Chris Schwarz's Blog

If Roubo and Holtzapffel Designed Workbenches

Reader Wendell Wilkerson is designing a workbench and has combined elements of the Roubo-style Workbench from Issue 4 and the Holtzapffel Workbench from Issue 8. I think it looks a lot like the Dominy workbench at Winterthur (if you took off the iron end vise). He has a couple good questions, which are below, but I also wanted to share his Google SketchUp drawing above and give you a link to a SketchUp drawing of the Holtzapffel. Plus, Wendell has graciously agreed to post his SketchUp drawing of the bench shown above:

roubzapffel.zip (691.62 KB)

Question: I always knew procrastination would pay off someday.  I never got around to building the Roubo bench.  If I had, I would’ve have been upset after seeing the Holtzapffel bench. I was always drawn to benches with twin-screw front vises, and the Holtzapffel bench finally clinched it for me. I ordered my wooden bench screws pretty much as soon as you posted Stephen Fee’s e-mail on WoodCentral. Luckily for you, I used my tool allowance to buy them so WivesAgainstSchwarz won’t be getting involved, this time!

Anyway I put together a Google SketchUp model of what I want to build. I am planning to use Southern yellow pine (SYP) for the whole bench so I married the Holtzapffel top and vises to the Roubo base. Assuming I get 1-1/4″-thick boards of the SYP construction lumber, the Roubo base dimensions looked easier to put together. I will freely admit that I wimped out and decided to add upper end stretchers to the base so I can screw the top to the base rather than mortise it. In putting the model together, I came up with some questions:

Question 1: My main concern is the vise I plan to use for the end vise.  I have a 7″ Record vise that I bought when Lee Valley was closing them out. Do you think there would be any issue with using this vise instead of its larger sibling that you used? In my drawing, I worked out a chop size that would avoid the dog holes going over the legs, but using 3-3/8″ spacing I couldn’t avoid the upper end stretcher I added. Related question: Which do you like better , the wagon vise you added to the Roubo bench or the end vise on the Holtzapffel?
 
Answer: On the end vise, a smaller vise is fine. Just do everything you can to keep the line of dog holes in your top as close to the front edge as possible. About 4″ is the maximum distance. Anywhere between 3″ to 4″ would be fine. I hope you can use a quick-release vise in that position because that is one place where a quick-release really shines.

As to the wagon vise v. iron vise question, I like the extra support provided by the wagon vise, but I like the quick and easy installation of the iron vise. Were I to build another bench (shudder), I’d use the iron vise in the tail position again.

Question 2: I am planning to make my bench 8′ long, 2′ longer than your Holtzapffel. With the added length, do think you think it would be useful to add the deadman back into the design? The nuts for the face vise block about one third of the distance between the front legs but there is about 38″ from the right end of the face vise to the right leg.

Answer: With the extra length of your benchtop, I would add the deadman back in, just as you’ve done on your drawings. That will be an awesome setup.

3) How much extra thickness do you generally add when you’re gluing up thinner stock to make your bench parts? I am particularly interested in your strategy for the top since reducing by hand is about the only option once it is glued up.

Answer: On the lamination question, I usually add about 1/4″ to 3/8″ extra in width to each board when laminating a top. That might be a little heavier than needed. But I’d rather end up with a slightly over-thick top. It will get thinner as the years progress.

- Christopher Schwarz

10 thoughts on “If Roubo and Holtzapffel Designed Workbenches

  1. Matt Chantry

    Chris,

    Thank you for your lack of crassness. I have the new issue, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I’ve been waiting for the weekend when I can sit down and really get into it.

    Thanks again,
    Matt

  2. Matt Chantry

    Regarding the line in the post that says "I ordered my wooden bench screws pretty much as soon as you posted Stephen Fee’s e-mail on WoodCentral." I tried to find this post on the WC site, but was not successful. Could someone pass this on? I’ve been looking for wooden screws for a while, so that would be great.

