Chris Schwarz's Blog

Tweaking the Roubo Bench While the Glue Dries

I continue to get a letter about every other day about the Roubo-style workbench I built for the Autumn 2005 issue. I’ve been trying not to clog up the weblog with too much Roubo stuff, but as the glue dries on the web frame in the Creole Table this morning, I thought I should bring up some interesting points from readers and discuss a few modifications I’ve made since I built the bench a year ago.

Robert W. Mustain pointed out to me that I neglected to discuss how to configure the workbench for left-handed woodworkers (which make up about 13 percent of the population, according to some estimates). A “Sinister Roubo” would need everything reversed, of course. Put the crochet and leg vise on the right side of the bench. Same goes for the planning stop: Put it on the right.

A common question among first-time bench builders is why the accessories are configured the way they are. Why is the bench vise (or crochet) traditionally on the left side of the bench for right-handers? They typically think that having the vise on the right side of the bench would make it more convenient for sawing off stock.

The reason the vise is traditionally on the left is for edge-jointing. You want to plane into the vise and sometimes even brace your boards against the vise’s screws or bars. It just makes sense from a physics point of view, really. Think about the alternative: If you clamp the tail end of the board and then plane away from the vise, you could pull the board out of the vise.

Next question: Reader Tim Brun asked if I’d added any more dog holes to my bench than those shown on the illustration in the magazine. The answer is yes. My biggest frustration with planing on the bench has been when I want to work cross grain, such as when I work rough stock with a fore plane. I’ve used holdfasts and battens to brace the work at the back edge of the bench; and while that works, sometimes I really just want to clamp stuff between dogs. So I added a line of 3/4″ holes (10 of ’em) in line with the planing stop (which is 6″ from the front edge of the bench). The holes are 3-3/4″ on center. The first hole begins 31″ in from the left end of the bench. Having them in line with the planing stop allows me to clamp a board 52″ long between the stop and a Veritas Wonder Dog.

Here are some other modifications: This morning I added leather linings to the faces of my leg vise on the advice from a reader. I was at Michael’s craft store last night picking up some hemp twine (for a future weblog post) and I noticed the overpriced leather scrap section. A one-pound bag of scraps cost $5.99. Or I could buy a single piece of Tandy-brand leather that would fit perfectly for $5.99. I bought the Tandy leather. I was going to cut up some shoes or an old purse that belonged to my spouse, but I hadn’t got the guts up to ask: “Honey, do you really use this purse anymore?” So $5.99 avoided that conversation.

The leather is an experiment. I think the leg vise holds just fine as it is. But the reader said I’d be amazed. So here goes. I used yellow glue to apply the leather, and I almost forgot to put a sheet of plastic between the leather pieces as I closed the vise. The glue-squeeze-out would likely have glued the whole thing together shut.

One final mod to the leg vise: I kept snapping the 3/8″-diameter oaken pivot pins at the foot of the vise. In hindsight, perhaps I should have used Ã?½”-diameter stock. I switched to a 3/8″ steel pin nine months ago and everything is working swimmingly.

The glue in the web frame should be dry now. Back to the shop.

Christopher Schwarz

8 thoughts on “Tweaking the Roubo Bench While the Glue Dries

  1. Kevin Stephenson

    I’m a big fan of your magazine! last year I built the Roubo bench. So far I really like it but haven’t added a lot of the accessories yet. One question I’ve had – maybe I’m being dense, but I don’t get where to get the workings for the leg vise. Every vise I’ve seen in stores or catalogues already comes with metal jaws. Do you just buy one of these and replace the metal jaws with the wood?

    Thanks for your help and for the magazine.

  2. Christopher Schwarz

    Reid,

    I love the leather. It does help add some extra umpf to the leg vise.

    The hole for the holdfast in the leg that works with the crochet is in an odd position, but it works brilliantly in conjunction with the crochet: It’s 6-1/2" down from the top edge of the benchtop and 7/8" (on center) in from the right edge of the leg.

    Chris

  3. Reid Middlebrooks

    Okay, what’s the initial opinion on the leather?

    Also, I’m trying to determine the best position for the top holdfast hole in the leg vise leg (the one that you’re useing to secure dovetailing peices with the crotche). Any thoughts on this position, now that you’ve had some time to play with?

    Thanks for the great (and continuing) bench disccussion it is immensely helpful.

  4. Christopher Schwarz

    Jason,

    I would not change the height of the bench. I think it’s just right for my height (6’4") and my preference for metal-bodied bench planes.

    If I used wooden bodied planes primarily, I’d lower the bench to 31" to accomodate the thickness of the wooden-stock tool.

    If my bench were any lower, I’d have to bend my knees to plane (not good) or my back. At this height, I am over the work and can do most of the planing work with my legs and stomach muscles. My arms don’t get all that tired.

    Hope this helps.

  5. Jason McSpadden

    How about height of the bench? Would you make any changes there? I’ve doing some reading and discovering how relatively short some benches were–like about 28 inches or so. Do you have any feedback on the height of your bench at 34 inches? Thanks. Jason

  6. Christopher Schwarz

    Jim,

    First, I’m hoping we can start cranking on the Roubo translation this summer. We sent a chapter on the "German" benches to a specialist on old French, but she had to beg off due to time commitments. The translation is steadily moving up my "to do" list.

    On bench hooks (and other appliances), we should do more. I agree. As to fixing the lower fence on the bench hook, I don’t think it matters if the dowels are through or stopped. I think what’simportant is only that you use dowels and not nails or screws.

    As to holdfasts, they are all tricky. Follow the advice in the comment below yours and see if that helps. Humidity and/or ambient temperature also seem to play a factor.

  7. mark

    Jim,

    I talked to the folks at Tools for Working Wood once about their holdfasts, and some of their recommendations might help in your situation.

    1) Rub some sandpaper around the shaft of the holdfast (around, not up and down). I believe the correct grit is mentioned on their website.

    2) You can always counterbore from underneath the benchtop to make the bench "thinner" in the location of the dog hole.

    mark

  8. Jim Lancaster

    I put th Roubo top on the work table based on the one in ShopNotes #75, which I had nearly completed when the Roubo article came out. I mounted an Anant 53ED vise where the leg vise would have gone because there was no way to retrofit the leg vise to my table. I’ve added dog holes as needed, but I’ve been frustrated by the inability of the Gramercy holdfasts to bite and stay down in the 3/4" holes. Didn’t you write that you were having a similar problem? Something to do with the thickness of the top? I finally punted and have been using a Jorgensen version of the "Quick Grip" clamp. (Yuk!) I picked up some oversized holdfasts from a vintage tool dealer, and I’m waiting for the holes to waggle out a bit to try them. Perhaps they will work better.

    But holdfasts are but one way to hold work down on the bench. I’ve been re-reading my wonderful Charles Hayward book, "Cabinet-making for Beginners" and he discusses a number of different bench jigs. In the very first one–the bench hook–he explains that it should be held in place with wooden dowels. But I can’t figure out if the dowels get driven into the top or the face of the top.

    I think it would make for some interesting reading for you to build, test, and explain how to use things like bench hooks, wedges, etc. to hold work in place with the Roubo.

    Speaking of Roubo, how is the English translation coming along?

    Jim Lancaster
    Dallas, TX

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