Small Roubo Workbench WIP [Completed]

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Established Member
9 Dec 2008
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West Oxon
This is my first woodworking bench after many years of making do :oops:. The design is heavily influenced by Chris Schwartz's Workbenches book, and its' downloadable appendix [PDF]. I like the Roubo approach but I only have space for a 1.5m long bench and there is no space for an end vise. So I will use a Veritas Wonder Dog instead and for the front vice a 9" Quick Release vice. I did seriously think of making a leg vice instead, but wasn't keen on the need to constantly adjust the parallel guide at the bottom of the leg when using it (dodgy back issues).

In an earlier thread I explained how I'd cheated to make the raw slab for the worktop. In summary [click thumbnails to zoom]:

Full details are here.

This had given me a very solid, surprisingly flat, smooth, laminated beech slab, 1498mm x 629mm x 81mm and 52Kg weight. At this stage it had one coat of Hard Wax Oil to seal it. I was now ready to make it look more like a workbench.

First step was to make the cutout for the QR vice. As I'm clumsy :oops:, I wanted to have easily replaceable wood vice jaws, the rear jaw being flush with the edges of the worktop. I made a cutout for the (to be made later) beech jaw using a series of router cuts with guides and end stop, going as deep as I could with my diddy router. Then hand sawed the remaining web of wood, and chiseled it flush:

An oak offcut I would be making the vice spacers out of was clamped to the worktop and the vice was then clamped in place over it. This left the vice jaws 14mm below the worktop surface. The outline was then marked with the usual 1.5mm clearance at the top. This was routed out, as far as the router would reach, in two stages to maintain router stabilty, reversing the guides in between. Then the remainder was chiseled out:

The final coat of Hard Wax Oil was then applied all round, before any drilling of the top.

I prefer to use through-bolts for a vice as it makes any future adjustment and maintenance simpler. I drew out a full-scale paper template for the vice mounting hole layout, and marked through this with an awl, into the top of the worktop. I also made some blocks with guide holes, drilled square with the pillar drill. I centred a guide block over the awl marks, using a Forstner bit as a "centre finder". I then drilled with a flat bit (a Forstner burned beech in tests) to 13mm deep using a stop, the guide block making it easier to keep things vertical(ish). Using the centre mark left by the flat bit I could then drill 10.5mm holes, for M10 bolts, all the way through using a twist bit. I used another guide block to keep things square, and a backing piece of scrap was used to keep the exit clean. The vice was then bolted on to check alignment. With some minor hole fettling, it fitted :):

I wanted 3/4" round dog holes for the Wonder Dog along the front of the worktop and also another set behind the dog on the front vice. I also wanted a single dog hole centrally at the back, based on where I often seem to put a clamp as a stop when working on a bench without dogholes :). Extra dog holes can always be added later, anyway :wink:. After the success of the vice mounting holes, I decided I could probably mark out the hole positions as accurately as I could make a jig, so out came pencil, straightedge, rules and calipers. To drill the dog holes I used an Axminster 3/4" sawtooth cutter on a slowish drill speed with lots of stops to clear the waste and let the bit cool. This bit came out best for non-burning and cleanest finish in testing against a flat bit and a Forstner. It does need a fair amount of weight behind it, but at least I felt in control at all times. And it stayed sharp for all 18 holes :shock::

The hole bores were smoothed with a strip of 120g backed by a length of dowel. Then the hole edges were, very carefully, rounded using a fine half round file and then sandpaper strips. The holes were finally given a couple of coats of Hard Wax Oil using a toothbrush, to seal them.

I had decided to use Chris Schwarz' suggestion of using large diameter dowels to locate the tops of the legs to the worktop. So it was flipped over and four 25mm diameter blind holes were drilled with a flat bit. Also a groove was routed between the front leg holes as the top runner for a sliding deadman:

I then lifted the worktop onto my too-low folding wooden work table which has been my stand-in workbench for the last year :oops:. With suitable blocks, this would enable me to work out a good working height for later leg cutting, and to regain some floor space.

