Saturday, December 12, 2009

Jim Tolpin's Split Top Roubo

A month ago we posted about Jim Tolpin's Split-Top Roubo build.

A couple days ago Jim emailed us with news that he had finished his bench! And what a beauty it turned out to be. Jim's bench was a collaborative effort. As we were finalizing the Split-Top Roubo plans, Jim graciously accepted the role of guinea pig. We sent Jim rough sketches of the bench along with the final versions as we finished them. We built the top (in hard maple) while Jim prepared the base, made from locally cut douglas fir. (Jim's bench is a great example of using materials that are common to your area.) We installed the Benchcrafted Tail Vise and Jim installed the Glide Leg Vise. The Glide's chop (hard maple), parallel guide (quartersawn white oak) and deadman (hard maple) were milled to rough dimensions and sent along with the top to Jim's shop in Port Townsend, WA.

Once the base was finished the tops were joined to it and flattened by hand.

Jim customized some aspects of the Split-Top Roubo to tailor it to his own needs.

Jim installed a Frank Klausz-style flip stop at the right end of the bench.

Jim also milled a pocket in the back of the Glide's chop to hide the roller bracket. This makes for a clean look at the front of the bench.

Jim also included a wide rail at the rear of the bench to further discourage any racking. When we first saw Jim's base we thought there was only one way to make the bench more rigid. Bolt the tops directly to an old Sequoia stump!

Jim reports the base is made completely by hand:

"All the framework is air-dried Douglas fir, harvested here on the Olympic Peninsula. Some of it was old growth--very high density. No glue, no fastenings (except for some traditional square nails driven in to hold cleat for bottom boards (which were held in hand-cut rabbets)). All joinery hand cut, tenons are secured with draw bore white oak pegs. All dimensioning and surfacing done with hand planes. The finished height came out at 32-in...just right for me for most planing tasks, and it turns out just right for light duty crosscutting using the flip stop and a small panel saw. The legs are 5 1/2-in. square. Overall a fun (and somewhat aerobic!) project.

Thanks for your part in making it happen!


Jim teaches hand-tool centric woodworking at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking in Port Townsend, WA.


  1. Gah! See, now here's why I still haven't built a workbench. Every time I think I've decided on the perfect bench, one like this comes along. Now THIS is clearly the perfect bench. :o)

  2. Jameel-
    The design and plans look awesome. Can you provide some more insight into why you decided to go with a split top instead of a one-piece top? What are the pros/cons as you see it? Also, you mention being able to fit a parallel clap in there but I didn't understand why or how you would do it (e.g., putting a clamp underneath a case, down the length of the bench? Clamping something small to the bench?


  3. Kari, you've been at this long enough to know there is no such thing as the perfect bench! ;-) But this one comes darn close!

    To answer the other inquirers question, we orginally designed the tops in two sections for ease of transport, but it proved to offer other advantages like being able to clamp to the top. It offers a lot of different workholding opportunities. Cons are that the tops could move separately from each other and thus require more frequent flattening. We haven't noticed this yet though. With the potential for different gap stop accessories, we don't see any other cons to the design.

  4. On the split top....I also had the revelation about what a great place to rip a board in half! So I jumped up on the bench (I'm into aerobics, remember!), tap a pair of holddowns to the board with the cutline centered over the gap and went at it with a rip saw. Best sawhorse yet! The gap is also a good place to park my mallets...I'll send a pic of the ripping process soon...

  5. I've got to see this. Send them on Jim!

  6. I would love more info on the pocket for the roller. The photo makes it look like the chop cannot close all the way, is that the case? Does this matter in practice?

  7. You should drop Jim a line and ask him.


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