How to Build a Roubo Workbench

If you want to build or buy a workbench look at this first, its the French workbench designed by A. Roubo in the 18th century. Its got style that says I am as good or better than any 21st century workbench... What you read below is just a brief interpretation of how to build this bench. You should do as much research as possible, and have the answers to your questions before you start, well most of them anyway...The workbench is the center piece of your shop and is one of the first things people notice about you.


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    This is a ROUBO workbench of the 18th century, its built very heavy. The original design was built with heavy straight legs; some with rear legs set at about 10-12 degrees toward the center. These benches had large heavy single slabs - today they are built with laminated slabs of wood for tops with leg vises. They also had a bench hook on one end of the front side, and dog holes for hold downs. Planing stop, through dovetail and tenons were standard. Today's Roubo's workbenches come in many different styles and types. Its up to you how you see this Roubo in your shop.
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    What to build this workbench with is a question that only you can answer. The most commonly used woods by the large companies for this are maple and Beech. Other woods used are oak, cherry, walnut, popular, southern yellow pine and Douglas fir just to name a few. It doesn't have to be a high dollar hard wood, it can be what ever fits your budget or just what is in your local area. There isn't any wrong answer here, well too wrong.
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    Let your lumber sit in your shop for a few weeks. This gives it time to adjust to its new environment movement wise. You can cut your lumber to rough size and stack and stick it, this lets it move and do most of what ever its going to do before you start milling it.
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    Make a list from the drawings of your bench so you know all the sizes and number of pieces you need to cut before you cut your stock. Knowing the sizes of the legs, stretchers, top laminates and any other long or wide stock needed before cutting can maximize you lumber usage.
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    Laminating the stock is as simple as surfacing all the stock to be laminated and squaring the glue side of all your stock. Apply an even smooth layer of glue to the stock to be laminated and use a good even clamping pressure and lots of clamps. Don't do more than two or three pieces at a time, unless you're very fast and accurate at aligning and clamping. Trying to glue and align these heavy pieces of stock all at one time is difficult and can result in misalignment if you overdo what you can handle alone.
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    Decide on the height of the bench and the thickness of the top. Cut your lumber for the legs about a 1/4-inch wider and longer than needed so you have room to smooth and finish the legs to size. If you're using lumberyard 2xs laminating three or more pieces together makes a nice heavy leg.
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    Use a good bevel gauge to layout the 12 degree angle (or what ever angle you use or leave them straight)for the back legs. Cut any mortises and drill all the holes in the legs. Cut and smooth to size. Note here that if you want a knock down workbench, one that is easy to take a part to move, you can use threaded rod or long lag screws to put it together. Its your workbench, do it your way. If you want to make it a knock down bench then don't glue the long stretchers into the mortises, just use lag screws about 8 inches (20.3 cm) long. Assemble the legs and short stretchers with glue and pins.
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    Make your short stretchers, these will require one end of them being cut to match the 12 degree angle of the rear legs - if you're angling the rear legs, that is. The short stretchers can be one piece boards or two or three laminated together to form a heavy leg assembly. Take your time here and get a good fit. Dry fit the legs and short stretchers together to ensure they fit properly, then you can disassemble them and do your final glue up for assembly. Dry fitting before final assembly will help prevent mistakes and gives you a chance to see the base before glue up, this allows you to make any changes as needed. However you design your bench be sure that all the parts are complementing to each other. As don't have a 4 inch (10.2 cm) tick top on 3 inch (7.6 cm) legs. If your top is 3 or 4 inches (7.6 or 10.2 cm) thick then the legs should be about 4 to 5 inches (10.2 to 12.7 cm) square with stretchers about 3 inches (7.6 cm) thick and as wide or wider than the legs are square. But this is just one opinion.
