I think it was the besaigue that hooked me.
It was a cold February day, windy and damp, like you get in the season in the Touraine region of France. I had spent a couple of hours wandering among the craft masterpieces in the Musée du Compagnonnage (the Guild Museum) in Tours, France, near where I live. There was everything from micron-accurate models of impossibly complex wooden roof structures built by guild carpenters to castles built by bakers in meringue.
I am a booky kind of guy, and was spoiled for choice among the beautiful books in the museum shop when I stumbled across “Dans lʼAtelier de Pépère” (Grandpaʼs Workshop) A hand-tool woodworker, learning whatever I could about the history of woodworking, and woodworking in France, the cover had me hooked from the moment I picked up the book.
There was the besaigue, the emblematic tool of a house carpenter here, combining a slick and a beefy mortise chisel at each end of a steel shaft, a boy sitting on a Roubo-style bench, (chisel rack, no tool tray) next to a hand-forged holdfast, listening to his grandfather. There was a wooden jointer plane, a saw set and file next to an early handsaw with a London- style tote, a French-style miter square, and even a carpenter fighting a dragon with a broad axe. What more could a woodworker and hand-tool geek with kids ask for?
It is a graphic novel, the story of a boy, Sylvain, who spends his vacations at his grandparentsʼ place in the French countryside. His Grandpa is a joiner, old school, and the boy builds little houses and boats with the scraps and nails he is given. But the story is mostly the tales that Grandpa tells the boy about his tools and his ancestors, as Sylvain is the youngest of a family of woodworkers – joiners, carpenters, wheelwrights, turners, chairmakers, coopers, clog makers – a family that has spent centuries picking wood chips out of their wool sweaters and brushing the sawdust off their shoes.
At the time I had never heard of Maurice Pommier, the author and illustrator. But it was clear that he was one of the clan, a guy I would really like to meet. The story was wonderful, but the illustrations were a revelation. I had spent years, and tracked down many books to learn about traditional woodworking and how it was done in France. The drawings were elaborate, done in a warm almost childlike style, but it was all there, there was not one wasted line. And the more I looked, the more I saw. In an illustration of a carpenterʼs shop there were dancing elves, but also a big band saw like I had seen at a sawmill near my in-lawʼs place and in the shop of a boatbuilder who specializes in big traditional river boats. In the same drawing, way back in the shadows, models of roof carpentry, just like I had seen minutes before at the Guild Museum.
Not one false note, not that I could hear, anyway.
My girls like the book, as much as to see that their father was not alone in his mania, I suspect, as for the story itself. But I was again struck by the wealth of details, and the history depicted. So I took time to read “Grandpaʼs Woodshop” through, again, alone in the quiet of the evening. In it there were two Anarchistʼs tool chests, and their tool kits, a chairmaker turning chair posts green on a pole lathe under a lean-to, an American carpenter traveling the countryside building whatever people need, the king of the dwarves forging a tool for the carpenter who killed the dragon. There were the names of all the traditional tools I had seen while rummaging through the tables in the flea markets and antique shops.
Reading through the second time, I thought to myself, “Lost Art Press really needs to publish a translation of this book.” Fortunately, Chris Schwarz also thought it was a great idea.
As a bonus, Pommier turned out to be a prince of a guy. The author and/or illustrator of dozens of books, he says this is one of his favorites, and the one that means the most to him personally. We talked through two batteries on my mobile phones the first time I called him up, and he has been a big help in translating the book.
It has been an honor to translate such a beautiful book and a real pleasure.
— Brian Anderson
Editor’s note: “Grandpa’s Workshop” will be available for pre-publication orders in our store on Monday. The retail price will be $22. Customers who order the book before its release will, as per usual, receive free domestic shipping. Full details on the book to come Monday.
23 thoughts on “New from Lost Art Press: ‘Grandpa’s Workshop’”
Well, seeing as how my sons birthday is today (5), and he said that he no longer wants to be a train engineer, but a woodworker, I can’t hit the “add to cart” button fast enough. I look forward to tomorrow.
In the long run, this may do more to keep our craft alive than anything Lost Art Press has published, Bravo! I have an 18 month old grandson that I hope to share my workshop with. This book sounds like a perfect introduction when he’s ready.
