Today was my first opportunity to spend any real time in the workshop this month, due to a number of factors outside my control. I’ve been itching to complete the Roubo bench build, and am determined to do so by the end of the month. That seems achievable right now.
Today’s work involved processing some oak stock for a pair of shelf supports on the long stretchers. This is straight forward work – flatten one face, joint an edge, rip the support off and clean it up, joint the cut edge and repeat for the second support. I’ve written plenty about processing stock with hand planes before, so don’t intend to write much about the process here. But what is worth spending some time talking about is how the bench functions and supports this sort of fundamental task. I processed and fitted the shelf supports for the short stretchers before I assembled the bench, but the difficulties associated with processing long stock on my Sjoberg bench meant that I’d procrastinated over the long shelf supports. And so, today was the first time I’ve processed a decent sized piece of rough stock with hand planes using the Roubo bench. Really, this is one of the first tests of the bench, and the experience was instructive to say the least.
I’d read plenty about the use of Roubo benches before I started to build mine, and I knew the theory of working with planing stops, holdfasts and doe’s feet. But with woodwork reading only takes you so far – the real learning comes at the bench, when you implement the theory for the first time (and the second time too). I’ve been itching to find out how working at the Roubo bench would feel, and put simply, it just works. Rock solid work holding which is swift and unfussy to set up. The bench is stable, has plenty of capacity for large stock, and does not make a song and a dance out of supporting the workpiece. It just holds everything in place while you work. Within a few plane strokes I forgot that this was a new way of working for me, and I was able to focus on processing the stock – work holding became second nature. Which is exactly what I wanted when I started building the bench.
For the uninitiated, the work holding strategy on the bench top (as distinct from holding in the leg vise) is comprised of two elements – the toothed planing stop, and a doe’s foot secured by a holdfast. The doe’s foot is simply a piece of scrap with a 45 degree corner cut out of the end. The workpiece is pushed into the planing stop (a tap from a lump hammer or mallet drives it onto the teeth), and the doe’s foot is then slid into position to constrain the rear end of the workpiece. A holdfast keeps the doe’s foot in place. This allows the face of the workpiece to be planed, and thicker stock can also be rotated for edge jointing. One benefit of this arrangement is that releasing the work holding is very quick, to allow for the workpiece to be moved or measured, which makes for a very smooth workflow. This is exactly how I like my work holding solutions – dirt simple, effective, and quick to set up. The Crucible holdfasts have a tenacious grip, and the doe’s foot is incredibly effective for such a simple fixture. I mocked up a quick doe’s foot using some scrap pine today, but will make a few nicer versions of varying thicknesses (for processing stock of different thicknesses) using hardwood when I have a free moment.
The Texas Heritage Saddle Bag is also proving to be very useful as a safe resting place for measuring and layout tools while I’m at the bench. All of my tools go back into my Anarchist’s Tool Chest at the end of the day, but having somewhere to put delicate tools within easy reach while you’re working is a great way of speeding up workflow, and the Saddle Bag does this perfectly.*
I also filled up the grease pot with paraffin wax. While I ordinarily use mutton tallow, I was concerned that having a large pot of tallow open to the air might attract critters into the workshop (who doesn’t want rendered sheep fat on demand?) so decided to use paraffin wax instead. Paraffin wax works very nicely, and a 1kg block was very cost effective. The grease pot has already proved its worth while processing the oak stock today – locating the post next to the leg vise and planing stop means that the wax is easily at hand so I lubricate more often, and having the pot rotate under the bench top means that it stays out of the way while working. Another feature of the bench that just works. I think that the Roubo bench and I will get on just fine.
*N.B it is worth commenting that I purchased the Crucible holdfasts, Peter Ross planing stop, and Texas Heritage Saddle Bag at full price. Just a gentle reminder that I’m #neversponsored