Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Getting to Know Roubo - for real
Rosewood and ivory plow plane by Jim Leamy
After a weekend sampling fine tools and visiting with the world's top hand tool makers at the Woodworking in America conference, I returned to the shop with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for woodworking. I met so many interesting people and exchanged some great stories and woodworking knowledge. I also learned something about hand tool enthusiasts in general. They are a fine group of people. It was an honor to join toolmakers Ron Brese and Bob Zajicek in their booth. Hats off to both these gentleman for allowing me to lend a hand.
In the shop, a nearly completed cherry cabinet lay atop my Roubo German cabinetmaker's bench. The door still needed to be built, so I got to work milling the stock. This is the first furniture project since completing the Roubo bench, and it's been a great opportunity to learn how the bench performs under real working conditions. This wall cabinet, built for a small bathroom, features hand-cut dovetails (I use a Gramercy Tools dovetail saw), a frame and panel door and a cove moulding made on the table saw. It presents a number of workholding scenarios that brought out the best in the bench's capabilities.
Two aspects of the bench stand out as noteworthy.
First, the tail vise in an actual work setting is very quick and intuitive to use. It's a lot faster than a typical T-handle vise when clamping between dogs. I just grab the knob or rim of the handwheel and nudge it loose, repostion the board, and nudge the vise clockwise. That's it. I do this dozens of times during the project, and I never find myself fumbling for a handle or finding it to be the in the way (my tail vise handle on my old bench sometimes stops so the wood handle is sticking directly out the front of the bench). I grab the handwheel without even thinking about it and the vise responds perfectly. In other words, the function of the vise doesn't interrupt my work, but flows with it. That's how I like my tools to work. Maybe I'm biased, but this vise is performing for me exactly in tune with the way I work.
Secondly, the sliding leg vise. I knew this one would be useful, but in the context of a real project, this thing is, well, awesome. After ten years of using a Record iron vise as a face vise on my previous bench, I'm now able to work on large panel edges quickly and easily, and absolutely rock-solidly. Twin-screw vises are useful for this sort of work, but they have the capacity limitations, usually somewhere around 24". Working on this door's top edge (I'm planing the stile ends flush with rail edges) the vises are positioned with about 28" between the screws. And the door does not move. At all. It feels as if I'm actually working on the bench itself, it's that solid. That means smoother planing, and no mental energy spent on compensating for poor workholding.
With about 36" between screws I can work on the long edge of the door's stile. I can locate the sliding vise to a maximum capacity upwards of 5 feet between screws. That's some serious workholding, and probably more than I'll ever need for typical furniture making.