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Benchcrafted Split Top Roubo Workbench #1: Where to Start? At the beginning, of course

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Blog entry by EarlS posted 05-19-2021 12:57 AM 1454 reads 0 times favorited 20 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Benchcrafted Split Top Roubo Workbench series Part 2: Finally, Milled Stock - Part 1 »

Woodworkers like to showcase their skills and what better way to do so than to make a work bench. In fact, Lumberjocks has entire forums with thousands of posts about workbenches. Workbench Smack Down (part 2) is already some 20K posts long with plenty of amazing benches, lots of ideas, suggestions, and a bit of humor (think sexy work bench pose).

I used a melamine and 2×4 work table for many years. I finally decided that this would be the year I build a proper work bench. I read thru LJ posts, projects, perused pictures and bought and read at least 2 or 3 books on building the ultimate workbench. My problem was that I never had most of the fancy extras the authors of the books suggested that were essentials. I wonder how I managed to do any woodworking without them? I tried making a list of features I wanted. That didn’t work.

So I started asking about vises, another rabbit hole, but there were some hidden treasures to be found. Benchcrafted was mentioned, Horvarter was also mentioned, along with several others. I saw the Benchcrafted work bench with a leg vise and tail vise and I was hooked. Of course, it helped that Benchcrafted is an Iowa company, just a couple hours away in Cedar Rapids. What better way to help the local economy. They also had plans for a split top roubo bench. Perfect!!!

It took a bit of saving to finally afford the Benchmakers Package with a cast iron handwheel, crisscross solo leg vise, and a tail vise. It wound up being my “late” Christmas present from SWMBO. It just so happens that the package included a full set of plans for the work bench.

Here are a couple of pictures from Benchcrafted:

At this point, I had plans and hardware, but no wood.

Fortunately, there’s Craigslist and there are plenty of farms with a stack of wood in a barn that has been there for years. I happened across just such a thing. Mark had a big stack of 8/4 old growth oak, a bunch of 8/4 cherry, some 8/4 walnut, and a good stock of thinner cherry and oak boards. Prices were good too. $2/BF or so for oak, $3/BF or so for cherry, we guessed at how many BF since neither one of us had a tape measure. I’ve stopped out to see him 3 times. I think I might have enough wood for the bench. Maybe…..

The plans call for a 24” x 87” x 4” top that is made of 2 pieces, a 12” wide back section, and a 10” front section with a gap stop between them. The legs are 3-1/2”x 5-3/8. The bench top will be 35” off the floor. In addition to the 4 pages of detailed drawings, there are on-line guides that provide a narrative of suggestions to help with the build. As mentioned before, the top will be ~6/4 white oak boards on edge. The base (legs, stretchers) will either be walnut or cherry, depending on how the walnut comes out. I also plan to add drawers underneath the table which will be walnut as well.

Part 2 will discuss the joys and pains of milling old, air dried wood for the bench. Hopefully, there will be more pictures too.

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"



20 comments so far

View KelleyCrafts's profile

KelleyCrafts

4580 posts in 1857 days


#1 posted 05-19-2021 01:06 AM

Looking forward to it! The height at 35” is rough if you ask me. I have lower back issues so a taller bench was welcomed at my place and I still use a hand plane with ease. Mine is 40” or 41” can’t remember. It also allowed for a taller cabinet under the top.

Just a suggestion if you have a back issue or want more room. Hopefully you haven’t cut your legs yet if you take the suggestion.

-- Dave - http://kelleycrafts.com/ - pen blanks - knife scales - turning tools

View Lazyman's profile

Lazyman

7133 posts in 2505 days


#2 posted 05-19-2021 01:52 AM

Maybe your build will help me get off my butt and start my build so I’ll definitely be following along.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View sansoo22's profile

sansoo22

1673 posts in 772 days


#3 posted 05-19-2021 03:54 AM



Looking forward to it! The height at 35” is rough if you ask me. I have lower back issues so a taller bench was welcomed at my place and I still use a hand plane with ease. Mine is 40” or 41” can’t remember. It also allowed for a taller cabinet under the top.

Just a suggestion if you have a back issue or want more room. Hopefully you haven’t cut your legs yet if you take the suggestion.

- KelleyCrafts

I can’t find the video but an Australian woodworker did a fantastic job detailing how to measure the height of your bench. You grab a hand plane and hold it with your elbow bent at 90 deg or a little more. Then measure up to the bottom of the plane and subtract an inch to account for most common stock size. For me that came out to roughly 41”. Too bad I learned this after building my first bench at 35”. Long periods of jointing boards or doing detailed chisel work do effect my low back. At least building benches is fun and this time I have a bench to assist with the new bench.

Earl – I’m definitely follow your blog to see how the bench turns out. I’ve been considering reclaimed wood for my new bench. I need to get lucky on Craigslist first though. The few outfits around here that specialize in it want around $8 a board foot.

View BurlyBob's profile

BurlyBob

9006 posts in 3383 days


#4 posted 05-19-2021 03:56 AM

Earl, I ordered the same package last night. I’ll be making my bench out of Beech. I look forward to see your bench progress.

View KelleyCrafts's profile

KelleyCrafts

4580 posts in 1857 days


#5 posted 05-19-2021 04:05 AM

Looks like this is going to be a popular blog Earl. Don’t screw it up man. ;)

-- Dave - http://kelleycrafts.com/ - pen blanks - knife scales - turning tools

View WhattheChuck's profile

WhattheChuck

463 posts in 4678 days


#6 posted 05-19-2021 04:40 AM

Looking forward to all of this!

-- Chuck, Pullman, WA

View EarlS's profile

EarlS

4550 posts in 3466 days


#7 posted 05-19-2021 10:51 AM

I haven’t cut the legs to length yet so the 35” height can be modified. Anyone have a hand plane I can “borrow” to try to come up with a bench height?

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

View HokieKen's profile

HokieKen

17908 posts in 2256 days


#8 posted 05-19-2021 12:33 PM



I haven t cut the legs to length yet so the 35” height can be modified. Anyone have a hand plane I can “borrow” to try to come up with a bench height?

- EarlS

Yep. If you’re serious, shoot me a message ;-) I recently sold off all my extras that weren’t rehabbed but I have a couple in the rehab pile I could send you one of.

I think I landed at 36” or so for my bench and it works well for me. I honestly think you’ll just settle into whatever height you make it and be fine. But, if you have back problems or other ailments like old man Dave, it’s definitely a consideration. I’ll also say that for power tool work, like router inlay, I would like to have another 6” on the height of mine because it would be easier to see what I’m doing while standing up straighter. I know you do a lot of inlay work so you might want to see what height is most comfortable for that kind of work. I also like more height for carving work but I use a bench-on-bench for that which is always an option for small-ish work that you want more height for.

I’ll throw this in – Instead of the 2” gap stop, make it a little wider and make it a tool tray. The 2” is ideal for holding handsaws and chisels and marking tools if you want to use it for that. But, it’s too narrow for sitting hand planes or beer or coffee mugs in. You can always make tool holders however you like to fit in it.

I essentially made a split-top Roubo when I did my bench but, I didn’t like the stretchers at the top of the legs being used to support two completely independent pieces. So I tied the two together so it’s more like a solid top with a gap in the center than two parts. This gave me the advantages of a split top but made it much easier to get the whole top planar and let me do away with the top stretchers.

The glue-up:

WOW my clamp game was weak back then!

Final words of wisdom (or at least the closest thing I can muster) is to plan ahead and make sure the grain all runs the same direction when you glue up the pieces for the top(s). It’ll make it much easier when you do the final flattening whether that’s done with a handplane, router or planer. And FWIW, my lunchbox planer had a really hard time trying to flatten slabs that big and heavy. Hand planes were my saving grace there. And winding sticks. A necessity IMO for flattening large pieces.

