Benchcrafted’s French Oak Roubo Project

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We’re in the middle of building 20 (!!) French workbenches this week down in Barnesville, Ga., a small town south of Atlanta. Here, Bo Childs has graciously lent us his ample workshop and machinery (Martin planers and shapers!) to get the job done in a week.

Benchcrafted organized this massive event, which requires months of preparation (years, actually if you count the sourcing and air-drying of the wood). And like everything Jameel Abraham and Father John touch, it’s just as it should be.

There’s lots of help – you can ask Jeff Miller, Will Myers, Don Williams, Ron Brese, Megan Fitzpatrick or me for a hand with layout, joint fitting or assembly. The lunches are great (who eats bread pudding at lunch? Apparently, I do now). And the wood is just right. We’re using oak sourced from France that has been air-drying for more than a decade.

Some of the students have been a little bemused by the knots, splits and bug holes in the wood, but I keep telling them: That’s exactly what the old benches look like. I don’t want furniture-grade wood for a French workbench. Embrace the defects.

And I think we’re going to get everyone assembled by the end of day on Friday. I probably won’t get to see it, however. I need to be on a plane out of Cincinnati by 6 p.m. Friday to start a chairmaking class on Monday morning. (It’s a stupid way to make a living, but it beats working.)

I don’t know if Benchcrafted and Bo will ever do this again. If they do, I hope they’ll ask me to lend a hand again. And if you ever get a chance to participate, I recommend you start saving your pennies now.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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22 Responses to Benchcrafted’s French Oak Roubo Project

  1. Richard Mahler says:

    “It’s a stupid way to make a living, but it beats working.”

    So, so true! If you are doing what you would do if you didn’t need to work for a living, then it’s not work except for the unavoidable aggravations of any process or endeavor. Still beats working for anybody else, which can often makes you wonder how stupid you can be.

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  2. Biff Hooper says:

    Thank you so much for using “bemused” correctly.

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  3. Daniel Williamson says:

    A few months ago, I took the opportunity to take a class with Jeff Miller at his shop in Chicago. There were several students and several benches (we each got our own), and I knew he had been a part of the FORP project. So when my eyes lit on his bench, I seized the opportunity just to work on it for a day. It seemed to greatly enrich my class experience just knowing I was working on a bench of that provenance. Didn’t help my joinery one bit and it wasn’t any better than my SYP Roubo at home, but it sure was a fun fact in the back of my brain. Would love to have one of those one day, but I wouldn’t trade mine for the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Patrick says:

    “Embrace the defects.”
    Wouldn’t that make a great t-shirt?

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  5. Tom Bittner says:

    Ok, I get the lure of 6” slabs of exotic French Oak, air dried for 10 years and the slabs massaged by French Virgins (female of course) every two weeks with organic wool cloth made from a special wild breed of Dali Sheep only found on the steeps of the French Alps.
    For us mere mortals just trying to master the woodworking basics such an expenditure of time, effort and money to make a bench that can’t be easily moved or transported sounds like a waste of time and supreme effort unless your a historian of some type. That kind of bench might be cut up and burned for firewood someday just to get rid of it when the owner dies. (Sorry for that imagery)
    Don’t get me wrong, I greatly appreciate the history, but take from that and build something from modern materials that will give you the same results or more likely much better, a bench that is just as solid, less expensive, won’t move ( as much) or require constant tuning as humidity levels change. Then you can take the time and money expended on such a super bench and go build something. Even someone who worked on such a bench said his joinery didn’t improve.
    I’m not saying build a rickety bench from 3/4 inch plywood and 2x4s from the big box store and get going making bird houses but we are not all historians looking to recreate how a bench was made 2000 years ago using methods that required extensive and massive human effort and costs!
    By the way we’re these slabs sawed to thickness by hand with indentured journeymen using a pit saw?
    My takeaway from all this is:
    look at what it took centuries ago to just make a bench!
    How did anyone live long enough to become a “master woodworker”?
    You mean after all that effort they threw these benches down a well to stop marauders from stealing them?
    Glad I don’t have to live that way….
    Again don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading about the history of woodworking.
    I greatly appreciate and am fascinated by the work and research done to recover and revive woodworking history and I willingly buy all sorts of books on the subject.
    I’m amazed at what humans accomplished with all the elements against them including political instability, disease, starvation and no medical care.
    Got to go build my bird feeders now on my Stanley Workmate and Festool power tools.

