Category Archives: Building my benches

Roubo sharpening bench – part 5


This particular instalment should actually be entitled “The weekend of the plane”.  That was literally the only tool I used all weekend, if we disregard the workbench as a clamping device. I feel as if I’ve been hit by a barrage of no. 8 Jointers.

In the pictures below you can see the setup I used to limit movement of these massive 90 mm x 200 mm x 3200 mm beams in order to do the damage (to myself mostly). Two blocks of wood fixed by holdfasts stop the lateral movement during diagonal work with the scrub plane. Two small blocks of wood screwed to the bottom of the beam hooks over the one end of the bench to stop the beam moving forward during conventional longitudinal planing.


Here you can see how I started off with my shop made scrub plane.


That was followed by this shop made Jack plane and then a Jointer plane.


For the second beam I flattened, I used this Shaw’s Patent (Sargent) for the Jack plane phase. It has a fairly aggressive camber on the blade and worked very well. I recently finished it’s rehab, so this was it’s first job. My tool model also had a ball of a time posing with it. Watch this space for a post on the rehab process.


All three of these boards had some degree of twist in them. You can probably imagine the blood, sweat and tears it took to create three flat and untwisted reference surfaces. By Saturday evening I managed to achieve that.


The next morning I started with the edges. You can see how my bench dealt with this enormous hunk of wood.


A picture of the barrage of planes that tortured me all weekend.



By lunch time on Sunday the wife joined me after her run to help feed the beams to the electric planer. That was a mission in itself, but we managed to get it done in about 30 minutes. The tool model then took the opportunity to do her impression of Puff Daddy.



It was the first time in many years that I chose to rest on a Sunday afternoon, rather than work in the shop. It is not me at all, but planing boards of this size by hand is not child’s play.




Now there are only 5 more edges to do by hand as these beams will not fit through my electrical planer. It only goes to 150 mm in height!! Can anyone remind me why I need a bench like this?

Roubo sharpening bench – part 4


It has been quite some time since I’ve had the opportunity to play in the shop. It felt very good to get into that zone again to progress this project. In the pictures you can see how I used the actual parts to mark out where the mortises should go in the legs.


This picture shows one of the two batons (a Schwarzism) used to make the placement of the stretchers repeatable and in the exact same position relative to the apron.


Here I traced the tenons onto the legs and then used that to locate the mortises.


As so …


I used my shop made saw benches in order to have a comfortable hight at which to drill out the waste with two different bits and braces. The larger diameter centre bit (Marples) was used with a 12″ sweep Stanley no. 923 and the smaller diameter spiral bit (Irwin) with a 10″ sweep Stanley no. 923.



At this stage I moved on to start preparing the three massive chunks of wood that will become the top. Here you can see what they looked like before any TLC. They all had lots of nails imbedded all over the place


Then I flicked back to the mortises in the legs and took to it with a range of chisels.


After the above picture was taken I started the careful chopping until the aprons fitted as seen below.


Hopefully I’ll have more shop time this weekend to attack those gigantic boards for the top with a range of hand planes.


Roubo sharpening bench – part 3


It feels a bit like deja vu doing the massive joinery for this bench, as it was exactly what I was doing this time last year. It is however excellent practice in preparation for building furniture. I realise that my skills have improved significantly since the previous round of doing this. Also, the bench I built last year, improves the quality and speed of my work this year by providing so many work holding options.

Here you can see the setup I used to tidy up the tenon faces. I used my Stanley no. 10 Rabbet plane and a Bedrock no. 606 for this purpose.


A before and after photo.


Next up was to saw away a part of the apron tenon to create a notch (I think this is the correct term). The reason for this design is to act as an anti-twisting device and not to weaken the leg tenons.


The short stretchers received the same treatment, but obviously with a different design.


I then tidied up the shoulders by means of horizontal pairing.


Again, it should be quite obvious how useful the array of holdfast holes around my chopping area are for all kinds of joinery related tasks. Here I am in the process of chopping away the wastes between the two massive through tenons at the top of the legs. The second picture show another handy (albeit unintended) feature of my bench design. My squares and 1″ chisel (as well as saw in an earlier picture) sit comfortably and handy in the slot between the bench top and the sliding tool trays.


Dual tenons done.


Roubo sharpening bench – part 2


I would like to apologise for my silence over the past week. Due to a lack of shop time I had nothing to report.

You might have noticed one of the comments on the first part of this series, but if not Carsten from Germany commented  as follows: ”

this wood is without doubt what the english call “scotts pine” and what we just call “Kiefer”; being “Pinus sylvestris”.
The sapwood sometimes gets blue streaks, as one cross-section shows; this does not mean any mechanical weakness, it’s just cosmetics. OK, it is a fungus, but it does no harm at all.

