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A Beginners Schwarz-Roubo Workbench.

author-gravatar mushi56 Aug 09, 2017

A Schwarz-Roubo bench from Workbenches: From Design And Theory To Construction And Use by Chris Schwarz.  This is my first woodworking project for my home.  As a beginner I made a ton of mistakes and learned a ton.  I wanted to share this project, warts and all, particularly as someone starting from scratch.  If someone is thinking about building this bench, I hope they can learn from my mistakes and just go for it!

Obligatory finished product first.  Dimensions:  8' long x 36" high x 23.5" deep.  Materials: construction douglas fir for everything except the bottom shelf (pallet wood, guessing SYP?)  and a small piece of oak scrap as a spacer on the leg vise chop.

I didn't take a lot of pictures of the materials prep process, this is very close to the beginning.  The legs and stretchers are glued up but not joined. The benchtop on the side is just stacked - it wasn't jointed or glued at this point, but I took pictures because this is where I could actually start visualizing the bench and what it would look like when finished (other than drawings)    

Shop assistant.  He went through an 80's metal hair phase in his puppyhood.

A close up of the stretchers glued up.   Also to document a big mistake.  The plans call for a 1/2" chamfer on both sides on the top of the front stretcher for the sliding deadman.  Note that this has a chamfer on the bottom too.  Whoops. I didn't have access to a table saw for this project, so I cut the chamfer with a circular saw set to 45 degrees.  Then I flipped the board over and cut the other half.  Then I realized I flipped it lengthwise, cutting a nice chamfer on a spot that didn't call for it.  Oh well.  I didn't feel like it was worth ripping more lumber for this mistake.  I used this as a the rear stretcher instead of the front to hide my shame.

In addition to a bad photograph, this was to show how bad my first attempt at this stretcher was.  You can see the circular saw cut that needed cleaning up, but more importantly you can see how bad my technique was on the jointer. The tenon board has a pretty severe taper that came back to bite me when it came to cut the mortises in the legs. 

More evidence of poor jointing that showed up in the glue-up.

Shop buddy "helping" with a piece of scrap.

I finally got to the point where I glued up the top.  I did them in four-board segments as suggested in the book.  This looks pretty okay  from the photograph, but you can see evidence of poor mating on the glue-up due to poor jointing technique.  Also you can see a lot of tearout from the thickness planer I borrowed from the tool library.  It was a benchtop model, and I'm not sure if the tearout was due to dull blades or grain direction.  I don't know how to read grain direction as it seems like it changes on long boards.

In my defense, my jointer has a 3 foot bed.  After doing more reading, it turns out it's just hard/impossible to do a good job jointing 8 foot boards on a 3 foot jointer bed.

The legs actually came out pretty darn good in my opinion.  I cut the chamfer with a circular saw and then sanded a bit to round it out.  I got a bit of an ugly cut from the circular saw with a little bit of grain getting torn on the corners but they cleaned up okay.  Of the entire project, I think the legs came out the best in terms of being uniform, glue-up and looks.

Funny thing, if you are building a workbench, you need *something* to work off of.  We had an old IKEA table that seemed flimsy but actually held a ton of weight including the benchtop.  If I didn't have this table, I think my next option was to build two saw horses from 2x4s and a plank of plywood.

I bought a used handplane. First ever hand tool that wasn't a screwdriver or a hammer.  I think I was excited and just wanted to make some shavings.  

Drawbore pins!  I had never heard of this before reading the book.  It included some ideas on how to make the drawbore pins, and I went ahead and did it.  After doing a bit more reading, it turns out I think these are kind of optional.  It definitely made it easier, but if I were talking to someone who was on the fence, I'd probably mention you could just drive your pins without them.

So the handle was from a piece of scrap and I tried with a drill press to get the hole to hold the pin 90 degrees.  I was... a bit off.  In addition to being off, I drilled the hole too large and after driving the handle, the metal piece fell out.  This was so bad I had to start over with another piece of scrap.

Butane torch that sucker up!

Dry-fitting the first tenon-mortise joint I've ever cut!  You can see it's not very straight on the edges.  I used the method described in the book where you use a forstner bit and a drill press to remove as much waste as possible and then chisel out the rest.  The drill press I borrowed from the tool library had a bit of wobble but it got the job done. 

Getting close to a correct fit!  The sides were always the problem.  I made sure the drill press was deep enough, but the sides were difficult to chisel at exactly 90 degrees and keep straight and clean lines. My chisels were also used and not sharp enough.  I am working on learning how to sharpen chisels but have a ways to go.

The first mortise.  I wanted to take a comparison with the last mortise I chiseled.  I got a lot better but I forgot to take a picture of the last one.  This will have to serve as a reminder of how I started out.  Particularly all the end grain I blew out trying to get those walls right.

Drawboring! I learned the hard way what happens if your offset is too far off.  So here's what I learned the hard way:  Even if you can dry-fit and get your drawpins in each joint INDIVIDUALLY, that doesn't mean your alignment will be exactly the same when you assemble MULTIPLE joints and pressure is exerted in different ways.  In this case, after I successfully pinned the first joint, the next joint moved far enough that I was unable to fit my drawbore pin.  And faced with a glued up peg, I didn't really have much recourse.  I tried hammering it in anyway and this was the result.

