Add a Shelf to the Roubo Workbench - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Add a Shelf to the Roubo Workbench

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Schwarz on Workbenches, Woodworking Blogs

Roubo workbench

An hour before we photographed the cover with the Roubo-style workbench, I was still building it , putting the finishing touches on the leg vise to be exact. I had always meant to put a tongue-and-groove shelf below the workbench like the original, but I simply ran out of time. Yesterday during lunch I resolved to correct that omission.

I stopped by Home Depot and picked up enough Southern yellow pine for the job , two 8′-long 2 x 12s for the shelves and one 8′-long 2 x 6 for the ledgers beneath the shelves. This is about 30 percent more wood than you need, but this gave me the clearest, straightest stock from the picked-over wood rack. Total bill: $33. For those of you who might want to put a shelf below their Roubo bench, here is a cutting list and a brief outline of the procedure.

Roubo Workbench Shelf
2 Long ledgers: 1-1/4″ x 1-1/4″ x 56″
2 Short ledgers: 1-1/4″ x 1-1/4″ x 14″
6 Shelf planks: 1-1/4″ x 11″ x 19″

First joint and plane all the stock down to 1-1/4″ thick. Rip the ledgers from the 2 x 6 and the shelf planks from the 2 x 12s. Crosscut the ledgers to length after double-checking your measurements against your bench. Clamp them in place on the stretchers so that the bottom edge of each ledger is flush with the bottom edge of its mating stretcher. Screw the ledgers to the stretchers with #10 x 2″ screws. I used four screws in each long stretcher and two in each end stretcher.

Now you can crosscut your shelves easily and fit them on top of the ledgers and between the stretchers. Now you should plow a 1/2″ x 1/2″ groove along one long edge of each shelf plank. I used a dado stack in my table saw. Now reduce the height of the dado stack to 3/8″ and cut the rabbets on the opposite long edge that will create the tongue. This procedure is covered in detail in Issue 1. The fit between the tongue and its groove doesn’t shouldn’t be too tight. You want the pieces to slide together easily.

The matching tongue-and-groove on the shelf pieces.

Plane your shelves flat and clean. Chamfer the long edges of each shelf with a block plane. A small 1/8″ x 1/8″ chamfer will make the long edges more robust. Place five of the shelves on the ledgers and center them between the legs. You should have about a 4-1/4″ gap between the shelves and the end stretchers. Measure this gap and then rip your sixth shelf ledger. One piece will go on one end; the other will go on the other end.

Shown is one of the shelf pieces for the end with its notches cut. You also can see the ledgers beneath the shelf pieces.

My wood was pretty wet (15 percent moisture content) and we’re still in the summer season (from the wood’s perspective). So these boards will shrink up a bit as they come in equilibrium with the shop. So I didn’t leave much of a gap between the shelves, just 1/32″ or so. Now place the shelf pieces for the ends up against the legs and lay out the notches that will allow each end piece to fit around the legs. Cut the notches and clean up your work with a chisel.


With everything fit in place, you can then secure the shelves to their ledgers. I used Miller Dowels without glue. These are great if you ever need to knock something apart to move it. A couple coats of oil/varnish blend and you’re done.

Christopher Schwarz

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