You where lucky to get wood of this quality; all the engines, parts and fittings we get here on the shipyard are packed in crates of spruce with cm-wide growthrings.

I love the smell of this pine, especially as you cut a knot…

I am very grateful for his contribution as it makes the whole project more meaningful. It was really good to get confirmation that I am dealing with quality wood that would otherwise be impossible for me to access. If you are interested in reading more about this species click this link.

In the picture below you can see how well my leg vice and sliding-deadman-cum-leg-vise function together to allow hand planing of the edge of these long stretchers. The second picture show my version of a crochet. It is minute, removable, moveable and does pretty much the same job as the more elaborate versions being bandied around.


I simply cannot get over the beauty of the grain on these boards. I have never been much of a pine fan, but this is superb wood that is a joy to work with. Carsten was also spot on in terms of it’s smell, it is exquisite. You can appreciate how it looked like after the planer took care of the non-reference surfaces. You might remember that I hand planed the reference surfaces.


In winter I have the privilege to work in this wonderful cosy late afternoon sun. In summer this same sun will kill you on sight. Here I started marking out the tenons of the aprons and short stretchers.


My whole Sunday was spent hand sawing the tenons. My Lie-Nielsen tenon saw does not have enough blade under the back, which meant a lot of extra work. Mark Harrell of Bad Axe Tool Works recently built me a monster Roubo Beast Master for this type of job, but I will only take possession in two weeks time. Watch this space for a post on my experience in dealing with Mark. I just want to test the saw a bit too, but so far I can only say good things with regards to his professionalism and personal attention to customers.


Here you can see the setup I use for cutting the shoulders.


This step was necessitated by the tenon saw blade being to short. I want to point out that my Lie-Nielsen tenon saw is a fine tool, it is simply a case of not being designed for these gargantuan tenons. It is more in the timber framing ballpark.




Roubo Sharpening bench – part 1


I’ve been planning to build a small sharpening station in order to make it easier to keep all my edge tools in top nick. At the moment I have to dig out the sharpening paraphernalia, set it up, sharpen what ever needs attention and pack it all away. This has the side effect of postponing one of the most important tasks of a hand tool woodworker.

Since stumbling across a very nice stash of wood I’ve realised that I could fit a 3.2 meter (length) by 600 mm (width) bench up against one wall of my shop. The dimensions of the wood would also allow for such a bench. The idea is that I might as well build a big bench and it could double up as a stand for my drill press, bench grinder, the green monster and a dedicated sharpening station.

I enjoyed using the Roubo joinery for my current workbench so much that it was an obvious choice for this bench.


As this is reclaimed wood, my team of keen apprentices had to do quite a bit of cleaning before we could removed all the nails carefully.


Once that was done, I used one of my favourite tools to chop up these beautiful beams for the legs, aprons, and stretchers. It is of course my 24″ Disston no. 12 (7ppi crosscut) saw that dates back to 1896. It is an absolute gem of a tool. It is mind boggling how a tool of this quality could have been mass produced. The pictures (above and below) also show how useful a set of saw benches can be in conjunction with holdfasts for this type of work.


This is definitely the best pine I have ever worked with. Can anyone out there identify the species from these photos, I have no idea?


I then removed wind and squared up two reference faces before feeding the legs to the electric planer. My shop made fore plane and scrub plane (which was used as a super aggressive fore plane in this case) made short work of this job. I must say it was a pleasant surprise to realise how easy it can be to plane wood like this after years of planing African hard woods. I am starting to realise that I have been a “metal” worker up until now, if this is how it feels to work wood.



This is what the legs looked like just before it went through the planer.


After the planer munched on it, it looked like this. You can see how I marked out the famous Roubo through tenons. In the process of sawing these I discovered a very handy design advantage of my sliding deadman. The pictures show how the leg sat comfortably and stable at the correct angle for the sawing between two dogs.


The next step was to drill out material as illustrated with a spade bit. The rest was removed with my shop made bow saw in order to free up the waste between the tenons. The shoulders were sawn using the setup as shown.



I had to fetch another beam for the stretchers and my Cruiser was at the garage. The only option was to use the small delivery car of my practice. Luckily it is only a few blocks away. As you can see, I used my newly built Roubo bow saw to chop off the length that was required. I ripped this piece down the middle (on the band saw) to created the two long stretchers. In order to plane them I had to use the whole length of my bench, which necessitated an improvised planing stop. The pictures tells the story.



