Moroubo Woodworking Bench

The Moroubo woodworking bench is the product of 8 years of working behind my old workbench - hastily put together when I set up my workshop. Old, worn and abused as it looked, it was time for a new and improved ‘mark II’. I knew exactly what I wanted, a result of years of refining my own style, techniques and identifying the furniture range and style in which I would be specialising.
moroubo woodworking bench

Moroubo Workbench

My Original Woodworking Bench

Made from 4 sheets of 18mm birch ply (2400mm x 1200mm), pressed together to form the top, and a large 5x3 oak under-carriage complete with a pattern-makers vice. This met my original needs perfectly as it was used mostly for large furniture and doubling up as a flat top for glue ups. As I progressed to smaller, more intricate designs, I adapted my bench size down to 2400mm x 700mm. Over time I have come to this key conclusion: The more space you have on your desk, the more tools end up cluttering your woodworking bench and the less productive and efficient you end up being as a result! So take heart, those of you still sneaking the use of your dining room table or kitchen counters while your other half is away; you don’t need a massive or complicated bench. While I still make use of my original woodworking bench, it is for less refined work. I’ve come to the conclusion that the ideal woodworking bench size is about 1800mm x 600mm and the ideal height is relative and personal to the user. And what you want is a good, solid bench, you trust to be flat, that presents your tools to you within easy reach and forces you to keep disciplined in putting those tools back where they live.

Bench Requirements

These are the main requirements I identified for a woodworking bench:
  • Sturdy, solid and stable – enough for all hand tool techniques including hand-planing and sawing to fine furniture tolerances.
  • Easy to dismantle and transport – a desirable for me but an essential for many woodworkers out there short on space or working from areas with poor access and skinny door frames.
  • Integral work holding – an effective woodworking bench should help minimise the number of clamps you require.
  • Practical and simple – as few components as possible to minimise hassle of transport.
  • Allow for add-ons if required.
So in a bid to thwart my osteopath, who I am sure smiled inwardly to himself when I recounted my need to shift 5 x student benches around the workshop, I set out to find a design which could feasibly allow a student to easily dismantle, load into a little Ford KA, carry home with a beam of pride about his/her face, sneak into the house, and annex the spare bedroom, allowing for continued evening and weekend progressive work. So, I called on the different strengths of existing designs.
moroubo cabinet makers woodworking workbench with tools

Moroubo Workbench with Tool Holder

Moravian Woodworking Bench

The first was the Moravian bench brought back to modern existence by a faithful reproduction by Will Myers. It dates back to the 17th century when Moravian craftsmen emigrated to the USA. These craftsmen moved from house to house to work on the interior joinery and they needed a woodworking bench that was easily portable (bearing in mind these were horse and cart days). These were easy to set up but also substantial enough to take the heavy stresses and strains involved with all of the hand woodworking techniques. You can imagine those heavy wooden jack planes of their time shaving large pieces of roughly sawn board down to finished components.

Roubo Woodworking Bench

The second was the Roubo bench, a design from the French cabinet maker André Roubo. So many variations of this type now exist and I literally lost days of my life looking at the endless stream of these on the net. Some of these, to me, are works of art and while I admire the craftsmanship in these, I still believe a workbench is just another tool in your arsenal – it should be practical, fine-tuned, beautiful in its own right but it is predominantly there to allow you to create furniture. In this design, I admire the robust and tank-like solidity with the thick top and heavy set legs, as well as some of the practical features including the modern split top variation. For my needs the smallest of these benches would be too heavy so I concentrated on combining the best of the two.

