an expert this may be a dumb suggestion, but would a drawer interfere with clamping less if instead of sliding out perpendicular to the long side of the bench it slid out parallel? As in put the drawer on the end grain of the bench instead of the long side. Depending on the width of the drawer it could leave a few inches of free space along the long side of the bench to hook a clamp, and it could still easily be removed if needed. Would avoid the drawer becoming inaccessible when clamping extra long boards along the bench for planing, and wouldn’t be a problem unless the bench was in a corner.

    • tsstahl says:

      A bench dog makes a handy stop that is quickly removed. The tongue in cheek idea of mirroring holdfast holes works well, too. Sort of a second lock, and a place to keep the holdfast when not in use.

  21. Jared says:

    This post brought to you by malodorous mallet. While other tools can get lost in the fray, you can always smell your way to a stinky mallet.

  22. Jeremy says:

    Regardless of the need for such a drawer, is there a question on the shape of this drawer? Is it deeper in the front to keep everything sliding down and towards the front? It might be a bad perspective drawing (the bench top and bottom stretchers don’t quite align perfectly) but Andre was no geometry slouch, and such a design might prevent items from disappearing to the back of the drawer.

  23. Andrew Z says:

    If you can’t find your 3/8″ paint can opener, a 1/4″ will work in a pinch.

  24. steve dyke says:

    I’m a British dude(?) and I have a drawer

  25. Aquila says:

    My father and grandfather put a covered drawer on top of the shelf under the bench at the legs of one end, that didn’t interfere with clamping or holdfasts. The covered drawer did lessen the shelf space but the cover gave a place for the planes which were then not mixed in with other tools on the shelf. My father had a chisel holder on the top of the drawer cover instead of using it for planes.

  26. I’m mostly shocked you’re not already on anxiety meds!

  27. Ted says:

    Ummm, why are you feeling bad? When I was a kid one of my friend’s dad was a mechanic for a car dealer. He told me his rule: “Nothing in my toolbox is for loan but everything is for sale.” Years later, when the tools out of my tool-case were being abused and returned in unserviceable condition, I announced the same rule and locked my case. I sold no tools but I didn’t lose any more tools either. Conclusion: I was being taken advantage of by people too cheap and/or too lazy to get or take care of their own tools. I stopped feeling bad about locking my case.


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