Welcome back for episode two! It’s been a while since I last posted, so it’s past time for an update!
As I mentioned in my first post, I’m in the process of working on a Roubo workbench that I will use as my primary bench. I’ve found out the hard way that a high quality workbench – at the right height – is essential for quality woodworking. I’ve had basically three workbenches in my woodworking “career”, and they all have fallen far short of my needs. My first was all plywood and 2x4s. It was too narrow, too tall, and the top wasn’t long enough or thick enough. I acquired some butcher block scraps and screwed those on the top, which made it better, but still not good enough. It was still too tall, and with the addition of the wider top, too unstable. The third (or second, if you consider the two iterations of my first bench as one) was left to me by the previous owner of our house. Made out of all 2x6s and bolted to the wall, it is more stable than my previous benches. It’s a full 8′ long, which has come in handy while building my Roubo. However, there is not enough support under the top to keep the boards dead flat for planing. I have to admit that I’m something of a hoarder when it comes to anything that could possibly be used in my shop, so I have yet to get rid of either of these benches. My first one, with the butcher block tops, got its legs cut and is now where my Turncrafter midi lathe and the rest of my turning project preparation stuff lives. The one left to me is my primary bench until I finish my Roubo, but I think I might just be able to convince myself that I need the space more than a third workbench. Or maybe my wife will “strongly suggest” that I take it down. Only time will tell.
When I started taking woodworking classes at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking (marcadams.com) and working on the benches they have there, I realized what a quality workbench was and that what I had was far from this standard. I knew if I was going to do any kind of serious woodworking, I needed a better workbench. I started out looking at the ones that can be bought from some of the well-known woodworking stores, but they were over $1000 for a decent length, and seemed to be getting mixed reviews. I don’t remember when in my process I discovered (or re-discovered) Chris Schwarz’s Workbenches: From Design and Theory to Construction and Use (http://www.shopwoodworking.com/workbenches-1), but it definitely reminded me that it was completely possible to build a wooden workbench in a woodworking shop. I know, I know, I shouldn’t need a book to remind me that I can make something instead of buying it, but that’s what it took. Call it tunnel vision if you must. In this book, Schwarz details two different styles of workbenches: an English workbench and a French, or Roubo, workbench. I was drawn to the Roubo primarily because I liked the look of that one more than the English bench, but it seems to me like it has some advantages, too. While both are made from construction-grade lumber, the top on the Roubo is 4″ thick or slightly thicker. This gives the bench more weight, which makes it harder to be moved while you’re trying to plane a board. Plus I would rather have a really thick solid top than a thinner top and really long apron. It seems to me that it would make it easier to clamp things to the bench without the apron. Maybe I’m just weird like that.
Once I’d decided on building my Roubo bench, I planned, planned, and planned some more. I read almost, if not all, of the aforementioned Workbenches book, even the section that talked about the English bench. I found a bit in another part of the book that discussed wagon vises, and I was hooked. For those that aren’t familiar, a wagon vise is a type of end vise where the moving block, or chop, is inside the perimeter of the bench top, rather than on the front edge. Bad description, I know, so here’s how I’m making mine briefly. I laminated the front two boards of my bench top. The next three boards were laminated in the same way, but they were cut shorter, and a part of this cut-off section became my chop. The rest of my bench top was laminated in the same way, creating a space towards the right end, two boards from the front. The chop will be drilled for a bench dog and will be moved with a vise screw, just like any other end vise. (Still lost? My apologies. Try a Google image search for “wagon vise” and that should sort things out for you.)
So, now you know why I chose the bench I did, and why I embarked on this adventure. Tune in next time for more!