This Frenchman Won’t Fly to Germany


During the last 48 hours, I have been hunched over the latest set of paper proofs of “To Make as Perfectly as Possible: Roubo on Marquetry.” And this is the part where the doubt creeps in.

During every book project, I lose my faith on the 10th edit. As I pored over Chapter 12 last night, I read Roubo’s words, but all I could hear were the critics:

“This translation is incomprehensible.”

“Useless information for the 21st century.”

“This is all there is?”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m in awe of (and grateful for) the work that Don Williams, Michele Pagan and Phillipe LaFargue have done – not to mention Wesley Tanner, the book’s designer. My doubts are a personal problem I’ve had since the day I began writing.

I know there are typos we won’t catch. I know we will be skewered for choosing one word over another in the translation. That we didn’t do enough to make M. Roubo palatable.

So to cheer myself up I decided to make a list of all the things I learned from this volume.

I couldn’t. The list was too long and involves something on almost every page.

Like Robert Wearing’s “The Essential Woodworker,” this is a document that is far greater than the sum of its parts. It is not just a manual of marquetry. Every page oozes Roubo’s personal view of the craft – the failings of customers, fellow craftsmen, merchants. And their occasional triumphs.

In Roubo’s world, quality work is the job of the individual at the bench – even when the customers won’t pay.

And there is something deeper that is even more important and difficult for me to express. But I’ll try:

One of the dominant modern views of pre-Industrial woodworking was that it was a brutal way to live. The work was hard. Each day was a desperate slog for artisans ekeing out a living in poorly lit and dank situations.

All those things might be true, but that doesn’t mean these menuisiers didn’t love their work. When you read Roubo – who was a compagnon – it’s clear that it was cause for rejoicing when they brought something beautiful and well-made in the world.

Yeah, the work was hard. It still is. Yes, it involved years of practice. It still does. And no, it didn’t pay. It still doesn’t.

But it has been and always will be something that is (and I’m stealing Don Williams’ favorite word here) glorious.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. Today I finish up my editing on this book and send the paper back to the designer (about 15 pounds of it). I don’t want to take this stuff on the plane to Germany. Our goal is to send this book to the printer on July 1. I think we can make it.

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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11 Responses to This Frenchman Won’t Fly to Germany

  1. Well Chris, if you had these same doubts with “By hand&eye”, “Grandpa’s workshop”, “The Anarchist’s Toolchest” etc. then you needn’t worry. Of course there will be typos and sentences you’ll have to read twice and actually think about. So what? You’ll always have the next few printings to correct the typos.

  2. jwatriss says:

    I think this sort of doubt about a project is endemic to the making world.

    My wife always has to talk me down at the final stage of every project, and loading the finished piece onto the elevator on the way to be delivered, instead of jumping down the shaft, is always a triumph of will.

    Keep doing the good work, and fighting the good fight. And keep those critical voices in line. They’re helpful for QC, but only as long as they remain answerable to The Boss.

    (admittedly, that can be an ongoing conversation…)

  3. julienhardy says:

    Sois rassuré, Chris, nous ne serons pas trop difficiles sur les points de traduction.

  4. marnspiger says:

    Being annoyed about missed typos I can understand perfectly. The critics you describe, on the other hand, should largely be met with profane dismissal (even if only quietly to yourself).

    And have a Weiss beer while you’re in Germany for those of us who *wish* we were.

  5. Mark says:

    The title is “To Make as Perfectly as Possible”, no? Pursuit of perfection can take an awfully long time, even a lifetime, and frankly, I’d rather not wait that long. I’ve no doubt you’ve all gone above and beyond and I’ll take the book as is, with any mistakes or misinterpretations. I really don’t have the time it would take to learn to read the original French though my hat’s off to anyone who can. Even Roubo had to deliver a product at some point. And as far as books go, you’re in good company. They’re still picking over translations of the Bible and other great works of literature.

    • mpdoughty says:

      I think Mark has said it perfectly and when it is ready I’ll be at or near the front of the line with my order.

    • lostartreader says:

      Ditto. I won’t criticise that which I cannot do or do as well. This project is a heroic undertaking and will be immensely valuable to scholars as well as students and practitioners of the craft. Most of us are grateful that you chose to bring these volumes back to life in the 21st century “as pefectly as possible.” Those who aren’t or can’t appreciate the effort invested here to be faithful to the meaning and spirit of the original can publish their own translation.

  6. rdwilkins says:

    Those of us anxiously waiting for the book won’t mind any typos and those who do aren’t people who are going to truly appreciate the book’s contents. Have some weißspargel with that weissbier, it’s only around for 7 weeks! Wish we could get it here.

  7. daltxguy says:

    Perfect is good enough!

  8. cannikin says:

    Ever consider getting the community involved to help with the editing? The Pragmatic Programmers publishing house has done this with great success for technical books. You can pay, say, $25 to get the beta version of a book. You get periodically updated PDFs which you can then submit errata for:

    The author will pull those errata reports into the next version of the beta. When most of the glaring stuff is taken care of the actual print version will be released. Beta users get the final PDF (you can also buy the beta version + print version for around $10 more).

    I have several of their print books and they are the most typo-free books I own.

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