Roubo is coming, and he’s a heavy dude. I know this, because on Monday night I unloaded an oak slab that is destined to become the top of my new workbench. It’s hard to believe that over two years have passed since I last wrote about the ideas and options for a new workbench. While I may not have written about benches since then, I’ve spent a lot of the intervening period thinking about what I wanted from a workbench. Often when I was straining the capabilities of my current Sjoberg bench. In that time, I’ve refined my plans, settled on the design, and given some serious thought to how I’m going to approach the build. This is a big project to undertake, and so I wanted a narrative arc to carry me through. I think I’ve found one.
It was Ethan who convinced me at the start of this year to stop putting this project off for another day, and to get to building. Since then I’ve been trying to source the timber – no small endeavour for a project like this, but which came to fruition on Monday, when a very heavily laden truck arrived at the workshop. But what exactly am I going to build with all of this oak?
Well, as you’ve probably guessed by now the new workbench will be Roubo-orientated. In my last workbench posts I was considering a dovetailed end cap, sliding deadman, wagon vise. Lots of accoutrements that Roubo would not have recognised. Instead, I’ve decided against doing a modern interpretation of a Roubo bench, and will follow Roubo’s description of the workbench (and in the excellent Lost Art Press translation of With All the Precision Possible) together with the illustration in Plate 11. So no sliding deadman, tail vise, or other modern additions. This is going to be as close to the illustration in Plate 11, and Roubo’s description, as I can make it – including the grease pot and drawer.
And this extends to the basic unit of measurement. In an effort to follow Roubo’s description faithfully I will be using the period appropriate Pied du Roi as my unit of measurement, in preference to the modern inch, with the aid of Brendan Gaffney’s excellent rulers. One of the practical research questions that I’m interested in exploring with this build is whether using a different unit of measurement has any practical implications once the bench is in use.
So a slab top oak bench, with the iconic sliding dovetail leg joint. That sounds pretty good. For work holding I have a traditional planing stop made by Peter Ross and my one concession to modernity – the Benchcrafted Glide C vise. To supplement the planing stop I’ll be using 1″ diameter holdfasts and Does’ feet. At this stage I’m not convinced by the need for a crotchet, so will be omitting that from the build. But it is always something I can add at a later date if it becomes useful.
How about the dimensions of the bench? As it currently sits in my ‘shop, the slab top is 6″ x 22″ x 110’ in the rough. Ultimately. I’m shooting for a top that is 8 Pied du Roi long (in the region of 102 modern inches). This should be long enough that I’ll never outgrow it, but short enough that it is easily housed. My hope is that this will be the only bench I ever build. Sourcing oak of this size has not been an easy task, but Matthew Platt of Workshop Heaven kindly put me in touch with Acremans Timber, who were very helpful in supplying oak in what is an unusual set of dimensions.
The oak is now stacked up and stickered in the ‘shop while I wrap up a few projects. Towards the end of the year I’ll start the build in earnest – that will have given the legs and stretchers time to acclimatise. As for the slab top, well, given that it is both air dried and huge, it will take decades to dry out. My moisture meter tells me the end of the slab is at 16% moisture content, but the middle of the slab is likely to be much, much wetter. One of the other learning experiences of this build will be working with a monolithic slab which is, to all intents and purposes, still green. It promises to be a very interesting (and exciting) build, and I hope you all join me for the ride.