Roubo from a weed, or how I have come to hate red oak

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Blog entry by Jon Spelbring posted 01-20-2011 05:20 PM 1777 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Like many jocks out there, I’m in the process of building a new workbench. It will be pretty close to the Roubo that Chris Schwarz built, but sadly, my top will not be made out of pretty (if punky) cherry. No, I was fortunate(?) to have a supply of very thick red oak planks to work with. The top is made up of 3 pieces at 7.5” wide by 4” thick by 7’ long. It’s a beast! The legs are from the same stock, trimmed to 3”x5”.

I’ve finished cutting the tenons and dovetail pins in the legs – I’m using the tenon+dovetail approach for attaching the legs. This week, it’s been laying out the mortises and dovetail sockets on the top.



Good grief, this stuff is like a combination of rubber, tar, and string cheese. It’s dense enough – I estimate that the top weighs in at close to 200 lbs. But cutting the mortises has been a painful mess. I am using the bore first, then chisel method. It works – more or less. But even with the boring out first, the chisel work is slow going (and yes, my chisels are plenty sharp). This stuff is very open grained, and very stringy.

All but one of the mortises have been roughed out – now I have to start on the cleanup and fitting af the legs. I have a feeling that there is going to be plenty of shimming in my future to get this beast together.

I will probably add pics – but not until my dovetails and mortises are a little more presentable – right now, they’re kind of embarrassing.

If I had to start over, I think I would go with a laminated top, and cut the dovetails/mortises on the table/band saw, then mark the tenons on the legs. Sure sounds easier about now!

-- To do is to be

3 comments so far

View deucefour's profile


285 posts in 3766 days

#1 posted 01-20-2011 06:11 PM

I have not had this experiance myself and maybe this is common knowledge but I’ll pass it along anyway. I work with a very credible gentleman that used to be a woodshop teacher, we were having a discussion on wood one day and he was explaining to me that when using red oak he taught his students that it would have an extreme amount of wood expansion/movement due to changes in weather. He had compared it to white oak which had a much smaller margian of expansion and contraction. that was news to me. thought I’d pass it along and see if it matters for your project. good luck!


View BigTiny's profile


1676 posts in 3400 days

#2 posted 01-20-2011 06:14 PM

Assuming a density of .8, that top probably runs close to 220 pounds, Add the legs and such and it will tip the old Toledo scales at well over 300. I doubt it will move on you when you’re hand planing on it. (grin)

Rather than drill and chisel, why not router the mortises and round the corners of the tenons, or even use floating tenons?

-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

View Jon Spelbring's profile

Jon Spelbring

199 posts in 4765 days

#3 posted 01-20-2011 07:26 PM

Robert – yes, red oak is pretty much a bundle of straws, but it’s what I had on hand. I love white oak, but at the moment it would be cost prohibative for me. We’ll see how it holds up.

Big Tiny – yeah, it’s for hand tool work, and it should stay where I put it. As to the router – I wanted to try it with hand tools – though I may use a flush trim for the last little bit. Since I’ve run out of red oak (yay!), the buttom stretchers will probably be SYP, as will the bottom shelf. Leg vise chop and paralell guide will be either QSWO, or maybe walnut (I’ve got a nice hunk of 10/4 left over from my Maloof style chair). The real fun will be the leg vise – I treated myself to a Glide vise from Benchcrafted.

-- To do is to be

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