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Roubo: Poetry in Immobility

The piece I’m dubbing my Studio Table was the first project I have completed with my Roubo workbench completely finished. After investing so much time in building this bench it was a very affirming experience to build a piece of furniture using my newest and easily most valuable tool.

Granted this little Stickley table hardly taxes the hand tool woodworker with work holding problems and complex joinery but to me what was most rewarding was the simple fact that I didn’t think once about how I was going to hold something for an operation. It all just happened.

When milling the stock I was faced with edge planing, face planing, twisted boards, and out of square ends. The stock just flowed across the bench from end vise and dogs to leg vise to bench top without a thought about how I would accomplish something. On top of that during all of this work, the bench stayed complete immobile. I might as well have been working directly on my concrete floor.

During joinery, I had to cut half blind dovetails, mortise and tenons, and half laps. My chisels sang and shoulder planes hummed. My sawed cut straight and true. Not once did a cut go a foul because of a shifting work piece.

During assembly and glue up the bench was my rock. Flat, never moving, and spacious enough for all my parts, glue, and accessories.

The top is solid, the vises strong, fast, and efficient. I never once stopped working to set up a jig or an operation. This is what our workbenches are supposed to do: allow us to focus completely on our work piece and assist us in our work. In essence I have spent a great deal of time to make a tool that is so effective as to be completely invisible.

Strange praise, but high praise indeed. This past weekend I spent time in Colonial Williamsburg. I chatted extensively with Joiners, Cabinetmakers, Coopers, and Wheelwrights. I saw a different style of bench in every shop I visited. I saw different ways of using those benches too. What I never saw was a craftsman stop his work to set up a tool or secure a piece for chiseling, sawing, shaving, etc. With such a variety of work being done it seems sensible that there would be a variety of workbenches to be seen, and this was certainly the case. What is common between the Cabinetmaker’s bench and the Cooper’s shavehorse is that the tool is suited for the work at hand. I think you would see a lot of standing around and scratching of heads if the Cabinetmaker was trying to build a side chair at a shavehorse, and likewise that Cooper would really be slowed down tapering and bending staves while at the Nicholson bench.

So have I uncovered the holy grail of benches with my Roubo? Not at all. But I did think about the type of work I do and how I do it when I designed the bench at the outset. I listed the tasks that I would go through in a typical piece of furniture and began listing next to it all the ways I would hold the work. From there it was simply a matter of determining which methods had the most overlap and adding them to the bench.

Long story short, I could not be happier with my workbench. Now I’m ready to stop talking about it and just let it disappear and do it’s job. There are masterpieces to be made!!

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