The Moroubo Bench

This bench was designed with fine furniture makers and students in mind. I wanted to remove an obstacle for those people with limited space and access, allowing them to continue learning and practicing at home. It is also useful in a busy workshop, to be able to move benches around at will to make space for larger projects. All this without sacrificing the required structural integrity. This has the under carriage of the Moravian bench, allowing for the combination of portability and stability (which is far better than any previous bench), the split top of the Roubo bench (a central divider that doubles as a tool holder and work stop allowing for additional support for hand planning), and a 90mm thick bench top on both sides of the divider creating additional stability through gravitational force on the splayed legs, as well as maintaining a dead flat surface.
moroubo woodworking workbench with tool holder
The tool holder is particularly important to me, as when I am hand cutting joints I like to have my Dovetail saw and my Gent saw, along with a selection of chisels that I use regularly at arm’s reach, while still having maximum workable bench space free on which to move the work around. Unlike the Moravian bench, I chose not to have a tool well. I appreciate that the majority of hand skill work is done on the first 300mm of the bench, however, I have found that tool wells end up simply collecting tools (with better homes to go to) and dust/shavings. I would much sooner have the extra flat working area for glue ups. This affords me a 640 x 1850mm area for this function and I have found that most furniture items fit within this space.
split top woodwork bench with workstop

The Vice

When choosing a vice I went for a reconditioned old Record No 52 with quick release. 5 more of these benches were required for the students in my workshop and more importantly, I want others to be able to build their own bench (without having to bargain off their first born) in order to obtain a suitable vice. I investigated numerous companies and modern vices during my planning and found that even some of the new contemporary models are not up to the task for which they are required. The old record vices however, while not the prettiest show horse in the stable, I know to be hard working and hard wearing beasts (the shire horse of the vice community if we stick with the horse analysis) and can be picked up second hand for very reasonable prices. The tail vice, I felt, could be an optional add on at a later date, should it be required. I have found the option of using the Veritas® Wonder Pups® alongside the standard 19mm bench dogs to be more than adequate. With an increased budget, the way forward would definitely be a wagon wheel vice. However, having spent an unhealthy time drooling over the Benchcrafted versions I realised this doesn’t fit with my pricing criteria. Watch this space for a crafted wagon wheel vice and design.
moroubo woodworking workbench with vice and tools

Materials

I looked at various options for the materials. Beech and Ash, for the top and under carriage respectively, were cost effective yet pleasing to the eye. I quite liked the idea of reclaimed material for the under carriage too. After some searching, I found some pitch pine beams for sale near Oxford. Hefty beams, they were 14 x 15 inch and 3 metres in length. It was a bit of a story when it came to picking them up though. Having implied they would be cut to size, the seller demanded more money for the service and insisted on pay before viewing. I’m not a great fan of negotiation but neither am I going to roll over to this kind of individual so after some extensive ‘discussions’ we were back to the original price, paid in full on site and the materials cut to size. He then took great delight in telling me about the several Roman coins recently found in the area and the possibility of finding some hidden in the old beams. It was worth the hassle to watch his greedy little eyes widen when I pointed out that as I had already paid for the timber, that anything found within would belong to me! Unfortunately, my Irish heritage failed me that day and no gold was found.   For the top, I found a little timber yard in Peterborough called Mac Timbers. They were running an auction for two thirds of their stock and they had some very nice native logs planked up for five or ten years, air drying. Like a child in a sweet shop I rifled through whole trees of English Walnut, Monkeypuzzle and Brown Oak. I happened to win an auction for some slightly spalted Beech, Rippled Ash and Sycamore. More than enough to make my five bench tops.
flamed beech woodworking workbench top
My first woodworking bench top was to be made with the Spalted Beech. Having planed the first couple of planks I realised it was better than just Spalted Beech, it was actually Flamed Beech with a slight hint of spalting in it. The board showed up the true intense colouring of the red and green hues with the black marble lines. The coloured faded a little, after a few hours of oxidising. I never cease to be amazed, every time I cut a new piece of timber, by what I find inside. It's one of the best things in furniture making and an element I try to preserve in the final object.

Bench Break down

The Moroubo bench spits into the following sections:
  • 2 x leg assemblies
  • 2 x leg rails
  • 2 x bench top halves
  • 1 x centre split top tool holder
The leg assembly feature bridle joints at the very top, mortice tenon joints at the centre and large dovetails at the bottom. These leg assemblies are bound together by the 2 x rails of Spalted Beech and fastened with removable Loose Wedge Tenons. These leg assemblies sit flush with the benchtop and use a series of dog holes and a holdfast to allow for the ability to secure larger panels. Speak to your local blacksmith or iron monger to see whether they can make these quick and handy holdfasts.
moroubo woodworking bench disassembled

Art in Action and Workbench Making Course

I decided to use the Moroubo woodworking bench for a demonstration at Art in Action earlier this year where it received very positive feedback. The apparent demand got me thinking, and it was then when I decided to make this workbench available. I now include the Workbench Making Course as part of my different training modules. This way my students would have the option to create their own, benefiting both their skill progression and ability to continue their training at home. These woodworking bench will use the same Flamed Beech, Brown Oak combination but will have an alternative to the reclaimed Pitch Pine – possibly Douglas Fir.

