I have written periodically about the effect this project is having on me as a person and craftsman. I am finding that even in the areas where my knowledge is less shallow than others, Andre Roubo’s observations and instructions are bringing new insights to my work.
Take, for example, the working of a surface in preparation for the application of the presentation coating, whether varnish or paint. Being a child of the 20th century experience-wise (but of the 17th and 18th centuries philosophy-wise) I was often at odds with a finishing trade replete with sandpaper and power tools, spray guns and catalyzed this or two-part that, where polyurinate was the standard for many finishing enterprises. No wonder so many woodworkers look at finishing as not only a Lost Art, but a Dark Lost Art!
I recall my first encounter with “serious” woodworking in the flesh at an Ian Kirby workshop around 1978 or so. As we introduced ourselves around the room – believe I was the only person under the age of 50 – I introduced myself as a finisher. It made sense because even though I engaged in a broad range of activities in the shop, finishing was where I felt most at home and where I flourished. Had I introduced myself as the head of a bat-head-eating cult I might have garnered less response. Every eye in the hall grew wide and mouths hung part way open, fearful trembling apparent at the thought of someone who actually enjoyed doing this most dreaded part of a project. It was almost as if the other students would have drawn back except the chairs were bolted to the floor.
Flash forward to my current review of the manuscript and building many of the tools and exercises in the book. In his description of Plate 296, discussing the topic “The Way to Finish Veneer Work, and Some Different Types of Polish,” the first thing Roubo does is pick up a plane. A toothing plane. Yes indeed, the finishing process begins long before the varnish pot is even in the picture. I expand the concept even further. Woodworkers, your attention to finishing a piece of furniture properly begins basically as soon as you conceive the project.
Yet the tools and materials of the finishing enterprise are fairly simple, according to Roubo.
The proper tools for finishing and polishing cabinetry in general, are the scrapers of all kinds with soft English steel blades files, the pumice stone, dog-fish skin [sharkskin, shagreen], horsetail rushes, polishers, simple and elaborate wood sticks for burnishing and applying polish, and rubbing cloths. Other ingredients are wax, lac, colophony, rotten stone, charcoal, olive oil and whiting.
Simple, huh? But sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to get right. But when we do, the results are simply spectacular. And that is my goal for you.
— Don Williams