Bench review by Monsieur Schwarz (I wish)


Last year I had some e-mail contact with Mr. Workbench himself, Christopher Schwarz. I asked about the angles involved in the sliding dovetail mortise and tenon joints on Roubo benches. True to form, he answered promptly as if we know each other for yonks. We chatted a bit and I promised that I would send him some pictures once the bench is finished. A week ago I finally sent the pictures only to get the automatic reply that he has cancelled his public e-mail account. I clearly missed the post he wrote in January to inform us all.

That was a bit of a disappointment, but I can understand his position completely. So I thought of another way to get him to review my labour of the past 14 months. I found a post he wrote on his Popular Woodworking Blog entitled “The Mistakes of First-time Bench-builders” (March 3, 2014) and used it to critique my bench. Here goes:

In the post he highlights 10 common mistakes of novice bench-builders and they are:

1. Too many woodworking vises.

Yep, I tick this box. As you can see, my bench has a twin screw vise, quick-release vise (in the end vise position), a legvise and a sliding-leg-vise-cum-deadman. So definitely too many vises in Mr. Schwarz’s assessment. In my defense I would say that it is mainly because I decided to utilise all four sides of my bench by placing it in the middle of the floor area, rather than shoved up against a wall.

Score so far: 0/1


2.  Too many dog/holdfast holes

Oops!, yet another slip-up. The picture speaks for itself. I decided to go with too many holes for holdfasts around my chisel/chopping area (near leg in the picture) for obvious reasons.

Score so far: 0/2


3. Over-agonizing the wood types used

Here I was lucky as I would certainly be vulnerable to make this mistake if I had access to a plethora of different types of timber. My own supply of indigenous wood are dimensioned such that it would take 5 years of lamination to generate stock of appropriate size. Therefore the bench was built from European Beech, which I could access in slightly bigger dimensions. I added Witpeer for je ne sais quoi, but that does not count.

Score so far: 1/3

4. Over agonizing the standard workbench height

I did agonise about it a bit, but it took about a day. In the end I used the “pinky rule” (a Schwarzism which came to 34″ given my Vitruvianisms) and subtracted 2 ” as I want to use my shop built wooden planes quite a bit. I guess this would actually qualify as “over agonising”

Score so far: 1/4

5. Making the bench do crazy tricks or store an arsenal of tools

I stuck to the golden rule not to try and incorporate lots of storage cabinets underneath the bench. I did however utilise the space between my split top to accommodate 5 sliding tool trays. They slide up and down this space to open up gaps for F-style clamps when you need to use them through the gap (last three pictures). So far they work very well for me. Again, I guess that sliding tool trays would amount to “crazy tricks” in the mind of an Anarchist.

Score so far: 1/5


6. Building the DIY workbench too deep

My bench is a smidgen over 25″ (640 mm) deep. It is ever so slightly more than the recommended maximum of 24″. Again (in my defense) (not that I feel particularly defensive) this was a choice I made with consideration of the fact that I want to work from all sides of the bench which means that it does not have the added support/stability of a bench that is shoved against a wall.

Score so far: 1/6

7. Choosing the wrong tools to build a workbench you designed

Once again I am saved by the fact that I had no choice in this matter. I had to laminate all the stock. I had to create reference surfaces (that is perfectly flat and wind free) by means of hand planing before milling the laminated stock with my electrical planer (I do not have a electrical jointer). Chris calls this “masochistic”, but as I said, I had no choice. In fact, one of several reasons why I chose a split-top design was so that I could at least mill one side (the non-reference side) of the top using my electrical planer (300 mm wide). Therefore I will award myself this point.

Score so far: 2/7


8. Worrying too much about wood movement and benchtop flatness

This one I got completely sucked into. I went to excessive lengths to negate wood-movement related issues. We have massive swings in ambient humidity between winter and the rainy season in Namibia. This is another reason why I went with the split-top design. The way my top is fixed to the leg/aprons allow it to move into the gap without any restriction or pressure on joints. Each of the gargantuan tenons in the rest of the bench were split into three fingers with kerfs between them to allow for wood movement.

It was however with the design of the two aprons that I lost the plot completely. To start with, I went to great lengths to make sure that the stock that made up the aprons were all perfectly quarter sawn. The rest of the apron design I will leave up to the pictures to tell the story.

Score so far: 2/8


9. Trying to re-invent the wheel with new workbench designs

I would like to disagree respectfully with the great man on this one. Although I do agree that the basic form of a bench that is the result of 3000 years worth of experience should be fairly close to perfect, I also feel a perfect bench should reflect the type of work and way in which it’s owner work. Therefore I would argue that the ideal bench for me (stuck in the sticks in Africa in 2015) would quite obviously differ somewhat to that of Monsieur Roubo in 18th century France. For that reason I am not too worried about a bit of experimentation in design.