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    • Lighten up Francis.

      Liked by 4 people

    • Justin L says:

      Yes, please. Lighten up. Just because you don’t appreciate the history, technology or balk about cost, it doesn’t mean others can’t enjoy it. I have one of these benches from the first go around. I had a crappy store bought bench and a decently made but cheap bench before that. Am I a master woodworker now? Please. Have I enjoyed my time more working on a good solid HEAVY bench, for the last 6 years? Yes, worth every penny. And I love the history of it.

      Please try to consider other people’s perspectives before you crap all over something on the internet.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Nope. I think you actually don’t get it.

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    • Tom Stork says:

      Seems like you could say the same about any number of things — sports cars, premium wine, big houses, etc. As my dad used to say, “to each his own, no matter how stupid.” (Not that I’m saying this is stupid; I just like the quip.)

      If I had the money to spare, I’d be happy to do it, and I wouldn’t think it was “worth it” in any sort of accounting sense. If it doesn’t appeal to you, don’t do it.

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    • John says:

      Some people buy things, others buy experiences. This looks like a good combination of both, leaning a bit heavy on the experience side. And a wonderful one it would be. I missed FORP 1 because I balked at the cost. I sincerely regret that now that I know what a wonderful experience it would’ve been.

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  6. I am green with envy… will start saving, and keep my fingers crossed for FORP IV: A New Hope

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Steven Vlahos says:

    Looks like an awesome experience. It’s great for now to be able to live vicariously through these photos. Maybe I’ll get lucky to participate one day.

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  8. Rob Mayberry says:

    This sounds incredible. I’m sorry I never heard about it! I live right in the Atlanta area and would have jumped at the chance.

    Congrats to everyone who has been involved. Good people, good work, good learning, and good fun. Oh, and food. What’s not to love?

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  9. Klaus N. Skrudland says:

    You better catch that plane!

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  10. John Koenig says:

    Any structural advantage to French oak over American red or white? Or maple, for that matter. I have a source for 4 inch thick hard maple. Kiln dried, but just wondering if French oak has any fundamental differences that give it an advantage? I’m well versed in their respective effect on whiskeys 🙂

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    • Don Hardeman says:

      No, your maple will be just fine. I built mine of SYP about 8 years ago. I’ve loved working on it every minute. And yes, my hand skills have improved dramatically since then. It’s nice to be able to secure your work so that it is immobile. Makes a world of difference.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Don Hardeman says:

    I’m envious. I too, would have like to take part if I’d known about it. I’m not far from Atlanta. I have a Roubo I built myself from your book, but I sure could use another. Please let us know if this repeats.

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  12. Krishen Kota says:

    If I get off work early enough, I may attend alumni night to continue my journey from FORP I 😄

    My bench is about ready to be flattened again, which is not to bad for a six year old slab bench.

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  13. Daniel Williamson says:

    I’ve got my eye on a tree to cut down and mill sometime on our property. It’s not French oak, but it is ‘Mercian red oak. Clean and clear for 22 feet. 56 inch diameter base. Wanting someday to be able to build 2 22 foot long benches that are 5” thick with a leg vice every 6-7 feet and cut the rest up into more normal sizes. The benches would be pushed up near a couple walls. I want to do it strictly for the satisfaction of it. Sometimes I feel like I just want to get out in the shop for shop projects and bench making more than furniture making. (You don’t have to wait for finish to dry on shop projects!) Does that make me less of a woodworker? Probably. But I don’t care. It makes me happy and it lets my mind roam free like it needs to with all the hubbub and annoyances of life in general. Got a house full of furniture, some of which I’ve built, some of which I’ve bought. Proud of all of it. Chris, your workbench book revolutionalized the way I think of workholding. Thank you, as many have said before me and many more will say after. Cheers to everyone who builds a good bench that does what it’s supposed to do and they are proud of. Buy you a drink next time I see you.

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  14. Larry Lancaster says:

    Any of the benches for sale? I finally have a workshop at 81 years young. I would cherish building a bench but to take 2 years to make one away from building furniture for my lovely wife of 58+years would be disappointing. But I do need a GREAT bench.

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