Workbench Tour No. 9: French Oak Roubo Workbench

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I built my first Roubo in 2005 out of yellow pine. Loved it to death. I sold it after I had the opportunity to build this beauty in 2013. It has remained my workbench ever since.

I don’t know why, but this bench seems to receive more abuse than any other bench in our storefront. Perhaps it just looks like it can take a punch. Or an auger. Or a sawcut. It doesn’t look any worse for the wear, however.

When I first built it, I omitted the parallel guide on the leg vise, which is how A.J. Roubo shows it in his 18th century text. I worked that way for more than a year. It’s not a bad way to work; you just slide a scrap between the vise jaw and the leg at the floor. But a Crisscross mechanism is much more convenient. So I was glad to upgrade (even though it was difficult to do on an assembled oak the size of a baby woolly mammoth).

That was the major change. I also added a swing-out seat (it’s vintage; I recommend you buy a Benchcrafted version). And some one-piece bench hooks, which people are constantly stealing. I might make some for all the benches in the coming weeks.


Products shown in the video (these are not affiliate links):

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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36 Responses to Workbench Tour No. 9: French Oak Roubo Workbench

  1. Jeff says:

    No deadman?

    • Not necessary. The vise is strong enough to handle 8′-long boards for edge planing. For longer, I rest them on the holdfasts on the right leg.

  2. Andy says:

    Really enjoying these. Anything worth mentioning on finishes, such as what you’ve used or how often?

    Seems BLO and varnish blends on a yearly-basis are popular. Tried and True looks tempting but I’ve heard the cure time can be glacial.

  3. Adam Jaymes says:

    Thanks for all the death free content with this series it is much appreciated. cut a 15″ x 5″ X 8.5′ slab of ash yesterday now to decide what too do with it ( and how to lift it up).it stated at 20″ x 7″ off the log damn crooked chainsaw. The audio book of The Joiner and Cabinet Maker was a huge hit at bedtime for my 10 yr old Daughter

  4. Michael Robertson says:

    Thanks so much for the video series. I’m about to start my first workbench build. The Ruobo you featured will be my fallback. I am smitten by the Benchcrafted Shaker Workbench and trying to figure out how to build it with my limited joinery skills. I was sorry that you didn’t have one to feature. I’d love to know what features you like and what changes you might make. I’m currently working through the By Hand and Eye exercises and encouraged a friend to get his copy. Thanks for all you do to pass on your knowledge.

    • I haven’t worked much on a bench like that, which is a big cabinet. I will say that Shaker benches are not a single style. The Hancock bench is not like any of the western shaker benches I’ve encountered. All neither here nor there.

  5. Steve Voigt says:

    Chris, I built my (not strictly Orthodox) Roubo out of yellow pine after reading that 2005 article. I still love it to death. Thanks for the article, thanks for this video series, and everything in between. Cheers!

  6. Daniel Roy says:

    Hold on, two more to go!

    ‘I told Suzanne Ellison that we had 11 different workbenches here at the storefront, she (perhaps calling me out as a liar) suggested we do quick video tours of them.’

  7. fedster9 says:

    I remember that in the video you made with Will Myers you mentioned that the best top is one solid slab, followed by a lamination on many smaller pieces — the two large pieces approach was the one you suggested not to take. Any comments on how this bench is doing on that front? did you use a loose tenon approach to keep the two pieces tightly together?

    • As you can see, my benchtop is fine. My comment had nothing to do with the durability of the benchtop. It was about the difficulty of getting it properly fit and glued up. Dealing with two enormous slabs – each weighing 125-150 pounds and getting that joint dead on – is a trick to do by yourself. And then you need heavy-duty clamps – lots of them – to do a good job.

      That’s why I said a single slab is easier (no clamps; no joint). Or many smaller pieces (you can handle them by yourself and don’t need heavy-duty clamps).

      This top was made with PVA only. No loose tenons, which would be a nice upgrade.

      Hope this makes sense.

  8. Mattias Hallin says:

    What glue or glues did you use on this bench? Hot hide glue? Liquid hide glue? Yellow or white PVA? Summat else again?

  9. Mark Lawrence says:

    It’s a fine bench, but I’m wondering if you ever use a Moxon vise on it? And if so, how do you hold it? The reason I’m asking is that I’ve been scratching my head over the holdfast hole placements evident here and described in your ‘where-to-locate-your-holdfast-holes’ post. Most holdfasts won’t reach from the 12″ row to the stabiliser In the Benchcrafted Moxon. Do you clamp it at the sides with G clamps, or use an extended stabiliser. I quite literally have an undrilled workbench, and a partially unassembled Moxon, with two Crucible holdfasts on order (from a Swedish stockist),so I’d really appreciate your insight on this very specific question.

    • Mark,

      I plan to add a third row of holdfast holes – I just haven’t gotten around to it. They will be 7″ forward of the middle row. Offset similarly to the other rows.

      I use F-style clamps to hold my Moxon. No big deal to do it.

  10. Björn says:

    Love this series! The timing of it is perfect since I just got far enough on fixing up my house to start thinking about workbenches and bought your book on benches just before the series started. It is great to see an update on some of the benches featured in the book. One thing I would like to ask is what kind of workholding devices are best for working on large pieces of wood that are rough and uneven?

    Is the plywood 24-h bench coming up? I would like to know how that kind of top lasts over time. I am thinking of building something like a roubo, nicholson or moravian but with plywood benchtop. Using screws to clamp just seems so much easier (and cheaper) than using a bunch of clamps. It also appeals to me to not have to joint all those boards for a lamination.

    • Hi Björn,

      I’m afraid I’m not exploring benches that I don’t own anymore, such as the 24-Hour Workbench. Plywood tops fare quite well and stay pretty flat (I think they’re ugly….). Drew Langsner prefers plywood for his benchtops and has had good luck with them.

      Truth is that all the tops do fine over the long haul as long as they are fairly thick, so I wouldn’t worry too much.

      On workholding for rough stock, I use a planing stop and a doe’s foot. Or I set up a batten along the length of the benchtop for traversing.

      • Björn says:

        Thanks! A plywood top seems to be the easiest way to get the bench together and start working on it. It will be pretty enough. I can always use it to build a beautiful bench later. My girlfriend of course thinks that the answer is to stop faffing about with a homemade bench and just buy a nice Sjöberg.

    • Gye Greene says:

      @Bjorn — If you can, I recommend **both** of the Schwarz (original) “workbench” books. There’s some overlap — and the second one is clearly an extension of the first one — but they’re not **redundant**: there’s much to be learned from both. 🙂

      I recommend the Scott Landis workbench book, too: a different approach from Chris’ — but also useful.

  11. Love the simplicity of this bench.
    I’m about to start my bench build using two ash slabs of similar dimensions. Did you use loose tenons to join the two slabs, or just a glue joint? Hide or PVA glue?

  12. mdhills says:

    Can the planing stop be dropped below the bench top, or does it need to be pulled out?

    • I have never needed to drop the planing stop below the benchtop. Ever. So no. Nor have I had to remove the stop.

      But it’s easy to chop a recess for the teeth.

  13. charles says:

    I might have access to some 8/4 slabs. Is stacking 2 of those on top of each other the nightmare to which you are referring?

  14. Erik Pearson says:

    You’ve had to plane down the dovetailed through-mortises in the benchtop several times (as well as flattening the benchtop). If you had to do it over, would you still follow Roubo’s classical design, or would you change it up? What would you change?

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