Having said that, this is after all a bench assessment by Monsieur Schwarz (granted that it is in absentia) so we should use his criteria and my guess is that my bench departs too much from the 18th century form.

Score so far: 2/9

10. They make it too nice

Need I say more.

Score so far: 2/10


Final score: 2/10

I therefore fail miserably, given these criteria. If it was possible (in terms of access and tools) I would have made mistake no. 3 and no. 7 too, but luck was on my side.

I have one last thought though. It might be a tad harsh to think about the above as “mistakes”. One would not generally consider someone who is learning to ride a bike to be making a mistake when they fall off. It is a necessary part of the process to learn the skill, isn’t it?

Monsieur Schwarz ends his article like this:

“If it’s worth something, I have made every one of the mistakes listed above”

I rest my case.

18th Century inspired workbench denouement


Yes, it is finally over. It took one year and six weeks. I can finally tick that box that says “workbench inspired by tradition, but tweaked to my needs and peculiarities”. I would like to thank Christopher Schwarz for the wealth of information in his two brilliant books on workbenches. It was my main source of inspiration and a guiding light for a relatively inexperience woodworker to design and build this bench.

So thank you Chris, you are a legend.

Two weeks ago I finished and fitted the second sliding deadman.


The final task was to flatten the top.



Please excuse me for going mental with all the photos, but after such a protracted building phase I cannot help myself. I am planning to write a post to explain and justify the design decisions I took. After a year or two of working on the bench I will be able to report on what works well and what could be better. For now I would prefer to think that it is perfect. Please allow me this temporary loss of reason.

Finally, I would like to thank the people who shared this journey with me by reading these posts.


My 18th Century Workbench in progress 29


Since being part of the Woodspotting family I started reading Joshua A. Klein’s blog, The Workbench Diary. It is highly recommended, by the way. A while ago he wrote a series of posts with advice for woodworking bloggers. I realised that I tick almost none of the points he mentioned.

The point which is relevant to this post is that he recommended that one should post photos of yourself on a fairly frequent basis. I realised that I have posted almost no (such) picture at all. Apart from the Freudian look on my home page of course. My daughter Aoife (6 yoa) took to the camera this weekend, thus providing me with some material to scare off potential readers. I recently heard someone say about another person: “He has a face for radio and a voice for the printed media!”. I wonder whether Joshua considered this issue in writing his blog guidance? Maybe some of us should rather stick to pictures of old Stanley’s and dovetails.

Anyway, into the fray!


By now you might want to pray (just to make it today!) …


… fair enough, let’s get back to woodwork. Here you can see the first fit of the Roubo-esque sliding-deadman-cum-eggbeater-leg-vise.


… and the same beast after some oil. You might notice the candle wax I applied as a lubricant. It works like a charm. As you can see, it is quite easy to remove the jaw and it becomes a conventional sliding deadman when necessary.


It did not take too long for it to start paying rent.




Gerhard Marx

My 18th Century Workbench in progress 28


This was one of those weekends in the shop were I did not feel I got much done despite working almost 2½ days. I am still busy with the two sliding deadmen for my bench. One of them will double up as a sliding leg vise, a la plate 279 of “L’Art du Menuisier” (pictured below). Mine however, will be on a smaller scale and retains it’s deadman anatomy too. The point being, this is slow and fiddly type work.


Cutting the thread for the wooden screw.


One Assegaai wooden screw being cut. This antique German screw box is frighteningly sharp. It felt like I was cutting custard.


Here I started working on the leg vise’s jaw.


Each deadman has a base which slides on top of the bench’s long stretchers. The joinery is a complete overkill (as per usual). It includes, through mortises that were wedged and draw bored. As you might gather from the pictures, I experimented with slow setting epoxy and normal PVA wood glue for the draw pins. The epoxy, which has a consistency similar to vaseline, certainly improves the ease of clobbering them home. I think it has to do with the fact that it acts as a lubricant and also does now lead to immediate swelling of the dowel, which is the case with the water based glue.


The protruding tenons and wedges were worked flush by passing it over the table saw several times followed by paring. The surfaces which will be in contact with the top of the stretcher were then covered with sealskin.


I simply do not have the technical vocabulary to describe what I did here. The pictures will have to tell the story.


Just to be different, I decided to use an eggbeater drill as inspiration for an alternative looking sliding-deaman-leg-vise. With a bit of imagination, you will probably be able to deduct where this is heading.


This is a very handy idea if one wants to shape and sand small round parts. This piece is destined for the eggbeater-leg-vise-deadman.



OK, one more clue dressed in sealskin.