Conclusion

A woodworking bench should never be a limiting factor when pursuing a dream of woodworking. Many a fine craftsman has started on a bench cobbled together with what was at hand. However, you may find that as you grow with experience and skill, your bench, like the shedding of a skin, will change with you. This bench is what I would consider finely tuned, and I am keen to share it with others.  
30 Comments
  1. Are there plans available for building the Moroubu bench and if so where might I get them?

    Taking your class would be best but am in California and might be a bit clumsy getting it on the return flight.

    FC

    • Hi Fred,
      At the moment our wood working plans are available to our
      students and trainees. In the future I would like to offer them to everybody, here on our website.
      I will let you know when that happens.

      Aidan

      • Hi Aidan,
        Love the workbench. I think it is a great combination of the best features of both benches. I live in Australia, so obviously unable to attend your workshops. Any change that you could share the plans for your bench?
        Also, other than ease of acquisition for students, would you still choose to install a quick release vice over, say, a leg vice?
        Cheers,
        Evan

  2. The bench is a beauty and i really like the option of a common record vice and the tool holder.

    For the tool holder, I was wondering how you secure it in place when you use it as a planing stop. Is that just by friction between the two halfs of the bench top?

    Thanks for your reply,
    Georg

    • Hi Georg

      The tool holder come planing stop is held in situ by friction when in the planing stop position. When in the tool holder mode, the two notches locate it on the leg assembly. Over time the tops of the wood working bench have settled and shrank a little and the tool stop had became loose, this was simply remedied by adjusting the loose tongues that attach the top to the legs.

      Aidan

  3. It’s been about 3 years. How do you like the design now?

    I’m debating between building one, and building a Roubo.

    • Hi Matthew,

      Sorry for the late response! I still like the bench very much and there is nothing like a few years of furniture making to work out what I would change and what I would keep. Funnily enough, this week we’re finishing off 5 Moroubo benches on a course. Onevery useful change that I’ve made is adding a sliding deadman. I have managed without one for many years but it is a nice addition, especiallyfor Moroubo bench makers. Also, I am adding to my personal bench a HNT Gordon tail vice.

      Really interested to hear more about your workbench and please feel free to share some building images here!

      Aidan

      • Hi Aidan,
        That’s a great looking Morovian workbench! I’m glad to hear you are still enjoying working on it. Do you happen to have any pictures of the sliding deadman? I’m about to build a bench and the Morovian is the design I like most. I want to add a sliding deadman to it. I’d love to see how yours turned out.

  4. Hi Aidan,
    Sorry- Just realised I posted at the other end of the comment thread. So just in case you don’t see my questions…

    Love the workbench. I think it is a great combination of the best features of both benches. I live in Australia, so obviously unable to attend your workshops. Any change that you could share the plans for your bench?
    Also, other than ease of acquisition for students, would you still choose to install a quick release vice over, say, a leg vice?
    Cheers,
    Evan

  5. First off, I’d like to say that it was an absolute delight to read your blog. Your writing style is amazing to me and the way you described the seller of the pitch pine beams had me chuckle. I also really appreciate the combination you made, taking the best of two benches and combining them.
    The Moroubo bench looks stunning. I love the top, it’s beautiful, and I like what you did with the tool slots. I often catch myself dumping tools in the well, leaving them there until it finally starts to bother me enough to put everything back in its rightful place. So I’m a big fan of the tool holder as an alternative. I was also quite surprised to see how compact it is when disassembled.
    Thanks for sharing this with us, Aidan!

  6. Hi Aidan, I think it was a great idea to make a woodworking bench that you can break it down and that you can build it up again. One of my classmates last year also build a woodworking bench for his end project. It was not that easy to do. Me and one of my other classmates helped him whit some things. Most of the time we worked on our own project. But if one of us needs help we helped each other. At the end of the year the looked at all the projects. Me and my friends all past our exam.

