This week I am putting the finishing touches on the first third of “To Make as Perfectly as Possible: Roubo on Marquetry” and something has become quite clear to me.
It’s not really a book on marquetry alone.
These four huge chapters from A.J. Roubo’s “L’Art du Menuisier” in our forthcoming book are about much more. And I can already feel the lessons in the book seeping into my work – and I’m not big into marquetry.
The book opens with a discussion of the different woods used by cabinetmakers – both for casework and for veneering/marquetry. If you read a lot of old books, this is a section you can usually skip – most of the writers just copied one another and so the text is rather boilerplate.
Not Roubo. He collected a bunch of these woods from the Tropics and tried to make careful observations about the species based on visits he made to the Office of Natural History of the King’s Garden to observe woods there.
The text is fascinating because it is the foundation for Roubo’s discussion on color – how to combine the five different colors of woods in marquetry, veneer and solid casework. And that leads into Roubo’s discussion of how to color different woods using dyes.
If you have any interest in historical finishing techniques, this is a fun section of the book. It opens with Roubo visiting a scientist to see if they can figure out how to dye wood all the way through the material – not just on the surface.
Roubo laments that other woodworkers have this knowledge and won’t share it. And that much of the information is lost. Roubo then details how to make many dyes from scratch – including a, ahem, “water-based” one made from horse dung and horse urine. (And you need a bucket with holes in the bottom.)
From there, Roubo discusses sawing logs into veneer. How to build a bench and a saw that are suitable for the work. And he goes into great detail on his “German” workbench, which he says is well suited for high-end work.
This is actually the first time I’d ever read the section on the German workbench. Roubo details its then-controversial details – a tail vise, drawers below the stretchers, square dogs. It’s very cool stuff.
Oh and there’s a whole section on planes with iron soles (author Don Williams makes one a la Roubo for the book). And a whole section on – wait for it – the advantages and disadvantages of bevel-up and bevel-down planes. Oh, there’s also a whole discussion of variable-pitch planes. And what we call a “Moxon” vise.
And all that’s just the first chapter.
The sections on marquetry will likely change they way you build and use a shooting board and introduce you to a whole world of jigs and devices that will dispel the idea that marquetry or inlay is a skill outside of your reach. Plus there is even more information on finishing later on in the book, including information on the polissoir, a tool I now use thanks to Williams’s research.
I’m telling you all this because several of our customers have told me that they are going to skip this first book because it’s about marquetry and wait for the next book on furniture. Well this book is about furniture, too.
We are publishing two versions of this first volume – a very special 12” x 17” edition with full-size plates, color photos and a gorgeous binding that will cost about $400. I think we are going to print 500 of these special books. Everyone who places a deposit before Dec. 31, 2012, will get one of these books. Visit our store here to read more details on that.
We’ll also be publishing a nice trade edition of the first volume that will be 8-1/2” x 11”, hardback and black-and-white. It should cost about $60. This edition will stay in print (we hope) for as long as we are in business. We will have more details on this edition later. Right now, this is all we know.
OK, that’s enough yakking on my part. I have about 60,000 more words to edit today.
— Christopher Schwarz