 I didn't know how to fix these issues other than starting over from scratch, so of the 8 drawbored joints in the base of the bench, I broke pegs off in 3 of them.  Lesson: Make sure your drawbore pins fit before hammering in the peg.  If they fit dry but then don't fit when you've changed something, don't force it.  It'll just break.  Other option is just pegging the joint.  You won't get that mechanical grip but if you force it you still won't get it and your pegs will just break.

Ugly but the way the stretchers bear weight I think this won't cause any problems long term. I hope.  I haven't filled the gap with epoxy or wood glue in the final product but you can't really see it.  Hopefully the joints won't get wobbly in the future.

Ah yes!  Story time.  Here's probably the largest mistake I made that created the most work.  Don't glue up your stretchers until you're positive they're the right length!  Since I was using the book for the most part, I ripped and cut the stretchers to fit a 24" wide top.  However, after jointing and planing and glue up and everything, my top came out to about 23.5" wide, and my legs were actually wider than the plans called for.   Meaning that the stretchers I just glued up left the legs about a half-inch proud of the top.  I briefly considered allowing the back legs to stay proud of the back of the top, but then quickly decided it wouldn't be too hard to just re-make the stretchers the current length.  It added a lot of work but it was also a good lesson in measuring to what you have in your hands, not what the plans say. 

Not all of my legs came out at 90 degrees. This is how much they didn't come out straight.  Ugh.    I think this is all a poor job cutting the mortises and not drawboring correctly.  The mortise needed to be tighter and I needed to do a lot better drawboring to keep this joint perfectly 90 degrees. Most of the other ones came out okay but this one was probably the most egregious example which is why I took a photo of it.

I left it.  I don't know if I should have gone back and re-done the stretchers to get the fit better, but one note in the book has me hopeful for the future - the way Schwarz describes this project, as the top dries out, it will shrink and pull the legs into a slight "A" frame. I don't know how much to expect the top to shrink, but I'm guessing it won't ever get this back to 90 degrees. 

Time to start on the chop for the leg vise!  I took a long time figuring out what vise screw to buy for the leg vise.  I wanted to get the Benchcrafted crisscross and classic leg vise hardware, but since I was on a budget and I think my money would be better spent on tools at this point, I opted for the Yost vise on Amazon and built it with the regular parallel vise.

I don't have a table saw, so I had to cut the angles and chamfers with a circular saw.  This was pretty tricky.  It was a pretty far cry from perfect but it's function and if I go back to retrofit the benchcrafted hardware I'll spend a lot more time on the chop.

Measuring for the angle

Cutting a quick mortise for the parallel guide.  I ended up using screws to join the parallel guide rather than glue.  Again a detail I likely will do differently when I upgrade the hardware.

Hole for the vise drilled.  I actually learned a lot about drilling large (bigger than 1") holes in wood.  First, I learned that you need a forstner bit, an auger bit, or a spade bit.  For the hole through the 5" thick legs, a drill press or forstner bit wouldn't work, and a spade bit apparently creates an ugly hole that isn't straight.  I asked on some forums and folks said an auger bit was the right choice.  That being said, not all auger bits are equal.  I ended up getting a Bosch auger bit that was slightly larger than the vise screw.  Two problems I ran into:  One:  the shank for the auger bit was huge.  I didn't have a drill with a large enough chuck to hold it.  Second, the bit was shorter than other auger bits I googled (6", barely long enough to drive through the 5" legs) had a steep "angle" on the auger, so despite being an "auger bit" - when I found a drill large enough to drive it, the hole STILL came out ugly.  The auger bit I had I think was designed for quickly drilling holes through construction 2x4s with potential for nails.   Fortunately, the hardware from the vise hides most of it, but if I were doing this over, I would buy a different auger bit. 

Leg vise fully assembled! This is also the end result of the leg not being 90 degrees from the stretcher. You can't see it in this photo but the benchtop is 90 degrees so the vise still grips fine.

Also, notice the piece of scrap attached to the chop. The vise I bought was a bit too long for my bench.  I just cut a bit of oak scrap as a spacer and now it fits perfectly. 

Also shamelss pic of the shop buddy, now much larger and afraid of heights.

Finished product and shameless plug for my city!  The Timbers saw off a piece of lumber every time we score, so it felt appropriate.

This is the complete bench.  I wish I would have taken more pictures, particularly of the joints while I was assembling them.  I also didn't take any pictures of creating the shelf, but I also didn't really go with the tongue-and-groove shelves the book describes. I just sawed up some pallet scraps to the right length and laid them on the ledgers.  I used a jigsaw to cut the corners and needed to glue up two pallet scraps to remove a gap.  Overall, I think the bench came out well and I'm done for now.  I have a list of things to accomplish but this will serve me as a beginning woodworker for a while.  I still need to do the following things: flatten the top (I need a jointer plane and sharper planes, but I've gotten it mostly flat with a jack plane), put on a finish, add a planing stop, add the crochet (I'm not sold on this, we'll see if I feel like it would help), dog holes, do the tongue-and-groove shelves, add the sliding deadman, and when I feel like I have the cash, the benchcrafted criss-cross and leg vise hardware.

One thing I'm proud of is how well I did without a full workshop.  I definitely needed more than I thought I did when I started, but I was able to put this together without exactly the same tools that some of the steps called for.  I started with basically a circular saw and a power drill.  I ended up spending about $150 on lumber, and about $600 on tools or other items that I needed to acquire. It wasn't quite a budget endeavor, but thanks to a tool library and flexibility, I was able to learn a ton doing this.  I'm very much looking forward to making some things!


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