  7. Thank you for sharing this story. The workbench you made look wonderful.your blog is easy to read and you’re story of how you choose and made your work bench is nice to read. Whit the pictures of the work bench can everyone make something like your work bench. I have never see an tool holder in a work bench but it look very handy for if you are working. In mine last year of level 3 on school I helped a classmate with his tool bench and it was a heavy job. But in the end it looked beautiful. But after that and after reading your blog I think that I make one by myself.

  8. Hi Aiden. I like the workbench you made. Also the wood and collar combination are
    very nice. I think it is not very necessary to made the workbench removable. You can also simply make a lighter work table that you can move or put wheels under it. But the appearance of the working bench you made is much cooler. The removable part of the work table is funny and useful for moving. Also good to see you did some investigate about the table. I get a good insight about how you worked and what you thought of.
    Good work.

  9. Hey Aiden,

    Very nice project, I think everyone needs a good workbench. I also thing that one of the most important things of a workbench is that it must be really sturdy. So that if you are planing with a hand plane, the bench stays were it is. I also love your material choice. It is nice to think about a workbench that can be taken apart so you can move it to another place in the shop or move it outside if that is needed. I think the dog holes and the tool holder in de bench are also musts when it comes to fine woodworking, Thanks for sharing,

    Jonathan van der Welle

  10. hey Aiden,

    You have made a really nice workbench and like the fact that you made the workbench removable and easy for transport. while keeping the sturdiness of the non removable workbenches. I also want to thank you for sharing the results of your research and what you used as inspiration. and I prefer the tool holder over the tool wells I have in my workbench at home.

    the wood you used also looks really good thank you for sharing this!

  11. To begin with, I do not share your opinion about this statement: ‘’The more space you have on your desk, the more tools end up cluttering your woodworking bench and the less productive and efficient you end up being as a result!’’ If you ask me it depends on how organised you are. I like to have much space on my working bench so I can turn around and place my tools on it. As we speak about your workbench requirements, you are totally right this is everything a workbench should need no difficult extras. My last comment is that your choice of materials is really beautiful to look at but it must be so heavy!

  12. I can see you put a lot of work in this project. It is very important to have a good table. I also liked it that you want it to fit in a small room for students who want to work at home in a little place. Well I am a student and I have a small space to work in. My father wanted to help me with a table to work on but he just bought a normal desk, which is not stable at all. The desk is also very deep and that is not very handy. Just like you said it is a place for tools to fly around. I read your blog and is exactly what I want and very helpful.
    Thanks for sharing this helpful story.

  13. Hi Aiden,
    The woodworking
    bench looks beautiful! I love the wood you choose. Don’t you love the smell of cutting pitch pine? It is a bummer you did not find Roman coins in the wood. Personally, I would put a wooden plate on the frame, so I can store a little wood or a toolbox or something small on it. It is a simple addition to your bench, but I think very handy for saving space while working. I do not understand why you placed the tool holder almost in the middle. Wouldn’t it be more convenient if you place it at the back? Then you have more room to work.

  14. What an amazing workbench! it looks super good with the flamed beech. the toolholder is a good idea and i like the way it can be used as some sort of fence.
    How much reach does the record vice have? How long does it take to dissasemble and reassemble? And how do you make sure the joints don’t get any play when you would have to move the bench often?

    Damian

  15. Hello Aiden,

    First of all I would like to say that you build an amazing bench that I would love to have in my workshop. The spalted beech looks incredible and that made me want renew the top of my own workbench. In my workshop I have a workbench with a metal base and a wooden top. On my workbench I welded wheels to make it movable, it won’t fit in a car, but it is very nice to be able to push my workbench around to make space when needed. Your idea for a movable bench is really cool but, I am curious about how much this workbench weights. In my opinion a movable workbench should be as light as possible for transport. If I ever need a new workbench I will certainly keep your amazing workbench in mind while designing!

