Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The French Oak Roubo Project

This summer, a small group of Roubo enthusiasts will gather to build the famed bench from Plate 11 of Roubo's L'Art du Menuisier. 

And you are invited.

Over the past couple years and after several trips to a Roubo-esque millwork shop in rural Georgia, we've been able to source enough French oak to build several benches that almost exactly match Roubo's description of his joiner's bench from Plate 11. The slabs are 5-6" thick, from 18 to 28 inches wide and around 19' long. They have been air drying for over 10 years. But here's the kicker. Some of these trees are directly from the grounds of Versailles, and were likely growing in the late 18th century. We haven't counted the growth rings, but there's a good chance these trees and Roubo were contemporaries. Roubo could have even touched one of these trees.

The Enthusiasts

Benchcrafted - Of course, we'll be there
Daed Toolworks - Infill plane maker Raney Nelson

Jeff Miller - One of American's legendary furniture makers
Lost Art Press - Chris Schwarz, the great Roubo revivalist, will bring his extensive workbench knowledge base and bench-building expertise.
Don Williams, the headmaster of the team of translators bringing Roubo's "L'Art du Menuisier" to the English-speaking world.
Brese Plane - Plane maker Ron Brese will be in attendance.
Jon Fiant - Atlanta-area cabinet and benchmaker will lend his hand

The Concept

Building several massive benches is best accomplished as a team effort. This is not a class, but rather a gathering to build some amazing benches with some amazing material, in an amazing place. There will be plenty of help with technique should you need it, but don't expect a lot of one-on-one instruction. The purpose here is to build, and have a good time doing it. We encourage intermediate to advanced woodworkers. If you're a rank beginner, good chance you'll be in over your head, which won't be fun for you (or the rest of us.)

The Material


Slabs of this size, age and dryness are extremely rare. We never expected to find wood like this, let alone with this provenance. Roubo calls for oak for the bench legs. We've got that. 4" thick slabs of French oak. These will get sawn up for legs and rails. The wood for the tops will be cut from massively thick slabs of French oak. All these slabs are between 5" and 6" thick, and we anticipate will finish out at not less than 5". Wood being what wood is, these ideals are of course not written in stone. One thing is guaranteed. You will go home with a very unique bench, some incredible hardware, a very unique experience, and a piece of history. Wood like this comes around maybe once in a lifetime. This wood is not inexpensive, but we could not pass up this opportunity. We're so thrilled to be meeting up with the roster of enthusiasts for this build, that we're pricing the entire package as reasonably as we can. The experience here is as special as the wood.

The Location

The first time we stepped onto the grounds at Wyatt Childs, Inc. we thought we'd stepped back a couple centuries. More than just a millwork shop, Wyatt Childs imports antique wares from Europe, and especially France. The grounds are covered with everything from ancient bronze street lamps to enormous granite millstones, all completely authentic. And wood. Lots of wide, thick wood in uncommon species. Scotch pine as wide as a dining table. 14' high stacks of sequenced Chestnut. Salvaged boards from the 16th century. 
If you're planning to build some furniture with your new bench (naturally) you might want to bring a trailer. Bo's lumber shed is a cornucopia of lignum vitality!  

It's these items, along with the output of the millwork shop that find their way into such locales as the Doonbeg 5-star Hotel (Ireland.) But what makes Child's facility unique is the man himself. Wyatt, or Bo as he's known, is a man who loves wood. When we first stepped foot in the millwork building a few years ago, Bo was instructing his team of joiners on the fine points of assembling some Roubo-style parquetry floor panels in walnut. From outfitting high-class lodges to Manhattan condos, Bo's shop is the modern-day version of Roubo's Plate 11. We even saw a set of wall panels from a 17th century castle that Bo had rescued from the wood stove (the owner's were using them for heat.) They looked like they'd been pulled directly from a L'Art du Menuisier engraving. As we chatted with Bo, the subject inevitably moved to Roubo, and the seeds for this event were planted. After a few trips to France (and countless phone calls) two containers of French oak were crossing the Atlantic.

Child's shop is virtually tailor-made for building benches. The 36" Oliver Straitoplaner is a gargantuan power-fed jointer capable of flattening an entire benchtop at once. In addition to the Oliver, the building we'll be working in is outfitted with lots of old American iron. Northfield, Tannewitz, among others, all set in a brick and paneled wood interior with good light.

The Bench

We'll be focusing on creating the bench from Roubo's Plate 11. That means lots of mortise and tenon work, as well as the double dovetailed tenon that joins the legs to the top. Its a simple bench, with one simple vise. But don't hesitate to add your own touches, like additional vises. You are, after all, building your own bench.

The Accoutrements
The Roubo bench isn't complete without a few essential accessories: the holdfast, the planing stop, and the leg vise. Benchcrafted will be making custom leg vise screws (can be paired with a Crisscross) just for this event, based directly on Roubo's engraving (below), and master blacksmith Peter Ross will be supplying the hand-forged ring and handle for the leg vise, as well as the Roubo-style holdfast and toothed planing stop, especially for the build. 

The Date

Monday July 15 through Friday July 19, 2013

The Price
$4500. Includes enrollment in the five day event, and enough French Oak to build the bench (8-9 feet long, 5+" thick, 18" to 24" wide), Benchcrafted's custom Roubo leg vise screw (with forged ring and handle by Peter Ross), Peter Ross holdfast and planing stop, and use of machinery and equipment at Wyatt Childs Inc. Attendees should bring their own hand tools and any other ancillary items they wish to use during the build (sawhorses, portable power tools--router, etc.)

Transportation, lodging, and meals are the responsibility of each participant. Participants not able to transport their bench home at the end of the week may arrange with Wyatt Childs Inc. for crating and shipping. 