Exciting stuff! I’ll be following along :-)

-- I collect hobbies. There is no sense in limiting yourself (Don W) - - - - - - - - Kenny in SW VA

View Lazyman's profile

Lazyman

7133 posts in 2505 days


#9 posted 05-19-2021 01:14 PM


Final words of wisdom (or at least the closest thing I can muster) is to plan ahead and make sure the grain all runs the same direction when you glue up the pieces for the top(s). It’ll make it much easier when you do the final flattening whether that’s done with a handplane, router or planer.

—Kenny

That is an excellent reminder. (I should start a checklist for my build of the things I learn from your mistakes. :-) One of the first things I learned when I finally started using hand planes was how important the grain direction is. There is almost nothing more frustrating than to have one piece in a glue up facing the opposite direction than the others or one where the grain reverses somewhere along the way. This is one of the things that frustrates new hand plane users, causing them to put it back on the shelf and never use it again.

I am thinking that I will make my top 5” thick instead of 4” so that after flattening and as I re-flatten it over the years it never gets under 4” thick. BTW, if you haven’t read Chris Swartz’s free ebook on the Anacrchist’s workbench it has some good process related tips as well as advise on features. An easy read and defintely worth the time, IMO.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View mikeacg's profile

mikeacg

1915 posts in 2175 days


#10 posted 05-19-2021 01:25 PM

Definitely will be watching this Earl! I need a real bench…

Mike

-- Mike, A Yooper with a drawl, http://www.artcentergraphics.com

View KelleyCrafts's profile

KelleyCrafts

4580 posts in 1857 days


#11 posted 05-19-2021 01:34 PM

Good reminder on the grain direction Kenny. I had several pieces where grain direction switched but a thin thin shaving and lots of strokes prevented tear out.

Earl, knowing you aren’t a hand tool guy YET, stack some things up on your current work table and mimic the things you do most now and see what feels comfy. You can always go back and shorten the bench later if you need to. It would be a pain but making it longer is a bigger pain. Taller bench means taller drawers too.

-- Dave - http://kelleycrafts.com/ - pen blanks - knife scales - turning tools

View duckmilk's profile

duckmilk

4542 posts in 2442 days


#12 posted 05-19-2021 10:34 PM

Nice Earl! It will be interesting to follow along.

-- "Duck and Bob would be out doin some farming with funny hats on." chrisstef

View JimYoung's profile

JimYoung

409 posts in 2705 days


#13 posted 05-20-2021 01:39 AM

Good luck with the build. I love my BC Roubo, it makes clamping and holding workpieces so easy and simple.

One thing I considered on mine, was adjustable legs using heavy carriage bolts and hockey pucks, but ended up not using them because I’m only 5’10” and built the top at 34.5” to match my table saw so it would not interfere with long pieces. The adjustable legs would have interfered with the leg vice, and my floor is pretty flat.

I found a pair of iron hold downs on amazon that are a nice addition. The dog holes need to be counter sunk for them to hold properly. So if you plan on these, you may want to counter sink the tops before mounting them.

Mine is pretty stock, since I had no real experience to figure out what I needed. As drawn, it is a very useful tool to have.

Now you just have to figure out if you will put in square or round dog holes! ( ^ ; Let the debate begin….

-- -Jim, "Nothing says poor craftsmanship more than wrinkles in your duck tape"

View HokieKen's profile

HokieKen

17908 posts in 2256 days


#14 posted 05-20-2021 03:54 PM

Round dogs let the holes do double duty for holdfasts. No contest IMO ;-P

-- I collect hobbies. There is no sense in limiting yourself (Don W) - - - - - - - - Kenny in SW VA

View KelleyCrafts's profile

KelleyCrafts

4580 posts in 1857 days


#15 posted 05-20-2021 04:01 PM

Why is there not like 5 parts to this already. C’mon Earl!

-- Dave - http://kelleycrafts.com/ - pen blanks - knife scales - turning tools

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