Roubo workbench top

Attaching the Top – Low Cost Roubo 5

With the base (almost) complete, now is a good time to prepare your bench top and attach it. You will remember from an earlier post that I glued up the top from my boards and planed it down flat. I wanted to go with a split top, so I ripped the top down midway. This would let me put in a planing stop/tool holder in the middle, and bring the total width to around 22″. I wanted to add an end cap to the top, purely for decorative reasons. On a ‘normal’ roubo bench, the tail vise on the end would require an end cap to add rigidity. Since I wouldn’t be putting in a tail vise, I did’t really need an end cap, but I wanted to add a bit of flair with some dovetails, so I decided to add them anyways. If the end cap look is not too important to you, by all means skip this step.

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My end caps were 2.5″ thick mahogany. The end caps would be attached with a mortise and tenon joint, with an oversized mortise to allow for wood movement. Each end cap would have two bolts through them into the tenon, with one bolt in an oversized hole, again for wood movement. I began by marking out my tenon to around 1″x1″x8″. I cut at the lines using a panel saw, and split the wood down close to the lines using a chisel and mallet. With that done, it was time to clean the tenons up carefully paring down to the lines using a chisel. For the mortise, I cut them to 9″ long, allowing the top to move in one direction, towards the back of the bench. I bored out most of the waste using a brace and bit (tape the bits at the required depth), and cleaned up the mortise with a chisel. If you are following along, you’re probably getting pretty good at this by now. Try and keep the mortise and tenons both as square as possible – it’s important to get a good fit.

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(If you are going to be adding dovetailed end caps, skip this paragraph for now and move on to the next. Come back to this when the dovetails are done. With the tops and the end caps fitted, I drilled some pilot holes for the bolts to go through and drove the bolts through. I also added a little glue to the fixed side of the end caps for good measure. Be careful not to let it spread to the back during assembly.This brings me to another point in the build where I decided to do something unnecessary and unusual because of my aesthetic preferences. I hate the look of bolts and screws in benches (and furniture in general), so I had to cover up the bolts in the end caps. I decided to chisel out some shallow mortises to accept diamond shaped walnut inlays. I then glued them in place. I made the inlays fairly thin, around 1/8″ thick, so that if I ever need to reach the bolts, I can just whack at the inlays and they’ll break apart.


With the top complete, lay the two halves on the floor top side down. Make sure they are laid out parallel and spaced apart 1.5″ (or however wide you want your gap to be), and carefully flip the base and lay it on the top slabs. Get a friend to help with this. It may take some fidgeting, but once the arrangement is complete, mark out the location of your mortises in the top to accept the leg tenons. Once marked out, use a taped brace and bit and bore out most of the waste, and clean up with a chisel. Your top is now complete!


If you are adding a steel bench vise as an end vise, now is the time to do so. Mark out the location of your end vise, and use four bolts or lag screws to attach the bench vise to the bottom of your bench top. Wood movement hopefully shouldn’t be a major issue here but I like to overbuild things, so I made the two holes on one side slightly oversize to allow the top to move a little seasonally. There isn’t really much else to adding a bench vise at the end – you could mortise the rear jaw into the bench but I don’t find that necessary at all. I chose a quick release vise and strongly suggest you do too – it makes a huge difference in actual use.

It’s finally time to attach the top to the base. Line your top up and fit the tenons into the mortises. You don’t need to glue them in, as the top slabs sit on the stretchers and are pretty heavy, but a dab of glue doesn’t hurt if you aren’t planning on taking the top apart. Either way, add a bolt through each stretcher into the top, through oversize holes, and you have yourself a very, very solid bench.

Next post we’ll go over adding the dovetails to the end caps. Happy building!

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