Roubo Build: Rough Milling the Beams for the Bench Top

Rough milling always starts with my trusty Jack plane
Rough milling always starts with my trusty Jack plane

Rough milling large beams by hand, can be very intimidating. I had a few boards slip during glue-up and was afraid it would take forever to correct. Fortunately, a sharp jack plane with a cambered iron made quick work of the rough milling for the Roubo bench top.

Glue up slippage
Glue up slippage

I started by planing with the grain until I leveled out any misaligned boards.  I would usually start planing across the grain, but in this case I could remove the same amount of material in one long pass with the grain as I could several short strokes across the grain.  In the picture above, you can how some of the boards slipped during glue up.  I should have taken more effort to keep the boards properly aligned during the glue up.

Mark out your board
Mark out your board

Once I had leveled out the high boards, I marked out the entire beam with pencil.  This will allow me to track my progress.  Be sure to mark from edge to edge.  Now it was time to get to work.  I hope you ate your Wheaties!

Planing cross grain is particularly good at removing cupping
Planing cross grain is particularly good at removing cupping

Next, I start flattening the beam by planing across the grain.  This is particularly good at removing cupping.  These beams are just over 5 inches wide, so it would be easy to round over the edges planing 90 degrees to the grain.  Instead, I planed down the length at 45 degrees one way, and back down the other way.  My iron is heavily cambered and leaves a visibly scalloped surface.  That’s okay.  All I am shooting for is a face that’s flat and straight enough to run through the planer.  It does not need to be super smooth.  I continue until all of my pencil marks have been removed.

Ultimately, I just want to make sure that the surface is straight and free of any bumps.  You can check for any bumps along the length of your plank by using a straightedge or the blade of a square.

The winding sticks are showing a fair amount of twist
The winding sticks are showing a fair amount of twist

The next task is to check the beam for twist using a pair of winding sticks.  The winding sticks will exaggerate the twist and tell you where your high spots are.  I like to keep one stick stationary at one end of the board, and run the other down the length, checking in 3 or 4 places.  In this case, I noted that the rear stick read high on the right for the entire length of the board.  Instead of removing material from the entire length, it was easier to remove a small amount of material from the front left, to match the rest of the board.

The twist has been removed.
The twist has been removed.
Checking for Bow Along the Length
Checking for Bow Along the Length

Once you have your plank flat and free of twist, you need to ensure that it’s reasonably straight.  I do this, by using the longest straight edge I have.  In this case, it was a 4 foot level I know to by reasonably straight.  Be sure to check in several places.  I was lucky.  This board was nearly dead straight.  However, if you have a bump or concavity, it’s just a matter of marking and removing the high spots.

I didn’t feel the need to break out the No. 7 for this task.  Running the beams through the planer will produce an parallel surface that is straight, free-of-twist, and smooth.  It’s just a matter of flipping the board over and getting the other side smooth.  The No. 7 will come in handy when flattening the bench top after the final glue up.

Please, let me know if you have any questions.  I will cover the rest of the milling process and the final glue up of the top in a future article.  Don’t miss it.

You can find links to my other Roubo posts here:  Project Index

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4 thoughts on “Roubo Build: Rough Milling the Beams for the Bench Top

    • Wesley, that’s hard to say. If I were jointing and thicknessing by hand, I would joint the first face to a much finer degree. This would be necessary to properly mark out your thickness. Assuming I was already close to my desired thickness (within and 1/8th inch or so), I have to guess that it would take me 3 times a long. If I were to do this, I would joint a face on all of my sections first, then find the narrowest area out of all 4 sections and use that as my thickness. That would ensure that you don’t have to remove any more material than absolutely necessary. I hope this helps.

      Thanks a lot for your question!

      • It gives me an idea, thanks! Also, do you have an opinion on the best #7 to look for? I’ve still got to add this plane to my kit, and wondering if there is a type that is considered better than others.

        • That would depend on your budget. I currently use a Lie Nielsen #7 and I absolutely love it. The ductile iron is strong and heavy. Adjustments are nice and precise. It’s beautiful to look at, etc. However, to be honest its only a marginal improvement over the old Stanley Type 11 #7 I owned before it. I got that plane for about a third of what I payed for the LN.

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