  16. Hallo aiden,

    i really like the workbench you made. I like the colour of the wood and all the drawings in it. I also think that the wood fits well for a workbench.
    I also like that the workbench can be seperated from eachother so it is much easier to transport it. You could also just made a smaller one or one on wheels. But if you made it smaller, you can not fit all your stuff on it. So i think it is a great solution you can just take it apart.
    Thank you for this interesting blog. It was very fun reading it.
    Nice work.

  17. Such a beautiful workbench!

    Of course you can buy one but to make one yourself it will be so much mere fun. The wood for the table top has a nice wood drawing. What you did, those slots in the middle of the workbench is quite smart. You can easily grab your tools, they don’t roll away and they cant damage your project. The part I like the most is that you made it collapsible. The workbench seems quite heavy to me, so when you want to (dis)assemble it you have to ask someone to help you. But I think you only do that for transport. Once it stands in your workshop, you won’t move it that often anymore, I think.

    Kind regard,

    Adeline

  18. What a beautiful workbench you made. I really like the different colours and drawings of the wood. I personally think that the tool holder you made is so much better then a tool well I always see on workbenches. It really creates more space for people to work with and it’s much easier to grab your tools.
    It also looks easy to disassemble it and place it somewhere else but it must be very heavy to move it.

    Thank you for sharing this story.

  19. Wow! what a stunning looking Workbench!
    It’s nice to see that some people actually make good looking workbenches.
    It’s more common that people throw a piece of plywood on some legs with wheels and call it done. You have actually taken the time to make a beatiful example of how it should be done if you’re passionate about woodworking.

    And the Flamed Beech also looks really cool! it really pops out of the top with those red flames.

    Nice work!
    Colin

  20. First, I want to say, I have never seen a workbench like this before. You did well by combining two other benches together, with an eye on sustainability. And I saw that you made a tool holder in the middle of the bench, that is a great idea. My workbench is most of the time a real mess. With the tool holder I am forced to put the tools back where they belong. Maybe it helps to keep my workspace a little cleaner. I really like the idea. I am working on a workbench myself, I can really use your measures and ideas on the design.

    Thanks for sharing your idea.

    I really like your blog.

  21. hi aiden, beautiful workbench you got there. i am debating if i should upgrade from my current bench because it like’s to wobble around when chiseling. usually i hate what beechwood looks like but the pieces you got there are stunning. i think that when i would have to choose a wood for the legs i’d go for something like spalted maple or birds eye maple or maybe some ash with a really intricate looking flame on it the construction of this bench seem really solid but also diverse so if you make this you would probebly learn a lot when you’re a beginner at the craft.
    many thanks for sharing this lovely bench with us and greatins from the netherlands

  22. That’s quite an interesting workbench you got there. Workbenches come in many sizes and designs. And as you say, a workbench should be sturdy and easy to transport. But in my opinion workbenches don’t have to be anything special, since the whole point of having a workbench is to make furniture on it. In the end, the furniture that you make on it is what matters most. That’s not to say that a workbench should just be some kind of table. But I truly believe that there’s no such thing as a greater workbench since all workbenches are good if treated well. I’m not going to lie though, that workbench looks really nice.

  23. Hello Aiden, the workbench you made is super nice! I like the colour combination and the wood you used to make the bench. I love how small en portable it is, because i do not have much space my self. Maybe i try to make it my self and on my height i want. And you are right, everybody has his own hight preferred. The tool holder do i also like. Thank you for sharing this workbench with us!

    Metin,

  24. Thanks for sharing this nice workbench,
    The types of wood you used are very nice, especially the colour combination. I think it is great that the workbench can be taken apart, for example when you have finished working. The storage compartments for your tools are also very handy. Especially if you don’t have a tool wall. I think it would be more handy if you put the tool storage in the back, then you will have more space to work.
    Keep up the good work!

  25. Hello Aiden
    I really like the workbench you have made, first of the colors and the types of wood they all look super nice but it doesn’t only look nice it is also very functional is I can see, I really like this and if I would make a workbench for myself it would look a lot like this one. One of the few thing I would do different though is that I would make it adjustable in length also I don’t think I would make he top removable because I think it would be a bit unnecessary but still very positive about this project and it’s for Shure the nicest workbench I have ever seen.
    Maitreya wit

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