    Matt

  3. Christopher Schwarz

    Steve,

    Quick recommendation: Keep the dog holes in the position that you have them but make your chop longer, like 15" to 17". While I haven’t had a problem with my chop I think the extra outbound support would be nice.

    Chris

  4. Steve Sawyer

    If you’re using a wide end vise to support the 13 1/2" chop in your design, (I’m using the Anant 53ED) then you don’t have a whole lot of latitude in placing the dog holes if you want them somewhere near the center of the vise jaw. Fortunately for the top I’ve just glued up, 6 3/4" will put the dog holes right down the middle of one of the billets.

    I am on the short side (5’8") and I’m hoping that by lowering the bench a bit (30-31") that having the bench dogs this far from the edge won’t be an issue.

  5. Christopher Schwarz

    Wendell,

    My dog holes are 6-3/4" from the front edge and they present no problem for me and my limbs. I think your plan will work fine as long as your arms aren’t shortish. I’d also be (probably unreasonably) concerned about putting a dog hole in a lam line. The pointy headed glue scientists say that the wood will fail first, but that’s under laboratory conditions. I’ve seen otherwise.

    So I think you’re on the right track with dog holes.

    On my vise nuts: I wanted to make this as simple and easy as possible. Raising the nuts into the benchtop is more work, but it gives you the advantage of being able to clamp narrow stuff on edge in the twin-screw. To which I say: Neener neener. I have an end vise for clamping narrow stuff. If I didn’t have an end vise, I wouldn’t be so quick with the neeners.

    Chris

  6. Wendell Wilkerson

    Chris,

    I have some follow-up that questions:

    The dog holes in my drawing are little over 6-1/2" away from the front edge because I was trying to avoid having them cross a glue line on the laminated top. Is it really necessary to worry about dog/holdfast holes not crossing a glue joint on a laminated top? I was also trying to avoid dog holes that ended up over a leg or stretcher. Would it be better to move the row of dog holes closer to the front edge and just not drill the holes that end up over a leg or stretcher?

    I am also interested in why you chose to mount the nuts for the face vise the way you did. Was it just ease of installation? I was looking at Mike Dunbar’s bench that was in FWW a few years back. The nuts for the his twin screw vise were attached with sliding dovetails. Do you think this is a better way to attach the vise if you’re willing to do the extra work in installation?

    Thanks for all the advice.

    Regards,
    Wendell

  7. Jeremy Burton

    This is interesting. I have been thinking about the arrangement Wendell is using and have also considered the arrangement Gregory is using.

    I do have a certain love for the simplicity of the basic Roubo bench though.

    I have just this weekend replaced the top of my bench with a 96" x 24" x 4" top made from MDF with a face vice mounted in the tail vise position. I used MDF because it was cheap, heavy and quick to build.

    I will be adding a leg vise and hook soon. This is a test bench I can use to figure out if the Roubo works for me, and if not to try the arrangements Wendell, Gregory and others are using without worrying about cutting the top and drilling holes.

    Then I can build the bench that works for me using Ash. It’s nice to know others have similar thoughts about what works. I have already learned my old bench was too wide and too short. I’ll never build a bench less than 8′ long again.

    I’m keeping notes of my progress and thoughts on my web site.

  8. Gregory J. Humphrey

    Last year my nephew and I built a Roubo Bench. We built it according to the plans in Woodworking Magazine, except for adding a Lee Valley Twin-Screw vise on the right end of the bench. We made the vise jaws as wide as the bench and used the same southern yellow pine for the jaws, as we did for the bench. We use 3/4 drilled holes in the jaws and on the bench hold 3/4 inch dowels to plane panels, etc.. We modified one item on the bench, the top is 5 inches thick. The solid construction with mortise and tenons, and drawbored pegs make the bench extremely sturdy. It’s a joy to use our Lie-Nielsen planes on such a sturdy bench.

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