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    Once the legs assemblies are done, attach the long stretchers between the leg assemblies by dry fitting them as above. When making you base assembly, build it so the top overhangs on the ends for attaching vises or other hardware you want. Make the front edge of the workbench even with the front face of the front leg. With the 12 degree angle of the rear legs you should have about a 6–8 inch (15.2–20.3 cm) overhang to the rear of the bench top. So the base size must be set so these overhangs can give way to the vises and whatever you want to add.
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    With the base assembly complete and left to set for the glue to cure, you can start cutting and laminating the sections for the top. These sections are four pieces laminated together to make up one section, these are long pieces and help here is a big help with alignment.(Laminating the top pieces four at a time is done with help and a slow setting glue, but even with help this is sometimes difficult). Use as many clamps as you need here and get an even clamping pressure, be sure you have an even layer of glue on each piece to prevent gaps and delaminations later. Each section is left overnight to let the glue cure. Do this step until you have enough laminated sections to equal your workbench top width. If your workbench is 24 inches (61.0 cm) then you need 4 sections.
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    Once all of the sections for the top are laminated and you have surfaced them to rough size, you can now assemble the sections together adding one section to the other each day. Again allow each of these laminations to cure overnight. Wiping off dripping glue will be a plus when it comes time to flatten and smooth the top on both sides.
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    With all the sections of the top laminated together into one large top section, you can begin surfacing the bottom side of the top first. Starting your flatting and smoothing on the bottom side of the top is a good way to learn to use your hand plane and being the bottom side of the top will hide your learning curve. Use a #5 to scrub the top and a #6 or #7 to flatten and smooth. But if you don't have the #6 or #7 plane, you can get the surface flat and smooth by just using your #5 and adjusting it to the type of planing you're doing, scrubbing, flattening and smoothing. Take your time and get the bottom side of the top flat and smooth.This won't happen in just a few hours, it will take as long as it takes. You will know how to use your plane correctly when you're done.... Once flat and smooth you can attach to the base.
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    Attaching the top is something that should be decided on and worked out long before you get to it. Attaching the top is done with a mortise and tenon joint, you can use a short tenon or a through tenon and dovetail which is the way this workbench was originally designed. But you can use any method you want. Just research this method well before starting it. If it's a knock down type bench, keep in mind how you will remove the top if ever needed to.
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    Once the top has been attached to the base and is solid and square, set the workbench upright and flatten and smooth the top side as you did the bottom. Using a plane and wending sticks will help get your top very flat.
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    Now you need to sand the entire bench, base and top, smooth. Using a chamfer bit on the edges or a round over bit helps prevent chipping and splitting of the edges, and on the legs. Don't chamfer or round over edges where you're going to attach vises.
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    Check the workbench for any problems and missed spots when you are sanding.
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    You can now apply a finish. The finish on the workbench is a matter of what you like. Boiled linseed oil is used a lot for this. You can even mix other finishes in with it or over it. Keep in mind that whatever you do to the bench top you must also do to the bottom side of the bench top. This will help prevent the top from warping or moving unevenly. Work safely.


  • Look for sawmills selling lumber, it's cheaper there but rough cut.
  • Build in a well lit space
  • Buy a book on building workbenches.
  • Plan your building so you don't cut too much stock at a time.
  • Have your tools and items as glue and clamps ready and at hand.
  • Allow several hours for glue curing time and overnight for large glue ups as the legs and top laminations.


  • Work safe, when using a table saw, routers and any power tool
  • Don't over spend on lumber and hardware
  • As you build, don't cut more wood than you can use in that day. Cutting too much wood to size and not using it for a day or two may result in lumber that has moved, cupped, warped or twisted.

Things You'll Need

  • Lots of clamps 12 inch (30.5 cm) F style to 36 inch (91.4 cm) pipe clamps
  • Yellow glue, woodworking glue
  • Help lifting the top and base.The ability to not get in a hurry, think about the next step before moving on to the next step.A good drawing or set of plans, or and instructions, and lots of research.Help when needed, the base and top will be very heavy.

Article Info

Categories: Home Improvements and Repairs