“Ode to Roy” (Making a mini roubo Workbench with hand tools) Part I

It may seem odd to start a blog with a workbench, but to anyone who has done much work with hand tools the necessity of a good stable bench is obvious. After years of Ebay sniping and Flea Market picking I had about all the antique tools a man could want, (ok so obviously we can never have enough right?) but every tool must wait in rapt anticipation until it could sail across that nice flatish expanse of solid wood and accomplish its varied goal, to cut, score, groove, or smooth.

I in picking the style of bench I had several goals to achieve. Basically I wanted a bench that was not too heavy to move around, used no glue or metal fasteners to hold her together, and I wanted to do it all with hand tools. The so named “little French Bench” from Roy Underhill’s latest book fit all these prerequisites and looked quite nice to boot, so I basically copied it, save a few alterations I will touch on as we go.

My local hardwood dealer was able to sell me an expanse of rough sawn 12/4 maple for about 200 dollars, and I was able to get all the legs top, stretchers, and vise chop out of this 10X15 foot slab.

As with many projects everything started with my favorite saw, “Bertha” a Disston no.7 with 4 ½ TPI. Bertha has one heck of an appetite and positively devours wood, but even so going through the 12/4 maple was slow sweaty work. After about 3 hours I had all the ripping done and a serious bicep cramp in both arms. The more hand work I do the more I see the true underrated advantage to ambidextrous training, and ripping is a prime example.




Checking square




Ripping was followed with a marathon of “Six side squaring” using my Millers falls No 11 set up as a fore plane and Stanley No 5 set up as a panel, smoothing, try plane (uncambered blade with ears taken off set very fine) Cherry Winding sticks/straight edges help quite a bit, especially on the longer pieces.


After a bit of head scratching trying to wrap my brain around Roy’s Rising dovetail and back leg splay, I decided to just jump right in and see if I could swim. Ideally a few practice runs on scrap would have been in order, but somehow I lucked out and they worked out ok, not perfect but darn close enough for a bench. Roy had a 32″ high bench with legs splayed out 1:4 so from a 10″ slab out to 18″ of leg base spread…Well maybe my back is not right after too many humps in the Corps, but a 32″ height is even painful to look at. So I decided on a 38″ bench height and a 24″ spread on the back legs, so my splay angle looked more like 1.5:4 I think, or was it 2:4? Must start a log to keep track of these things, at least for posterities sake!



I found boring out the back leg mortise and following with a chisel the easiest method for me, reminded me a bit of chiseling out a plane throat. I found a heavy 2″ framing chisel a great asset as we are nearly timber framing with these size joints anyway.









After a few long days in the Texas heat (103) Ive got the legs in their respective mortises and Larry the Lizard stopped by to give his approval and gulp a grasshopper nearly half his length down…puts things in perspective? Please stay tuned for next installment as I get the stretchers and bottom shelf put together with the help of some nice old joinery planes.

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8 Responses to “Ode to Roy” (Making a mini roubo Workbench with hand tools) Part I

  1. David says:

    Your an inspiration , i have dreamed of doing many of the same things you actually do . Seeing you do them shows me it can be done . Thank you for taking the time to share with us .


    • mrchickadee says:

      Thanks David. Anyone can do all these things and more, heck, everyone DID do it back in the day, and not just folks trained to do so. Almost everything we go at is a first time try for us, and if thats not proof how easy it is to learn, what is?


  2. Lara Chan says:

    Thank you David. I am itching to make this myself as I love the design (sturdy yet compact sans the toolwell). I have never made my own workbench before and am wondering if this is too much to tackle for a newbie to traditional woodworking. I was also adjusting the dimensions for a small apartment space… thinking to do 4′ wide x 8″ or 10″ deep (sans toolwell) at 34″ tall with a 2 1/2″ top thickness. Do you think that will be stable enough for planing?


    • mrchickadee says:

      Im not sure I would recommend this exact bench for a beginner, it can be done of course, I built it as a first bench…but it does have some challenges for the novice, especially the splayed legs and rising dovetails… I would lean more toward a small Nicholson type bench if I were to recommend anything, it would be cheaper and faster to build if not as grand…for a small space there are break down or transportable benches that might be better to save space. http://www.closegrain.com/2010/08/portable-workbench.html


  3. Dylan says:

    What are some of the tools you use in your projects?


  4. Mark Kinsley says:

    I have been watching your videos on YouTube I’m the one that has a lot of axes like I said in the comments on YouTube, if you need anything special or specific email me, I probably have it. (Axes,hand drills,planes,ship builders axezs


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