Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 142, June 2017 Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
The Madcap Woodwright
By John McBride
Denver, CO

Life with a Roubo Workbench

To start at Part 1 of this series, Click Here

I started the Roubo Bench With A Twist back in the fall of 2016. In total, it took me about a week, maybe a week and a half to complete the bench build. I wanted to follow up with some thoughts on the bench, now that I have had a chance to live and work with it for several months now.

On balance, I am enjoying the bench. Its size and heft are a pleasure for me, especially when engaged in hand planing or hand cutting joinery. Its height is lower than I thought practical for someone of my size (6'3" tall), but as it turns out, it actually feels just about right for me. I have had several extended sessions of hand planing, all with a noticeable lack of lower back pain or excessive fatigue.

The leg vise is a joy to use. If you plan to use a traditional leg vise, allow me to say that the Benchcrafted CrissCross is a MUST HAVE. It's far superior to the bench screw and pin board most often used with this type of vise.
I ended up drilling 3/4" holes in the top in order to use bench holdfasts. I was a bit concerned because a benchtop this thick (nearly 5-1/2") can sometimes cause the holdfasts to perform poorly, and counterboring from the bottom is sometimes required in order to get them to work. I have yet to find the need to do this after having roughed up the shafts of the holdfasts with a little medium grit sandpaper. I can very nearly pick the bench up from the holdfast when it is set.
Very impressive.

On the other side of the equation I will say there are some minor complaints with this bench. The nits I am picking though, are as a direct result of choices I made prior to starting the project, and were expected from the beginning.

If you have been following this series, you will recall that I was building this bench as a very economical version of this style. I choose to use BORG sourced, dimensional, Douglas Fir. Primarily 4"x 6" timbers for both the top and the base.

Laminating boards of this thickness and heft is not normally recommended. The dimensional stock at the big box stores is normally quite wet and green. I lucked out and got boards that were "OK", and I figured that with some time to acclimatize, they would be fine.

By and large, this turned out to be true. I stickered the boards upon arrival to The Tiny Shop , and let them bleed sap, and dry out for a couple of months before starting to work them. This was key.

Even with the seasoning however, the bench continues to weep some sap through the top and legs from time to time, but this is becoming less and less of an issue as time goes on. Annoying, but temporary.

I also knew that the top was going to move and that I would be a slave to my scrub plane and #7 to keep it flat. I flattened the top initially upon completion, and I am currently allowing the top to do whatever it wants to do over the summer as it continues to wring the last bits of moisture from itself here in the dry climate of the Mile High City.

Come this fall, or maybe into the winter (Christmas time perhaps?) I plan to give the beast another good flattening.

Currently, there is a very slight cup in the top and also a very, very slight twist. Both of which are fixable if I am to be my usual anal retentive self.

Were I to do this again, I think I might rethink the hefty beams, and perhaps use kiln dried (hahaha) 2"x6" material laminated together, just like the Scandinavian bench I built prior to this one.

A word about Douglas Fir. It is true that the species is fine for a workbench top. I like it just fine. However, folks who are going to put a ton of blood, sweat, and tears into their build, or who are building a bench as a means of highlighting their skills, or who might have a stroke once the first dents start showing up, then I would highly recommend that a harder wood like Ash or hard Maple be used for the top.

Douglas Fir has an annoying habit of denting. Because of the nature of the growth rings, these dents will oftentimes result in the splintering of the slower growth rings creating jagged edges that will pull large amounts of material out with them if you happen to catch one of the edges with a blanket or work piece. Plus, they hurt like hell if you get one lodged in your hand. They become infected almost upon contact……Epoxy is your friend.

My bench was specifically purposed to be a "beater" bench. So all of these defects are not really all that much of a bummer for me. The dents and scratches have begun to appear, and the bench is breaking in nicely.

I am not at all sure that I would do anything any differently. Maybe different material for the top, but other than that I love the versatility this bench provides me. It's very comfortable to use, and is worry free due to its inexpensive materials.

John McBride is a professional woodwright, blogger, and writer, living and working joyfully and with abandon in Denver, Colorado. He welcomes feedback on any of his writing, and can be reached at madcapwoodwright@gmail.com . Feel free to drop him a note.

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