The following is excerpted from “Grandpa’s Workshop,” by Maurice Pommier. This 48-page book was translated by Brian Anderson, an American-born writer and woodworker who lives and works in France. It is ostensibly a book for children, though the stories, lessons and drawing style will appeal to anyone who has an appreciation for the natural and the fantastical.
The Crucible Iron Holdfast is patterned after a French holdfast that a friend of ours, Brian Anderson, discovered on a dung heap in a barn. Like many French holdfasts from the 20th century, this one had a shaft that wasn’t tapered. Additionally, the shaft was just shy of 1” in diameter – about .970” all along its length.
A straight shaft that is just shy of 1” allows this French holdfast – and ours – to work in benchtops from 2” to 8” thick, and to work with the pad up to 8” off the benchtop.
So why aren’t all holdfasts made this way? It’s a good question.
A holdfast with a tapered shaft has a number of advantages. It enters the workbench easily, it requires less raw material and it is easier to manufacture. These tapered-shaft holdfasts work fine in many situations, especially in benchtops thinner than 4”. But they rattle like loose teeth when pressed into service on a 6”-thick benchtop, or when the work you are clamping is more than 2” or 3” thick.
When we decided to make our holdfast with an untapered, .970”-diameter shaft, we knew it would require some trial and error. But everyone involved with the project, from our patternmaker to our foundrymen, were bemused by how much tweaking it took to get the right result, including numerous changes to the original wooden pattern, plus gating and risering to get the ductile iron to flow correctly.
When we finally got a holdfast to come out the correct size, Zack Erhart at Erhart Foundry sent me a message that said: “I think we’ve got it.” I ran over immediately – the foundry is about two miles from our office. I brought the holdfast back to my shop and realized that the only holdfast hole I had was 1-1/4” in diameter. I decided to give it a try.
It cinched down hard.
And that’s when I finally relaxed after months of wondering: Would this really work?
[Editor’s note: We recently reached out for an interview with Maurice Pommier, author and illustrator of “Grandpa’s Workshop” (translated by Brian Anderson – you can read about Brian’s visit to see Maurice and his workshop in 2012 here). Maurice lives in Évreux, France, and speaks little English. But he responded, in the most generous way – an illustrated letter. Here are his words, as he wrote them without edits from us, along with a handful of illustrations, sketches and pictures to help paint a small picture of who Maurice is and some of the brilliant work he has done.]
I am not very able to speak of me. I am born in 1946.
My mother was dressmaker. She worked hard, early morning and late evening.
My father, alive but broken by the nazis.
We lived in a little village, Peyrat de Bellac. I go to school and after I was boarder at collège in the nearby town.
I thank life for having put in my company a lot of great people – I can not name them all. I choose three, the others do not be dissatisﬁed.
Tonton Dédé, the best, with working with tools and with his hands.
Pépé Léonard, the best storyteller. When he stop speaking, he was whistling.
I think I’ve been drawing since I know how is made a pencil.
In 1968, I married Francine, she supports me since that date. We live in Évreux. We had three children and now four grandchildren; I worked at the Post Office for a long time. But I did not stop drawing.
My friend Xavier Josset has been presenting my ﬁrst book to a publisher, me, I would have never been there.
After things changed, I left the Post Office, but I continued to draw and scribble. And write stories. In the following pages I enclose a small catalog of my bad habits. J’espère ne pas être ennuyeux.
My current job, under Patrick’s direction. I met Patrick Macaire a few years ago and since, in my drawing workshop, there is a struggle for space between little pieces of wood and drawings.
Tracés théoriques qui ne seront pas repris intégralement à l’épure (Theoretical plots that will not be fully included in the sketch)
Jambe de force La jambe de force peut s’établir en prolongeant sa face inférieure jusqu’au lattis et en reportant son niveau sur la ferme de croupe et de l’arêtier; puis, en plan, en générant une sablière d’emprunt (au niveau de la ligne de trave) et en la faisant tourner à l’axe. Vériﬁcation en générant un faîtage d’emprunt au niveau de la dalle et en faisant tourner: les trois points doivent s’aligner.
