Except for the last few pages being batted back and forth between Michele, Philippe and me, the translated and edited manuscript for “To Make As Perfectly As Possible: Roubo on Furniture Making” now resides in Chris Schwarz’s lap. Given the number of projects fighting for space on the scrawny lap, I would suggest Chris go on a “donut-an-hour” diet for the foreseeable future.
I am often asked the problematic question, “So what did you find in Roubo that surprised you the most?” (Or some such variation. Why not just ask me which of my children I love more?) I am not sure of the answer, but there are some interesting “tonal” differences between “Roubo on Furniture Making” and “Roubo on Marquetry.” Though our first volume, “Roubo on Marquetry,” contains material that was presented later in “L’art du Menuisier” than the material in “Roubo on Furniture Making,” I find the tenor to be quite different. In “Marquetry,” Roubo assumed the reader knew how to use woodworking tools and techniques, but he also recognized that the reader might not know how to use these particular woodworking tools and techniques, and the instructions are quite detailed as a result.
In “Furniture Making,” Roubo makes no such allowances. He knows the reader can use the tools and techniques, so he spends his time telling the reader how to use those techniques to accomplish a particular end. The difference is both subtle and fundamental. While he covers the subjects pretty thoroughly, he wastes no time waxing ecstatic about joinery. His attitude seemed to be if you do not already know how to do it the right way, you are not ready to read his treatise. No breathless prose. Just do it, Grasshopper. Perfectly.
Nevertheless, nuggets of solid gold are sprinkled liberally throughout the text. One of my great regrets is that there was not a recording being made of our readings and comment sessions as we worked our way through the manuscript. Sometimes our discussions of a topic engaged us for scores of enthused minutes. I suspect they may do that for you as well.
“Furniture Making” will be a larger book but will include fewer essays than “Marquetry.” I cannot yet tell if that is because Roubo addressed the topics in a more straightforward manner and the topics were more familiar, or perhaps we were just getting inside his head and knew what he was saying. Chris will have to provide feedback on that one.
At the moment there are plans for four major essays and perhaps a half-dozen short ones. Of the long ones, I am writing only the essay on truing rough-sawn lumber a la Roubo. His method made me smack my forehead and exclaim, “Of course!”
Some guy name Schwarz is contributing an essay on The Workbench – a moment of silence, please – to augment the text accompanying Plate 11. We presented the text accompanying that Plate to the FORP participants last summer, and I think they would confirm it is killer stuff.
Philippe Lafargue will provide an essay comparing his training as a classical chairmaker at Ecole Boulle in the 1980s to the account contained in Roubo, and historical upholsterer Mike Mascelli will recreate and photograph some of the techniques from the chapter on chairs.
When? To quote our publisher, “It will be ready when it is ready.”
— Don Williams, www.donsbarn.com