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):
Peter Ross planing stop, tommy bar and iron ring for the hub
The Moravian workbench made popular by Will Myers is a gorgeous piece of work – probably the prettiest workbench in our shop. It’s a full-featured bench in a compact design that can be knocked to pieces in minutes.
I hadn’t worked on one much until Will loaned us one last year. The top is oak (likely white oak) and the base is yellow pine. It features a Benchcrafted Classic face vise and Crisscross mechanism. And a wagon vise mechanism that Will makes and sells.
We’re happy to have the bench here – visitors always want to compare the different forms of workbenches before they commit to building one. And we encourage them to try them all and ignore advice from us and others. You know what you like.
Whenever I finish building a massive workbench in oak, I think: This thing is going to last a long, long time.
For proof, just ask Ryan Bowen, of Charlotte, North Carolina. Ryan had built a “lightweight Roubo” workbench about five years ago. It was built using almost no glue. All the joints are pegged and without adhesive.
The bench lived in his shop, a green outbuilding, along with his great grandfather’s tool chest. The bench was, according to Ryan, “easily my favorite tool.”
Last week a giant oak decided to fall on Ryan’s shop, destroying the entire structure. Then it rained on the interior contents for two hours. No one was hurt.
Check out the photos to see how the bench failed. “All in all I was not too upset,” Ryan wrote in an email, “and plan to rebuild with a new top.”
Ryan had some things to say about the damage:
“Assembling base joinery without glue has advantages. You can see how things broke apart cleanly – I would expect a lot more shearing and splintering with glued joints. Or perhaps it all would have held together…we’ll hopefully never know.
“I definitely should have done a through-mortise to the top and made a beefier top. But (I was) young and poor with limited access to oak….”
There’s one more important lesson to share, and that relates to Ryan’s tool chest. I’m waiting on a photo and then we can discuss that.
During the last 20 years, I’ve experimented with a lot of alternative (or odd) materials to build workbenches. Most worked fine. I think the raw materials are less important than their dimensions and the bench’s design.
Megan Fitzpatrick and I encountered laminated veneer lumber (in the video I erroneously call it LVL) used as a worksurface at a noodle restaurant near the Popular Woodworking offices. Of course, I’d seen LVL before in commercial construction. But the person who made these tables had cut slices of the stuff, rotated them 90° and glued them together. Basically, they had created a surface composed entirely of the edges of plywood.
So I helped Megan build a workbench using the stuff. It was featured on the cover of the November 2009 issue.
The benchtop has held up great during the last 11 years. It’s still as flat as the day we finished it. And it takes a beating, despite the fact that it’s only 2-1/2” thick. I wish we had time to rebuild the base. The video discusses the other modifications we’ve made to it over the years.
Some of the items shown in the video (these are not affiliate links)
The only good thing I can say about the stupidness of venture capital is that it resulted in me obtaining this workbench.
This is a vintage Ulmia. I’m guessing it’s 1980s vintage based on what I know about the provenance of the bench (if you know for sure I’m wrong, please let me know). It was owned by American Woodworker magazine for years and then ended up in my hands via a series of binges and purges by the venture capital firm that owned F+W Media during its implosion.
One day the company vacated its bowels of a large amount of woodworking gear and projects that the American Woodworker staff had built. I was in the right place at the right time.
It’s a great bench. And the statement I make at the beginning of the video is 100 percent true (the statement about lasagne at the end of the video is also true). There are a few dumb things about the bench, but those are covered in the video (and are things I have fixed).
If you are ever offered one of these benches, and it’s in good shape (many are not), then go for it. Here in the Midwest, Ulmias tend to go for $800 to $1,500, depending on their condition. That’s a pretty good deal, all things considered.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. I know that the current company that owns Ulmia did not make this workbench. I haven’t seen any examples of Ulmias since the company was sold, so I don’t have any opinion on them. Sorry.