We are finishing the Deuxième carnet – it’s been 7 years since we are working on these two notebooks.
Chris might have promised not to get too far into the “This Old House” mode as he works on the cool old building he plans to turn into the Lost Art Press Bat Cave. I however made no such promise, and my neighbor recently gave me a couple of pallets of old roof tiles as a contribution to renovating my own Bat Cave/barn (with real bats! but no belfry, which doesn’t seem fair or appropriate, somehow).
When you receive a few thousand old roof tiles as a gift, on the condition that you do not leave the pallets full of tiles decorating your neighbor’s yard for any length of time, you get out the wheelbarrow and decorously start to move them to adorn your own.
The tiles were made from clay deposits down the hill along the river Cher that runs through my village. The clay was pressed into molds and then left in the sun to dry enough to be fired, and during that time various kinds of marks made their way into the fresh clay. So to relieve the tedium of sorting and moving the tiles, it is fun, as part of making sure they are still sound and fit to be re-used, to inspect what was the sunny-side-up, which goes down when they are installed on the roof.
You get dog prints, cat prints, small birds, big birds, various other types of beasts, even children. There was the one with the number 1786 written on the back, which either means it was the 1786th tile of that production run, or that it was made in 1786. I figure that 220 years is pretty good for a hunk of terra-cotta exposed to the weather in all seasons, and if the tiles are sound, they will last for plenty more.
But the other day, I found a real puzzler, which lead me into a Felibien-esque journey back in time.
“Sante lu Douice” it read as I turned it over.
“Santé” means healthy or in good equilibrium. But there is also the trace of an “i,” after the “a,” which would make it “Sainté” – sainted or blessed.
“Douice” does not exist, as such, in French, but a few minutes rummaging around turned up a couple of books from the 17th century where I saw it as an alternate spelling of “douce,” or possibly “doulce,” meaning pleasant, agreeable, moderate, sweet.
“Lu” is a puzzler, the past tense of “lire” (to read), which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in context. But there is the word “lieu,” which means place, which makes perfect sense.
“Healthy pleasant place” or “Blessed pleasant place” would be exactly what one might expect from somebody wanting to bless the house upon which they were installing a new roof.
Of course it could also mean “Falling off the roof is bad for your health.”
Asking around online and in the neighborhood, the inscription mostly got a Gallic shrug. The writing is obviously a benediction, but as to the specifics, the thoughts ranged from “Who knows?” to an old non-standard spelling, or in the local patois?
There are perhaps 50 more or less regional languages in France, the patois, and they could vary even from village to village. They are based largely on the ancient north vs. south, Langue d’Oil vs. Langue d’Oc language divide in France, with Basque, Breton, Germanic, Catalan and others scattered around the edges. Some of them developed a literature and more or less complete dictionaries, but in the French heartland, they were mostly the spoken dialects, with educated people, publicly anyway, speaking and writing in French. One of the gratifying signs, as I was learning French, was the increasing frequency with which I began to understand conversation around me. One of the surprising things was how often, in more isolated and rural areas, I realized that the French people around me were not in fact speaking French.
In the 1780s the locals speaking patois as their first language would have been a large majority. So it is easy to see how a word in popular inscriptions like this could be misspelled, or a word like “lieu” could end up rendered phonetically as “lu.”
Graham Robb, in his book “The Discovery of France,” has a good account of the history of the patois, along with in this context a perfect anecdote.
He says that nobody knows why the divide between the Langue d’Oil and Langue d’Oc falls where it does. It does not consistently follow any natural or historic boundaries. Is it perhaps a general Roman as opposed to Burgundian influence, or something more ancient? But there is one way to tell where the line runs.
South of the line, the tiled roofs of vernacular buildings have a slope of about 30° and are covered with canal, or Roman, tiles. North of the line, the slope is much steeper, around 45°, and the roofs are covered with flat tiles, like these.
— Brian Anderson. Anderson is translating Andre Felibien’s “Des Principes de l’Architecture, de la Sculpture, de la Peinture, et des Autres Arts qui en Dépendent.”