The trunk of the tree was only
about 9 feet long before the first large limbs branched out. My
saw could only cut 23 inches wide so I squared the log up and
started sawing 1 inch thick boards.
I had thought I might try to
cut a bench top from the tree if it was sound. About 6 inches
out from the pith I dropped down and cut a slab. I knew this
thing would be tough to move once I got it cut. A six inch
thick, twenty three inch wide, nine foot long piece of green red
oak is HEAVY! I mean small car heavy! Of course, I was alone
that day, but somehow I did manage to get it slid on the back of
the pickup. This is how the journey to my new workbench began.
Quite bit time passed. My big chunk of red oak
was shuffled around, moved here and there, and seemed to be in
the way a lot. In the intervening years the wood had dried. It
had twisted pretty badly and cracked on the ends. At the time I
cut the bench top out the only plan I had was to build some kind
of undercarriage to set it on.
The only reading I had done on
building workbenches was in Roy Underhill’s “Woodright’s
Workbook“. I had heard of Andre Roubo but really didn’t know
much about the benches he documented in his book “L’art du menuiser” in the late 1700’s.
In 2010 I read a copy of
Christopher Schwarz’s book “The Workbench Design Book“. His in
depth study of the Roubo’s designs got me to thinking about the
slab of red oak again.
I really liked the plate 11 bench, but
the plate 279 bench Roubo called the “German” bench is the one
that really caught my eye. This was the design that I decided to
build. Finally in January of 2011, I drug out the slab of oak to
try and make something of it.
The first big issue was to get started
flattening the slab. The bench top had about an inch or so of
twist to it. I pulled out a jack plane and worked around on one
end a little going across the grain taking as big a bite as I
The wood was hard and dry and after about 30 minutes I
knew there was going to have to be another plan. With the slab
sitting on saw bucks I put wedges under the opposing high
corners to split the difference of the twist. Then I attached a
couple of 1x6’s to each long edge with drywall screws using a
level to get them both in the same plane.
The screws did leave a
few small holes. You could use clamps to hold the rails if you
wanted to avoid the holes; the screws were just quicker. I
borrowed a big router from my uncle and built a sled to attach
it to out of plywood and a couple of 1x4 scraps. With a straight
cutting bit in the router, I took about 3/8 inch off with each
pass. For me, this was terribly boring work. It took around two
hours on each side and probably a few years of life off the
If you get the guide rails level with each
other, the result is a pretty smooth dead flat top. After
finishing up with the router, I made a pass over each side with
a jack plane to smooth up the few little pieces I missed with
With the top and bottom complete I hand planed the
long edges square to finish it up.