The event is limited to only 10 participants, and we need 10 participants to make it happen.

As of March 1, we have ten participants! Thank you to those who registered. Send us an email if you would like to be placed on the wait list.


  1. Oy. Anyone wanna buy a kidney?

  2. I assume you'll all be speaking French the entire week, as well, Jameel?

  3. If I can get some more work going, I would absolutely love to do this. One thing though. Georgia....Mid summer....Practically the rainforest, and I live in the very high desert (in one of the dryest areas). I don't think the assembled bench would like that very much

  4. The only French you'll hear from me is if I should drop one of these slabs on my toe.


    You could do the majority of the heavy stuff, and some joinery in Georgia, then do the final assembly at home after the wood gets a chance to settle a bit. I wouldn't let it stop you. We have some of the top woodworker's coming to this, we'll figure out a strategy for your situation should you attend.

    1. It would probably be much easier to transport in pieces as well. Will you be posting regular updates on attendance? (how many people are signed up)
      I have to secure a few more projects before I can schedule this trip.

    2. We'll post an update when its full. Until then, assume there are openings.

  5. Considering the wood being supplied, the use of some awesome tools for an entire week, the knowledge and (intimidating) skill level of those mentioned above, the handmade Peter Ross accessories and the custom vise screw, I'd say you priced this very fairly. Wish I could attend.

    To those lucky enough to go, HAVE FUN!

    PS. A chainsaw mortiser, like the timber framers use, would make all those mortises a breeze and speed things upconsiderably. Just a thought

    1. Just in case this was in response to my earlier comment, I think it's priced very fairly too. I would totally pay it if I could swing it. Thus my (somewhat legitimate) offer of a kidney. I make no claims about its condition though.

    2. Ben, no worries, not in response to your comment. I thought it was going to be alot more when he first started teasing us with the idea and then when I saw the details, the analyst in me kicked in and I was basically thinking out loud with my keyboard comparing what you get for the price.

      )FYI: I was going to offer my liver but I pickled it in college.)

  6. I don't know what is cooler, the wood or all that old iron equipment.
    No, it's the wood.
    This is epic. I have to figure out how to make this work!

  7. Are all skill levels welcomed?

  8. I am so totally convinced that this workbench would make me a better woodworker!

  9. Chris, will visitors be allowed during the week? I won't be taking the class but would love to come down and just look around. Barnesville is only 2 hours drive for me.

  10. Shawn, we may have an "open house" one day during the event. More details as they unfold.

  11. Wow!
    Cudos to all your big thinkers.
    Cannot make this event, but will dig following the adventure.

  12. I built a "BenchCrafted Split Top" a few years back. I used Ash and love this bench. I can't imagine not having it. Considering the build time invested, materials used, and the cost of materials for that bench, $4500 is a bargain. Add the materials for this bench, the extras from Jameel, Ross, and the shop/equipment/tool access. Then add time with "The Enthusiasts" not to mention the intangible "Fun Factor" and I think it a ridiculous bargain. Of course a bench can be built for considerably less. But that is not the point.

    As much as I would like, I am not able to attend. Sept through May I would be trying to figure it out.

    So Jameel, if demand warrants, what is the likely-hood of "French Oak Roubo Build - 2"?

    Barring that, is there any chance of obtaining a bench pack of this material?

  13. Michael, We've been lucky enough to get enough wood for this single event, let alone pulling together the talent (who have extremely busy schedules). So as it stands, this is a one-time event. We stumbled on this wood, so that's not to say it couldn't happen again, but I don't expect another event like this in my lifetime.

  14. Wow, that is more affordable than I was envisioning, especially for such a hallowed gathering of modern woodworking minds.

    Will there be a decent amount of photos/video for the rest of us to get a small taste of how the festivities unfold?

  15. Hope you do a ton of Twitter updates as the event unfolds?

  16. If you need a redheaded stepchild/gopher to abuse for a week, do let me know (will sharpen on demand).

    1. They may make you wear a French Maid costume. (Goes with the whole event theme.)

    2. Normally, I'd balk...but if that would get me there... ;-)

    3. Initially I didn't think I could make these dates. But, if there is going to be red-headed French Maids too then I may have to reconsider. Will this added accoutrement increase the enrollment price?

  17. Since we're half Irish, we welcome all of our fellow countrymen and women.

  18. Holy crap, as a bona fide hippie, this looks like Woodstock for woodworkers. I wonder what the brown acid warning equivalent will be?


  19. What size are you all thinking about making these monsters? The Roubo plate has the things sized really long. You have 19 foot slabs. But most people don't have the room for a 19 foot bench!

  20. Je parle français, en fait c'est ma langue maternelle!! Je travaille le bois, je ne suis pas ébéniste proprement dis, mais je suis compétent avec les outils que j'ai, principalement des outils manuels. Est ce que ça me donne un avantage, ou un rabais? I would love to participat in such a event it would be a chance of life time... Unfortunatly, other than being french Canadian, and a wood worker, I will never be abble to attend something like that... because I'm a wood worker.

    Good luck to every one attending, take a lot of pictures, and share with us!


  21. Hmm - Barnesville in July. My alma mater is Auburn U, which is just down the road. I'm from Alabama, so I'm very used to Deep South weather during the summer.

    April or October? Generally awesome weather in the South. July? All I can say is - you guys are insane. (and I wish I could make it!)

    David from NC

  22. Wow.... I just got done reading Schwarz' Workbench Design Book... all ready to run out and build myself a Roubo from construction lumber and then I stumble upon this. Just wow.

    If I weren't such a rank beginner and flat broke...

    This is an amazing once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity, kudos to the organizers and to the 10 lucky SOBs who brave the sauna that is a southern July and come away with an amazing bench with an amazing story.