Another Way to Build a Bench with Hand Tools
I’m embroiled in building a Roubo-style workbench using massive slabs and hand tools. Actually, I’m embroiled in my head. I’m in Maine this week on business and quite anxious to get back to Cincinnati and my awaiting hunks of punky cherry.
In the meantime, I have an interesting bench design to share with you that was built using only hand tools and some unique ideas that are well worth considering , just in case some of you are thinking about going down the same path as I have.
The bench shown in the photos is what I’ll call a Proto-Roubo, and it was built by… well I cannot tell you his name. He asked for anonymity. I can tell you that it’s not Norm Abram. But we’ll call him Norm just the same.
Let’s a take a look at the unusual features of this behemoth.
It’s made entirely from laminated Southern yellow pine 1x6s. According to Norm , and I agree with him , this is a great solution for the all-hand-tool woodworker. If you pick good stock that is fairly straight, you can laminate the 1x6s face-to-face without having to dress the boards. And there’s no ripping and little crosscutting. The trick is to use the bowing or warping in your favor.
I do this with 2x material all the time. Here’s how this works. Say you have two boards that are bowed along their lengths. You take the two concave faces and clamp them together. When you clamp the center of the two boards, the ends close up tight.
“I believe this approach is valid for hand tool woodworkers,” Norm writes, “and I am somewhat perplexed why it doesn’t get any airplay.”
Next up: The bench has no stretchers. This might seem radical, but it’s not. Early benches , from Roman times up until Roubo , frequently show up in paintings without stretchers between the legs (that’s why I’m calling it the Proto-Roubo). The bench relies on the rigid connection between the top and legs.
Here’s what Norm has to say about that:
“I’ve never encountered any wracking (I really mean this). When I built the bench, my hunch was that stretchers were not needed. This is because a single set of robust joints is often sufficient. For instance, many European-style benches have wide stretchers and no substantial joinery between the base and the top. Conversely, my bench has very robust joints between the base and top.”
The lack of stretchers makes the bench easier to build. And if your joints are loose between the legs and top, you can always wedge them. That’s what Roubo did.
Norm does most of his work at the right end of the bench (he’s left-handed). For working with small pieces he has the massive face vise on the left end of the bench.
And in case you are wondering, this bench has the following measurements (this sounds a bit like a Playboy centerfold data sheet): 8′ long, 18″ deep and 32″ high. Hooo, baby.
I think this bench is extemely well thought out, and is an excellent solution for the hand-tool woodworker who doesn’t want to beg time on his or her neighbor’s jointer and planer.
– Christopher Schwarz