I’m very excited to order this next wonderful sounding release. I’ll wrap it up and present it with the mini ATC I’m building my 5y/o daughter who spends her afternoons with me in my shop. Her tool collection has outgrown the 5 gallon bucket she has been dragging across the floor to her sawbench/workbench. I felt it was time her tools had a proper home like mine who reside in a traveling ATC. This tale will be the perfect accompaniment and help maintain her growing interest in a craft that has brought such peace and nourishment to my hungry mind.
Fantastic, hopefully it will be ready for Christmas
It will ship on Oct. 1. If not sooner.
So that’ll be one for the 5 year old grandson and the 8 month old grandson (maybe I’ll save that one back for a few years) and one for me and maybe one to donate to the local coffee shops childrens book collection.
I’m gonna have to get one for my dad, since all grandchildren in our family knows his workshop.
Looks like a fun read. Thanks!
If you can’t wait until October for the English translation, here’s the link to the original French version: http://www.amazon.fr/Dans-latelier-P%C3%A9p%C3%A8re-Maurice-Pommier/dp/207061204X
On the topic of French children’s books, A Blue So Blue by Jean-FranCois Dumont and Editions Flammarion is one of my favorites.
Good book, Bon livre!
Chris, you are already come in France?
In searching on images for “besaigue” I came across a drawing which showed two similar tools. One tool was called a Twibil and the other was called Twivel. The Twibil is similar to the one you called a “besaigue”. The Twivel is curved instead of straight. The drawing says “New England, about 1650”.
Here’s the link to the drawing posted in a forum. Scroll about 1/3 of the way down to see drawing.
Dean, that page is from “A Museum of Early American Tools”, by Eric Sloane. I love the book and used it some on the translation.
Below is a good site that talks about the twibil and the besaigue or bisaigue. They were in use until very recently here in France. I know a guy, maybe 55, who trained as a house carpenter as a young man and had to buy one as part of his apprentice’s tool kit. Though now they mostly use power tools, except on things like historic monuments where the traditional tool marks are part of the job.
Down at the bottom of the home page in English there is a link to the French version of the site, which is interesting even if you don’t read French.
Thank you Brian. I feel honored that you would notice my comment and take the time reply to it. And, thank you for the link to the Carpenters from Europe and beyond webpage. I found it very interesting. The “Associated media” pictures showed that the Bisaiguë is really as big as the book illustration shows. I thought the hand drawing in the book was exaggerating the size of the besaigue.
In doing some searches I ran across a reference to Muller Hammerwerk (see below). It had everything I could imagine for working with logs and timber in their catalog. On page 36 in the catalog (39 in the pdf), there is a Bisaiguë at the top of the page. In English “Double-mortise-push-axe”. On the previous page, they show half bisaigues if you will. I also noticed that the “Traditional Woodworker” company is a distributer for Mueller.
One forum poster said that he had heard on one of the The Woodwright’s Shop shows, that “bisaigue” translates into something like “donkey’s nose”. I don’t know if that’s true or not.
http://www.mueller-hammerwerk.at/hammerwerk/index2_en.html – Click on Product Overview image.
Very cool. I saw one of those wooden bar clamps in a Montreal antique shop a couple of days ago. If anyone is looking for info on the besaigue, they might get more hits with “bisaigue”.
Think that might be a twybill, at least in some geographical regions.
Any chance LAP could carry the French version? Shipping from overseas is a killer.
For us, too.
I was afraid of that. I guess I was hoping a bulk purchase would lower the overall cost enough.
Reblogged this on Stu's Shed.
There are few days in live like this ! All my passions coming together in one book !
I work and live in the animation industry, I relax and enjoy the tactile experience of creating beauty-full things in the wood shop inspired by the writings of Christopher Schwarz and others like him.
And now this book telling the compelling story of a wood worker. The shop elves (who in my opinion do not get nearly enough credit in other publications) Dragaons and chisels and exotic tools, murder mysteries and summer vacations…. (spoiler alert !!!) Best of all, Beautifully illustrated by a master of his craft, and thankfully recognized by the thoughtful
and d staff of Lost Art Press. ( AND I was borne and raised in the “Black Forest”, I know that Dragon – nice fellow in his spare time.)
This may be there best book yet. Thanks for this !
This is awesome and will confirm to my daughter I am nuts. I ordered on to read to her anyways and look forward to it.
The artwork looks spectacular and I can’t wait to show her.
My wife / bank account will probably not agree but keep up the good work!
Reblogged this on essencedebois.
Comments are closed.