At this point I discovered that although the aluminium dogs fitted, if a bit tightly, the slightly larger diameter Wonder Dog would only fit in the only two holes I'd previously tested it in :oops:. In all the others it jammed part way in :evil:. So it seemed the holes were not quite straight. Luckily I had a suitable parallel hand reamer in the tool cupboard. This worked surprisingly well in beech, despite being designed for metalwork, producing a nice smooth finish. Re-applying two coats of Hard Wax Oil didn't effect their diameter either. Dogs of all breeds now fit, and seem to work well. It was lovely to do the final work at bench level in the workshop, and not grovelling around on the garage floor as I have done for the rest of the worktop preparation :D:

This has completed the worktop. I will now use it, without the vice, for a few weeks/months and find the best working height for me. Meanwhile I can get some timber (probably just clear softwood) in stock and settled, ready for the base. To be continued once I restart...

Very nice Boz, I like that a lot.

I have always thought I would go traditional when I finally get round to making mine and machine all the wood for the top meself, but seeing yours I'm not so sure now.

Excellent, and can't wait to see the base WIP...
Nice build so far. When I finally get round to building a proper bench I was also planning on using laminated kitchen worktop so I'll be interested to see how it works out on yours.
Excellent work Boz.

I have been meaning to make a new bench for years now, but the size of the task means it seems to keep drifting into the distance. I am keen on the Roubo style bench when I do get round to it.

Very, very interesting. Your excellent photos are as good as any tutorial.
Thanks for posting.
That's looking very nice indeed, and agree with Evergreen - excellent photos too. Have you dinged it yet, or are you still awaiting the "christening"? :D

Cheers, Alf
hi boz

i really do like how you made the top , doubled up from a worktop , neat idea that,hmm. it looks a proper job , please keep the pics coming .hc
Looking great so far, Boz! :) I like the way you've made a neat job of that cut out for the front vice. You're also right in thinking that you don't strictly 'need' an end or tail vice if you have a Wonder Dog. :wink:

Only thing I don't like about the Wonder Dogs is that, if you somehow lose the clip from inside the brass jaw (I forget whether it's a circlip or an E-clip), the lump of brass will keep falling off and I find it's not easy popping a new clip on to re-secure it. :x

I look forward to seeing more progress at a later date. :)
OPJ":1urbdvtb said:
Only thing I don't like about the Wonder Dogs is that, if you somehow lose the clip from inside the brass jaw (I forget whether it's a circlip or an E-clip), the lump of brass will keep falling off and I find it's not easy popping a new clip on to re-secure it.

You're probably right, but why would you ever take it off Olly? I've used a wonder dog for years and never felt the need to dismantle it...

EdSutton":1jhm9igf said:
You're probably right, but why would you ever take it off Olly? I've used a wonder dog for years and never felt the need to dismantle it...

Sorry, Ed, it wasn't intentional :oops: - I was hoping to squeeze a length of timber in between one dog and a wonder dog [inadequate spacing of dog holes...] and, as I un-wound the wonder dog too much, it popped the head off and I lost the clip. :roll:
Thanks for all the encouraging comments.

Alf":246g0g8z said:
Have you dinged it yet, or are you still awaiting the "christening"? :D
Yep, took a small lump out of an edge yesterday. It feels just like first scratch on a new car :oops:. I've already got the sheet of sacrificial hardboard ready for when I do metalwork and oily stuff on it though :twisted:.

Right, on with the base for the workbench, at last. I finally decided to stick with PSE softwood. The base consists of four legs (4x4 laminated from 4x2's), and four rails (6x2). The worktop is located on top of the legs by 25mm dowels, and held in place by gravity and, later, metal angle brackets. The long rails are demountable with a 25mm dowel for location and two M10x160 hex-head bolts at each end. The short rails have glued mortise and tenon joints to the legs.

The first job was to laminate the 4x2's. These were paired "back to back", and marked. With an end stop in place, they were cut as a pair to length. Each leg was then glued to make a nominal 4x4, using the remains of the Titebond Extend from the worktop, and cleaned up. Bevels were planed with the No.4 on the bottom of each leg to minimise splintering when I scrape the completed workbench around the shop. And to remind me which end was the bottom of each leg :):

The legs were then numbered, so I could track their orientation, and marked up for the long rail bolts and locating dowels. The Forstner holes for the dowel location and those to rebate the bolt heads were drilled first. Then the bolt holes were drilled in the middle of the Forstner recesses, as deep as the pillar drill would go. A mains hand drill was used to finish the holes all the way through:

