Dovetails on Roubo End Cap

Low Cost Split-Top Roubo Build

A woodworkers bench is more than just a bench. It is the most important tool that a woodworker owns, even more so if the wood is being worked with hand tools. Since the projects I will be showcasing in the website will primarily be those of most interest to amateur woodworkers, the workbench seemed a fitting place to start.

A common dilemma faced by woodworkers is whether to build or buy a workbench. The most extreme proponents of the build camp find the idea of purchasing a workbench akin to heresy – something to be ashamed of, forever marking one as a fraud. On the other hand the most extreme proponents of the buy camp feel that building a bench is a waste of time; after all, as with all tools, a bench is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. To build a bench would be a waste of time that one could use to build other projects.

Should I build or buy a workbench?

Build or Buy?

Most woodworkers, myself included, tend to fall near the middle, but closer to the build camp, and for good reason. Building your own workbench gives you the option to personalise the bench to your own practical needs and aesthetic tastes, lets you practice and employ some very useful skills, and for some, is almost like a rite of passage – a personalised calling card, unique to the woodworker. Of course, if the right deal comes along/you are too busy to set aside the days, weeks or months it takes to build a bench, it makes perfect sense to buy a bench. At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong choice. There is only a right choice, and that is the choice that you make.

For someone new to woodworking, I would recommend building a bench early on, out of cheap, easily available lumber. A bench is a large project, and when built using traditional joinery, is a great opportunity to learn and hone new skills while being large enough that small errors can go unnoticed. As for the lumber, a softwood workbench is as good as any hardwood, so long as the stock is sufficiently dry. It can be tempting to want to build an epic, beautiful bench out of exotic hardwoods straight away. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, although it is out of the budget of most beginner woodworkers. I would suggest that you build your first bench out of something easier on the wallet; you will probably find things about your bench that work well, and things that don’t – and you can use this knowledge for your ultimate workbench down the line.

So that brings us to the type of bench you decide to build. Maybe you want to build a massive behemoth of a bench and outfit it with top of the line hardware from Benchcrafted, so you decide to go the Roubo route, a style popularised recently by Chris Schwarz. Or maybe you want to keep it simple and build the bench quickly and cheaply, and go more of a Sellers workbench, popularised by Paul Sellers. Or maybe a Holtzapffel or an English style or a…you get the idea. All of these benches are great. If you want to find out what the strongest features of each are, there’s plenty of information online. The truth is that most beginner woodworkers have no way of knowing which style of bench offers the best functionality for their style of work. So much changes in the first few years (and even later). So I say don’t agonise over the type of bench. Pick one that appeals the most to you, whether for functionality or for aesthetics. In the end it is your bench – if you look at it and it makes you happy, that’s half the battle. If you find something doesn’t work for you down the line, you can modify it, or even just build another. No big deal.

Split-Top Roubo End Cap

If aesthetics matter to you, your bench should be beautiful to look at

The build I decided to document here is a Roubo-style bench, with a split top. This design has been popularised greatly in recent years. This bench isn’t an exact Roubo as seen in Plate 11 – it has been modified to suit my work better. I wanted a smaller bench to fit into a small space, and so I also made it shorter than your average workbench.

That said, I believe it is a pretty good design to work with for amateur woodworkers with limited space and budget. The bench will be made mostly of pine, (cheap, easily available), will have quality yet affordable hardware, and should meet 90%, if not more, of most hand tool work situations. If you have more space and would like a bigger top, you can extend the length of the top further without any changes to the base. Of course, if you want to use a hardwood for the top, that would work just as well too. I couldn’t resist adding a couple of purely decorative features as well, as you will soon see.

With that rather lengthy introduction, I commence the Split-Top Roubo Build! I hope you find this informative, and if you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email.

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