Mini-Roubo from Oz #5: My First Workbench Build - The Workbench Top

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Blog entry by siggykc posted 09-15-2019 08:30 AM 1169 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: My first workbench build- recycling offcuts for inlay Part 5 of Mini-Roubo from Oz series Part 6: Mounting the tail vise and cutting the mortises for the workbench top »

G’day folks. It has been a while since my last update. I shall do a couple of posts to catch up for the last couple of months.

The Workbench Top.

Like the legs, the top is constructed from good old fashioned Hard/Rock Maple. Due to the 115mm thick dimensions, and the fact that I am a mere 5’5”in size, constructing a single piece top was out of the question.
As I work on this on weekends and some week nights, it is imperative that I can put the bench aside so that others may use the workshop. Thus a 2 piece top was decided upon.
Total dimensions for the top are 1500mm in length and 650mm in width.
Each of the top pieces are therefore 1500mm in length and 325mm in width.

Some may recall that on the side I was collecting some random figured timber to use on the build to spice up the aesthetics a little. Here in Melbourne, Australia we simply do not have any timber/lumber yards that stock figured timber. Its generally all straight grained, whilst anything with figure is snapped up on the private market by luthiers.
From a previous post, you may recall that I met a friendly guy who had brought across a green soft maple tree from the US in a shipping container a few decades back, and I got some pieces of timber from him. These were nice and quilted, yet riddled with cracks so the yield was not as high as originally hoped for.
I met another gent whom sold me some figured Tasmanian Oak. Which, is not at all oak. In Australia we have 2-3 types of Eucalyptus trees that are generally found in the southmost states of Australia (Victoria and Tasmania) and used as a general hardwood in joinery. These are loosely called “Tasmanian Oak” and “Victorian Ash” depending on which state you are in, as the early settlers found they exhibited similar strength characteristics to those trees in Europe.

In the above pic, you can see from top to bottom; Fiddleback Tasmanian Oak, Quilted Maple, Australian Blackwood and Quilted Maple.

After some pondering and sketching, I decided to use the figured soft maple for the rear, and the figured Tassie Oak for the front of the bench. To spruce it up a little, the bench has 4 end caps – one on each end of the 2 benchtop pieces. Those end caps on the leg vise end are quilted maple, whilst those on the Tail Vise end are Australian Blackwood, sourced from the Otway forests in Victoria. Again, to the good folks in North America and Europe, Aussie Blackwood is not related to African Blackwood in any way. It is rather an Acacia tree, being related to Hawaiian Koa. To Australians it is the premier furniture timber (held in the same regard as Walnut in the USA) as well as a revered guitar tonewood. I chose it as it is hardwearing and has great chatoyance and will contrast the maple of the bench.
Wherever the figured Maple and the Tassie Oak was used, a 15mm top cap and 10mm bottom cap of Hard Maple was used to protect the softer figured timber. Perhaps more work than I had bargained for.

So the glue up began, and the hand planing to level it all out.

Now a typical Split Top Roubo will have the Tail Vise corner dovetailed with the infamous “Condor Tails”. A beautiful feature that really highlights the craftsmanship and skill of the workbench builder.

I opted for Needlepoint Houndstooth Dovetails, on all 4 corners. The name is indicative that the points are only as wide as the saw kerf.
I cut everything by hand- a good tenon saw and some sharp chisels and several cups of coffee for energy. No bandsaws or routers were harmed/used, but I got there in the end. If anyone wishes to do the same, please keep those chisels sharp especially when cleaning up curly/cranky grain on those dovetails :)

Above: cutting the dovetails into the lovely quilted maple for the Rear Half. Let the saw do the work, or you’re in strife.
Below: The fitup between the blackwood and the Hard Maple, Front Half. Tight enough that I had to use a mallet to fit and dismantle it.

Above: Fit between the Maple and Quilted Maple Endblock. Note that approximately 1mm was planed off the front face after the glueup.

My small stature dictates the need for the stool! Note that I clamp the piece being sawed against the largest mass possible – my workbench top to reduce the amount of chatter that occurs when sawing. This is vital to get a good clean and accurate cut!

As you can see the construction of my top uses a lot of individual pieces of timber (I calculated about 3-4 times the number of pieces found in a typical roubo build with dovetails). This posed the challenge of ensuring that every single piece was exactly the right length and exactly square, thus resulting in no gaps. A marking knife/boxcutter is a must for this! Pencils simply dont give a sharp enough line to work to.

Above: The Front Half of the bench top with the Tassie Oak centrepiece and top and bottom caps visible. No gaps.
Below: The dry run before gluing up the Rear Half of the benchtop. Because I cut the tenons directly into the timber, it is impossible to remove the pieces once they are knocked together completely. I had to simply trust in my measuring and cutting. Lady luck was on my side.

Each of the End Blocks are bolted on using a set of Bench Crafted captive nuts and bolts (8 in total).
I rigged up a basic jig to ensure I bored them all straight and level.
The End Blocks each also sit on beefy 50mm thick tenons, thus the joint should survive the zombie apocalypse.

The Dog Holes are square and were cut at 2 degrees off vertical, leaning toward the workpiece. I have always preferred square, spring-loaded dogs and will make these from Red Ironbark with springs made from hacksaw blades.
The dog holes were cut using the tenon saw, and chiseled out before being cleaned up with a router. The dog holes themselves having the typical shoulder. Hopefully I will have a few more pics to post as I install the tail vise.
Below: Gluing up the benchdog strip in my dark dingy shed.

My father randomly strolls in and out of the workshop as I build the bench and always inquires as to why the complexities. He realized early on the complexity of the build and has opted to be an observer to it all. He will generally remind me that its morning and afternoon tea time, and to take a break from the bench and snap back to reality!

I hope you enjoy the read and the pics. Again I am always welcome to feedback and would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. This build evolves as it goes on, so my ears are always open to ideas!

-- Siggy,

3 comments so far

View Kaleb the Swede's profile

Kaleb the Swede

1907 posts in 2482 days

#1 posted 09-15-2019 03:29 PM

That’s going to be a pretty bench! Keep at it

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

View mixparlay's profile


1 post in 35 days

#2 posted 09-16-2019 03:24 PM

you are skilled siggykc 2 thumbs up

-- permainan mix parlay,

View Oldschoolguy's profile


82 posts in 349 days

#3 posted 09-20-2019 12:58 PM

Holyshirt!!!!! Joinery, wood and craftsmanship are all topnotch and impressive. Beautifull work my friend!!!!. Can’t stop looking at it.

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