The long 6x2 rails were then cut to length and cleaned up. For the location dowel at each end I'd made my "Verticality Jig MkII", following distinctly average results with my earlier dog holes :oops:. The Forstner was dismal in the end grain, so I resorted to a flat bit. The dowels were then glued in place:

The bolt holes were then drilled in the rail, using the leg holes as a guide, then completed to finished depth drilling directly into the rail. A "where's the hole gone" jig (block of wood and two drills) was used to mark their centre-lines. A template was used to route the eight housings for the nuts. Then with the rails clamped together to provide better router support, the front rail had a groove routed for the sliding deadman. It's not conventional to use a groove for this (shavings will collect in it), but I wanted a clear front edge to avoid damage when sliding large boxes onto the bottom shelf:

Next the mortices in the legs for the short rails were marked out, then routed with the aid of guides and stops. The corners were then squared with a chisel. The tenons were cut on the router table with a backing piece to minimise tearout and a fence to define the tenon length. They were then hand fettled by chisel and light sanding for a snug fit. I found I'd routed about 1/2mm too much off one cheek :oops: so cut a sliver of wood on the bandsaw and glued that in place, before fettling - another successful bodge :). I did consider pinning the joints, either drawboring during glue-up or adding brass or hardwood pins afterwards. However the tenons are rather short and I felt that if the glue failed, the chances were that the tenon would just split away from the pin anyway.

At this point the parts were given a coat of finish, then the bits most vulnerable to glue drips were waxed. Battens were screwed to the rear of the front and back rails for the shelf. The frame was then assembled, with all the nuts and bolts given a coat of Lubricating Wax for rust protection. The shelf is an offcut of 18mm MR chipboard, left over from flooring the workshop :oops:. The dowels were then glued into the legs, after carefully transferring the measurements from the worktop holes. The worktop was then moved on top of the frame and, to my amazement, just dropped straight onto the dowels and settled in place. Then the New Bench (first time I can say that :D) was moved into its' corner:

That ends the main construction of the workbench. Next installment will cover vice and deadman matters :D.

On with the final part of the build. Next job was fitting the front vice and making jaws for it. The vice came with untapped jaw mountings, but they were just the right size to take an M8 tap. Then it was offered up to the bench using paulm's Plank Method (thanks Paul!) and bolted in place:

The vice jaws were made from some beech which I'd roughed out several weeks earlier. Now it had settled, I used the router to thickness them (needs must). Dexion rails were clamped to the bench and plywood was used to mount the router. The jaws were then cut to final size, as a pair, on the bandsaw. The front jaw was then given a small rebate for the metal front jaw using the router on rails, with stops this time. The vice has slightly non parallel jaws left/right, so the Dexion rails were lifted at one end when routing this, to leave me with parallel closure across the jaw width. I also replaced the steel dog that came with the vice with one made from a beech offcut. This tapped M8 surprisingly well, allowing me to use the existing thumb-screw :):

Holes for the mounting bolts, with rebates for their hex heads, were then drilled and with bolts cut to length, the jaws were fitted. As an encore, I mounted my much abused engineer's vice on an offcut from the bench rails which can be clamped in the front vice. A quarter sheet of sacrificial hardboard on the bench then allows for metal-bashing and oily stuff:

Sadly, the timber I'd earmarked for the Sliding Deadman turned out to be badly twisted. As I was keen to keep things moving, I decided to use some old packing case plywood (oh, yuk) to see what could be achieved. 18mm and 12mm ply was cleaned up and laminated and, with some mild adjustment, I had a Sliding Plank :). Next, the new pillar drill [gloat] had a basic table/fence made and was used to drill the 26 dog holes with a 3/4" sawtooth cutter. This was a simple "step and repeat" process, sliding the deadman against the fence on a backing piece. I then cut the traditional curvy sides on the bandsaw. The sawn edges and dog holes were then cleaned up, it was given a coat of finish, and the runners were waxed. In the end, the ply didn't turn out too shabby :):

So, here is a portrait of the completed bench:

It has already proved to be much easier to use for woodworking than my previous benches. Solid (100Kg), no racking, easy clamping, nice height. I've learned so much from this build as well. Most satisfying :D

what a cracking looking bench and a great WIP too. hope you have many happy hours using it.

Wish I'd known about that plank method for supporting the vice on install!! :roll: