Roubo Is Coming… Part 2

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Timber selection – picking the final two legs and vise chop out of these beams. In the rough this timber looks a little gnarly, but it cleans up very nicely.

Although I’ve not written about the Roubo bench build for a few weeks, I have been hard at work processing stock for the undercarriage. All four stretchers are now square and cut to length, and as of today three of the legs are also processed. Only one leg remains and then I will be ready to start cutting joinery (eight mortise and tenon joints to connect the stretchers to the legs). Processing stock of this size, in oak, by hand is a significant undertaking, and cutting some joinery will be a real treat. That being said, I am really enjoying the change in scale with this work, and instead of a sprint to get all of the stock processing done, I’ve been taking my time and enjoying the journey.

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Transforming grey timber into something beautiful and useful. The scrub plane is perfect for raidly removing high spots

Processing all of the stock by hand has partly been an ideological choice – for this build I want to, insofar as is possible, get as close to the bench described by Roubo, and that includes the process of building it. It is also a practical decision – my 12″ Dewalt lunchbox thicknesser is a fine workhorse for furniture sized material, but this bench is more akin to timber framing and I have serious doubts that it would cope with some of the monstrous timber I need to clean up for this build. So, meat-powered tools are pretty much the only game in town for this work.

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Smoothing surfaces with the No3

To be honest, although the work is much heavier than processing furniture sized material, it hasn’t been too arduous, and there have been opportunities for technical insight. I am used to processing all of my stock by hand – it is how I’ve always worked. But working with oak beam stock has offered some valuable lessons in honing those skills because the scale of the work ,and the toughness of the oak, means that you want to work as efficiently as possible.

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Mutton tallow – lubricating the soles of planes makes for much easier work when taking heavy cuts in difficult timber.

Firstly, I’ve been remembering to lubricate the sole of my planes more frequently than I often do. I always have a tin of mutton tallow in my apron pocket for lubricating planes and saws, but when working more forgiving timber such as pine I am not always fastidious about using it. This oak is tough stuff, and it is remarkable how a smear of tallow can improve the ease of hogging off material. Later in the build I will be building a grease pot to hold my tallow, and right now I can easily say that I am a convert to lubricating planes. Ease of work is also directly influenced by sharpening. Now, we all know that sharp fixes everything, but how many people sharpen as often as they need to? No one, that’s who. We can (and should) all sharpen more. This oak lets me know immediately if my planes are not sharp enough, and as a result I’ve been getting in the habit of sharpening much more frequently as I work (on occasion twice per leg). Hopefully that will be a habit that sticks, because in reality breaking for three minutes to freshen an edge is far quicker than battling on with a dull tool. So thank you, truculent oak for the helpful reminder.

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Trimming the legs to length. The Skelton Panel Saw cuts so accurately I can get a square end straight off the saw without any need to clean up with a block plane

Early on when cleaning up the legs, I asked myself whether I wanted to treat each and every surface with the smoothing plane, and if not, what sort of surface would be acceptable. I’m not advocating sloppy work, but these large beams are going to be turned into a workbench, which will see a lot of abuse over the decades I work at it (and hopefully long after I’ve returned to the soil). So really it was a question of proportionality. But also, I know that I’m going to spend a lot of time standing at the bench, and a big patch of tearout will frustrate the dickens out of me, especially as it’ll be a total bear to try and pretty up some of the surfaces once the bench is assembled. In reality, a smoothing plane is a great tool for making localised adjustments, so I’ve been hitting every surface with the smoother, although also not sweating minor surface imperfections if they are on inward facing surfaces. I think that’s the right balance.

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It’s not square until Chris Vesper says its square.

Next weekend I will tackle that final leg, and then put my planes down for a while to cut the mortise and tenon joinery, and fit the crisscross for the leg vise (this is much easier to do before the legs are fitted to the bench). After which it will be time to process the slab top – a task which will require some perseverence, grit, and maybe an assistant.

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Current progress – three legs and four stretchers all processed and ready for joinery.

4 thoughts on “Roubo Is Coming… Part 2

  1. Hey Kieran,

    Planning all that by hand is a noble effort but just for reference, I use my Dewalt 735 to build my 21st Century workbench a few years ago. Ten…good Lord, ten years ago at this point. Each of the two ash tops are ~3″ thick, 12″ wide, and just over 6′ long. It handled them like a champ. I’m positive your Dewalt will handle those leg parts.

    Just wanted to let the community know if they find this in the future.

    I’m enjoying the build. Thanks for sharing.

    Take Care,
    Shawn

  2. I’m enjoying reading about this process.

    I’m also processing some pretty large oak at the moment, but with a mix of hand and machine tooling. I’ve also found that regular lubricating of the plane bottom makes a huge difference to their performance. I use Paul Sellers’ ‘rag in a can’, and find that the quick access to it makes the process of lubricating take merely a second or two. I also use the rag to wipe down/grease my cast iron work surfaces at the beginning and end of a session of machine use as well, this is in addition to regular machine wax. I work in a shipping container, which has some really big damp and heat issues, so keeping those cast iron surfaces as good as possible is always a challenge!

    Keep up the good work,
    george

  3. Pingback: Roubo Is Coming… Part 4 | Over the Wireless

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