Roubo: Top Trimming and Tail Vise Prep

Article - December 15, 2011

Thanks to a very understanding wife and some serious grandma assistance, I was able to make some great progress this week on my Split-Top Roubo.

Planing to Thickness

After the tops were glued up, it was a pretty simple affair bringing them to final thickness. Thanks to careful milling and a few Dominos, things were already pretty darn flat. A few passes through the planer were all that were needed to bring the tops to a final thickness of 4″. Since both top slabs are under 12″ in width, this is an operation that can be done with pretty much any planer, which I think is pretty cool. But a word to the wise: if you ever build a workbench, be prepared to ask for help. I DO NOT recommend trying to move slabs of this size by yourself. Seriously, unless you want to blow a gasket or wind up with a hernia.

Trimming to Length

Once the thickness was established, I needed to trim the rough ends of the slabs. Seems simple enough, but at 4″ thick, this operation required a little extra planning. The Benchcrafted plan mentions that they use their miter saw for this task, making a pass on one side and then flipping the slab to make a pass on the other side. That’s defintely one way to go about it, but for slabs of this size, I prefer to bring the tool to the wood. Out comes my trusty Festool TS75! Since this was a two-part cut, I wanted to make sure I had an accurate knife-line all the way around the slab. With any luck, I would be able to line up my circular saw and guide with the knife line for both cuts and end up with a nearly flat surface. The end result was almost perfect! The small bit of offset material was easily removed with a block plane and a little sanding. And before you give me crap about how it must be nice to have a tracksaw (which it is), this same operation can be done using a piece of MDF as a guide with a standard circular saw.

The Tenon

The right side of the front slab will receive an end cap as part of the vise installation, and as a result it requires a big fat honkin’ tenon. The tenon is cut using a similar technique as the previous trimming operation. The big difference is instead of cleaving off the entire end, we are setting the saw’s depth so that it leaves a centered “tongue” on the slab. Once the shoulders were established, I simply made a series of kerf cuts to remove the bulk of the waste. The tenon doesn’t run the full length of the slab, so I used a handsaw to trim a portion of the tenon away. Chisels and a rabbeting block plane did the rest of the cleanup work and finessing.

The Stopped Rabbet

The screw of the Benchcrafted tail vise needs a place to live, so the next step was to cut a huge stopped rabbet into the slab. Using a piece of scrap to help support my router, I took multiple passes with a 1/2″ spiral bit. Eventually, the colossal rabbet was revealed!

The End Cap

Next up was the end cap. The end cap came from a big old piece of 12/4 stock. Admittedly, this part gets a little tricky. But one step at a time, right? First up is the open mortise. The end cap needs to fit over the tenon we just cut into the slab and the router was the tool of choice. With no workbench to work on (part of my personal challenge to pretend I don’t already have a bench), I relied on the slabs and some clamps to keep the work secure. After a little finessing of the tenon, the end cap slid on with a few taps of the dead blow. Bada bing!

With the end cap in position, a paper template was used to locate several holes on the outside face. These holes are for the bench screw, the associated hardware, and the bolts that fasten the back of the end cap to the slab. The holes for the vise parts need to be drilled in just the right locations or the vise will not function correctly. Once I triple checked myself, had some coffee, then checked my marks again, I took the end cap over to the drill press for some fancy drillin’. The various through holes, elongated holes, and counterbores were made with a variety of forstner and brad point bits. You do have a set of each, don’t you?

The two bolts that hold the back of the end cap to the slab are secured using captured nuts. Basically, these are nuts that are inserted into carefully placed holes in the underside of the bench. If located properly (and with a little luck), the nut slides into the hole and interfaces perfectly with the bolt. Since the idea of a flat washer and a flat nut sitting against a curved surface just bugs the heck out of me, I decided to use my sweet LN mortise chisels to flatten one face of the hole. The hardware seems much happier now. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Test Run

With the end cap complete, I was able to take the tail vise for a little test spin. Even without the guide rails in place and nothing screwed down, the vise operates as smooth as silk. I guess that’s why it costs so much money! But hey, you get what you pay for!

One thing I really enjoy about doing these Guild builds is the fact that we can spend so much time on all of these little details, and the various work methods available to reach our goals. As you can see, the projects employ a healthy amount of both power tools and hand tools. We become most efficient in the shop when we stop thinking about hand and power tools, and simply start thinking about tools. Corded or not, some tools are simply better, faster, or more pleasurable to use. So I encourage you to find what you like and don’t box yourself into a category. Because ultimately, other than other woodworkers, no one gives a crap what tools you used to make your projects. All they see is the end result of your craftsmanship.

Wanna build along? Sign up for the Wood Whisperer Guild today!


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