Workbench v2: Getting Started

It’s time to get down to that new workbench. Everyone and their uncle is building a Roubo this year. Consequently, I’ll just be another voice in the din of people blogging about their Roubo builds, but hey, I’ll have a new workbench at the end.

I got the first pieces of wood for this project late last year. A fellow BAG has a pretty serious quantity of reclaimed douglas-fir sitting around and was gracious enough to offer it my way (thanks Bill!). This is big stuff–basically 4x12s and 4x14s supposedly taken from a warehouse. Reclaimed douglas-fir has many advantages, but two of the biggest are that it’s quite hard (yet easy to plane), and it’s really, really stable.

TheĀ boardstimbers had a layer of cruft on the faces, consisting of oxidization, dirt, and who-knows-what. After cutting roughly to length, I sawed off the crud. That process looked like this:

I’ve decided that I will do this project completely by hand, just so that I can say that I didn’t wimp out with a bandsaw (or something of that sort of masochistic nature). Freakishly-looking disembodied arm aside, I’ve been doing all of the heavy-duty ripping like this, and it’s really not that bad (Remember how I mentioned that reclaimed douglas-fir is really stable? That helps). The timber is held steady by the front vise of my current bench.

Getting rid of the grime this way yields funny cruft veneer:

I could probably sell this stuff to an artist.

So after sawing, I finished sizing up everything with the usual cast of planes. With the wood I had on hand, I got three major components of the base: two legs (front and middle) and a stretcher (rear):

The plan for the legs is 5″x3.5″ and the stretchers will be 6″x3.5″. I won’t be thicknessing the stretchers precisely because there’s no need. You can tell how the scale compares to my current bench from the preceding photo.

And now I’m out of wood, at least for big stuff. Time to get another load!

[edit: It planes easily, but as I learned later, this wood dulls plane blades very quickly.]

6 thoughts on “Workbench v2: Getting Started

  1. Fun Brian! A new bench for me has been on the list for quite some time, but after building five for the school shop I’m kinda done with that for a while. None of those are anywhere near as cool as yours will be though. Can’t wait to see more.

    • Hi Dan, something that really fascinates me about your neck of the woods is what timber species might make for good workbench material. I’ve always sort of imagined that Alaska-cedar would be neat, but of course, you’re a bit far from SE Alaska where most of that grows anyway.

      • Brian – Well locally, we have A LOT of birch. It’s hard, and good looking, but not too stable (mostly because the trees don’t get very large, so boards almost always have pith or close to it). We also have White Spruce, which I think would be my choice. Oh, and we have Cotton Wood which can be huge, but the wood is rather soft and weak. Of course, there is Sitka Spruce, which would be great, but it’s not where I live.

        • Interesting! I’ve found that working various kinds of birch can be a mixed bag to work with. Some of the yellow birch that comes from the east is so hard and has such unruly grain that I’d prefer not to have to deal with it again. But when you get into the paper birches and such, it really does get better.

          I’d love to try out some sitka spruce, myself. I don’t know very much about it, other than seeing some of the larger trees in SE Alaska and Washington state.

  2. Brian,

    I must be one of those artists because I was thinking, “why would he take all the effort to remove that beautiful, characterful exterior surface?”. The resulting timbers look clean and sterile.


    • Hi Chris, the “arty” surface is unfortunately not very flat nor hard, so it wouldn’t make for the rock-solid joinery that you need for a workbench. It’s also kind of splintery in places, so hooray for sterile! (I can’t say that I’m fond of the idea of getting all of that dirt on pieces that I’m working on.)

      I’m keeping the veneer, though. It might have a use, even though I’m not an artist.