I honestly doubt the following blog entry will convince a single person to purchase the deluxe “To Make as Perfectly as Possible: Roubo on Marquetry.” In fact, it might make a few of you rescind your orders.
But so be it.
Editing this book has been a personal struggle the likes of which I haven’t had since 1979. That was the year I heard “Outlandos d’Amour,” the first record from The Police. That piece of vinyl wrenched me from the mainstream of American pop music and set me on a journey of discovery that continues to this day – I purchase at least one album a week. “Outlandos” inspired me to learn to play bass guitar and the electric six-string. It pushed me to start a rock band I in was in through college and beyond.
But it also was a painful social transition that kicked me to the sidelines of Fort Smith, Ark.
As I have been reading A.J. Roubo – both in English and French – and struggling at times, I have had one verse from The Police running through my head almost the entire time.
And on the days that followed
I listened to his words
I strained to understand him
I chased his thoughts like birds
You will see light in the darkness
You will make some sense of this
That is the only way I can explain what it’s like to read this stuff. Unlike most woodworking books, Roubo can be an incredible mental challenge for the 21st-century woodworker. It is not for babies. If you think this book is going to spoon-feed you the secrets to French marquetry and joinery, I’m afraid it will disappoint.
I struggled for two days with Roubo’s explanation of drawing in perspective. Figuring out the tail vise on his “German Workbench” was like wrestling a brown bear. I’m still straining in places to understand some of his explanations for working curved pieces of marquetry.
I don’t blame Roubo. The fault lies with our modern minds and the way we are accustomed to learning. Because when clarity comes, it is like lightning. Things relating to veneer, layout and marquetry that seemed difficult or impossible are actually quite straightforward. I might not (yet) have the hand skills to do them, but I know the shortest and easiest route to get there.
And after enough flashes of insight and slapping my forehead until it is red, I have found inspiration in Roubo’s words and what is beneath his words.
Roubo’s footnotes reveal the man as one of us – someone any woodworker would love to drink a glass of wine with (I’d probably order a saison). Like us, Roubo was struggling to make sense of a craft that was dying in front of his eyes. He laments the skills and techniques that are lost. He bemoans the cheap goods that are supplanting works made with a skilled hand. He questions his own capability as a woodworker and his limits.
These volumes have been inspiring in ways I can’t quite put into words – except to compare it to hearing “Can’t Stand Losing You” on the radio and then picking up my uncle’s guitar, determined to learn to play and sing that song for myself.
Tomorrow I have to leave for Atlanta for a short trip, but I’ll be back on Monday and back in the shop to whittle down my long list of projects and put the finishing touches on the last chapter of our Roubo translation. I cannot wait. Soon – very soon – you will also be able to chase Roubo’s thoughts like birds.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. Indeed, today is the last day to order our deluxe edition of “To Make as Perfectly as Possible” until the book is released. You can place a $100 deposit on the book here in our store. Don’t fret if you cannot afford the deluxe edition. There will be plenty of our trade editions available for everyone. Read the Roubo FAQ here.