A Roubo bench for woodworking
Since I got interested in woodworking, I have used
various inadequate surfaces to work and hold the wood.
A wooden saw-horse that our builders left behind, the
edge of the balcony, the quasi-vertical edge of the
bathtub. This is all extremely
uncomfortable, and so for the past months I have
been working on a real woodworker's bench.
This is the back view of the bench, with a few bar
clamps and a chisel holder.
André Roubo was a French cabinetmaker from the 18th
century, who wrote a massive treatise on all the
then-known techniques for working wood. The woodworking
community online has been abuzz with a
translation of Roubo's book that is being prepared
by the editors of Popular Woodworking
In his book, Roubo describes a workbench and its
accessories in detail. This bench is a variation of
My bench is built from a thick slab of cedar on pine
legs. The thick slab makes the bench heavy and stable
— it is a royal pain in the ass to use hand planes
on a bench that slides around the room. The legs are
joined to the surface with through-dovetails and tenons.
I am not exactly sure why Roubo built dovetails and
tenons like that, but it has something to do with wood
movement — you want the face of the legs to remain
flush with the front face of the top, so that you can
have a continuous surface for clamping.
The legs have short stretchers with double-wedged
tenons, and long stretchers with tusk tenons. This kind
of joinery is done without glue; that way if any joint
comes loose, I can just hammer it back into position.
This is how the bench top is joined to the legs.
The main function of a workbench is to hold a piece of
wood steady when you are working on its faces, edges, or
ends. The bench needs to let you hold things in the
X/Y/Z axes so that you can work on them.
Here you can see the leg vise. You can use it to hold a
board to work horizontally on its edge or vertically on
its end. The leg vise is built using a commercial steel
screw. The bottom rail keeps the vise vertically
parallel to the leg. The holes in the rail are so that
you can fit a metal peg on the outside of the leg, which
acts as a fulcrum for the vise.
To hold the wood down and work on its face, you use
holdfasts. A blacksmith made these for me. They have a
3/4" shaft, which you then fit through holes on the
surface of the bench. To secure a holdfast, you just
bang on the top of the curve with a mallet. To loosen
it, you bang on the back of the curve. The holdfast
gets "stuck" inside the hole where it fits, and that is
what keeps it steady. The main advantage of holdfasts
over clamps is that while you can only use clamps close
to the edge of the bench, you can use a holdfast in any
place that there is a hole.
Finally, there is a square block of wood which you can
move up and down to use as a stop for planing the faces
of boards. The stop keeps the wood from moving forward
as you plane it. There is also a crochet, or hook,
which you use to hold the end of long boards while
planing their edge; the other end gets clamped in the
People have been talking a lot about workbenches. This
is the material that I used as reference:
Bob Rozaieski's epic videos on building a
workbench without using a workbench, using only hand tools:
Chris Schwarz builds (yet another) workbench:
Too many parts to list, but see
Roy Underhill makes sliding dovetails look easy: