At Lost Art Press, we don’t enter contests or seek awards for publishing, design, woodworking or… anything, really. (The reason we don’t do this is complicated. Buy me a bucket of beer some time, and I might tell you.)
This recognition is due entirely to the work of Wesley Tanner, who was the art director and designer of both the deluxe and standard editions of our Roubo volumes. Wesley went to enormous personal lengths when designing these books. They are, as I have said before, the nicest modern books I have ever held or seen.
We spared no expense in making these deluxe editions, and I doubt we will ever embark on a project this complicated or elaborate again. In short, this book is insanely nice. Printed on thick paper made by Mohawk using wind-powered turbines. The printing is at a line-screen resolution that our other printing facilities cannot match. The books are bound halfway across the country at the only place that can handle the 11” x 17” page size. And this same facility makes the custom slipcases by hand.
And here’s the kicker – the contents of this book are as exquisite as its manufacturing. This book isn’t a reprint of some public-domain classic. “Roubo on Furniture” is the first English translation of an 18th-century French masterwork on woodworking that is still used in court cases on workmanship. “l’Art du menuisier” by A.-J. Roubo is one of the foundations of Western woodworking. I consider it required reading for anyone who values traditional practice — as told by a traditional practitioner.
But enough of my blather. Congrats to Wesley on a job well done. Someday this $550 book will seem a steal to the collectors of the day.
A few notes on how I went about building mine (and how you might want to, as well).
I started by making the two square frames, which were made with bridle joints, and then used loose tenons for the other frame components. A Domino works well, but so would live tenons.
All of the material for the bookstand is 1/2″ thick, and all of the frame members, except for the kickstand and chiseled stop block, are 1-3/8″ wide. Starting with 5/4 stock, this would let you do some nice resawing and grain wrapping, and you can make one long piece and just crosscut the parts out of it.
The bridle joints are my addition – Roubo detailed using mitered joints, but I avoid miters wherever possible. Use whatever joinery you think is best suited to yours!
I didn’t get too specific about the hinge sizes or placement – use what you have. I used some nicer brass butt hinges that were left over from prior projects, but anything relatively substantial will do.
Here are the plans – you can download them as a full-scale PDF, or look at them below in image form. Make sure if you do build the bookstand to share a photo. I’m always excited to put plans out there and see who takes them up!
So Roubo could not very well do a comprehensive book on furniture making without including some mention of how to prepare frames for upholstery, and yet in his opening line he gives a real clue as to his general feelings about the matter. He says, “…seats in general are finished with fabric or caning…where the former is the most utilized and totally the province of the upholsterer.” It is not difficult to imagine Roubo arguing with an irate upholsterer over the details of a frame, just the way that modern upholsterers complain about the placement of tacking rails, and in the end just let the upholsterer figure out how to complete the chair. Roubo is clear on how to prepare loose or “slip” seats, those that are removable from the chair, but when he discusses how upholstery materials are permanently attached, it was just not so.
In Plate 227 Roubo provides three figures in profile of the attachment of webbing to massive carved frames, these are figures 7, 8 & 9. Upon first seeing this plate, my reaction was simply, “Impossible!” But knowing Roubo’s meticulous drawing skill and thorough work, there had to be an answer.
Figure 8 clearly shows (from left) the webbing attached to the side of the rail, tacked near the top, a next layer of under upholstery (muslin) tacked below that, and finally a show cover attached with decorative tacks right at the top of the decorative moulding. As a student of the English tradition of upholstery, this was unfamiliar to me, as the English securely tack the webbing to the top of the frame (as shown in Figure 7) and thereby have good access to stretch or “strain” it tight. So then why is Roubo showing the webbing in Figure 8 this way? I put this question to everyone I thought could help until I was fortunate to meet the gifted, classically trained and very French master upholsterer Bruno Paulin-Lopez. Interestingly, Roubo, was not required reading for his training, though he was familiar with the well-known and contemporary book on the trades by Denis Diderot, and another massive text called Tapisseire D’Ameublement by Claude Ossut (not translated into English), both of which explain in quite some detail how to web a chair frame.
First and foremost, the French tradition of webbing requires the webs to be placed tight, side by side with no gaps, unlike the English, which employs an open weave pattern, and this is critical to understanding what Roubo is portraying. And secondly, this type of un-sprung upholstery (chair, ottoman, chaise, etc.) would have a considerable, in some cases massive, pillow on top of the webbed “deck.” Finally, Roubo, seemingly aware that he is not being clear, gives us some information in a long footnote. To paraphrase, “…most upholsterers feel that the webbing should be on the side, while others are convinced that it could be on the top of the frame, which would make it very firm.”
With Bruno’s guidance, I have come to believe that the “most upholsterers” Roubo consulted were the older generation who grew up tacking everything on the side of the rails and whom Roubo did not dare slight in his representation of how this should be done. And the “others” are those talented pioneers desperately trying to make sure their upholstery methods could keep up with the fast-changing furniture styles of the opulent French court, such as the elegant gentleman craftsman portrayed by Diderot.
The following is a recreation to scale of Figure 8 and shows an interpretation of how the webbing would have been placed unfolded on the rabbeted edge, followed by a muslin layer tacked slightly above, and finally the show cover tacked right at the edge with decorative tacks. Because the webbing is side by side, there is a smooth surface for the succeeding layers, and because the piece is un-sprung it would not be necessary to stretch the webbing as tightly, and would actually give the bottom of the pillow a place to nestle.
The next recreation uses the same frame pattern and shows a more “modern” approach with webbing folded under, tacked on top of the rail, followed by a layer of linen hessian tacked on a beveled edge to save the space on the front of the rail for the tacking of the show cover. This technique is similar to the English style.
The final recreation shows a full hand-sewn foundation using a coarse “first stuffing” material, which is drawn by careful stitching to form a firm seat and a rolled edge. This technique evolved in both the French and English traditions, and creates a custom, extremely durable base for a softer second stuffing and made possible the upholstery of many complex furniture designs.
I feel confident in saying that Roubo would be truly pleased to know that the techniques he illustrated as well as their many variations are still practiced by the finest upholsterers working today. — Michael Mascelli
Once the mouldings are cut, you finish them, that is to say, you shape them on edge and you round off the talons/fillets and the beads. (In workman’s terms, it is called relieving the mouldings.) The tools appropriate for this use are the moulding planes for cutting beads, the moulding planes to make V-shaped grooves, moulding planes for beads of all sizes, duck beak [bec-de-cane is a plane whose blade is the shape of the top of a walking stick or door handle rather than a reference to an animal (duck)] and gorge fouille [a plane similar to the bec-de-cane with the extremity of its iron curved and rounded with a fillet or tip at its end so this plane makes round cuts and fillets], or furrowed gouges.
The moulding planes for cutting beads do not differ from other moulding planes, except that they have a cheek [guiding ledge/ridge/shoulder] just like the other moulding planes that I already spoke of. The other moulding planes, as well as the round planes [as in hollows-and-rounds], do not have one.
The duck beaks [see comment above] are tools which serve to dig out the bottom of the hollow/ ogees or beads where the moulding planes [ for cutting beads] cannot get in, as in the case of a ravalement [this refers to an area where one lowers the surface of the wood in an area to accentuate adjacent areas, or to accomplish the same effect through undercutting] or a groove. They differ from other planes in that they cut horizontally [on their sides] instead of the others that cut straight [down]. Their iron [blade] is placed upright in its throat or at least with very little angle (there are even many which are not angled at all). The angle of this iron [skew] is only on its width, that is to say, on the thickness of the tool, behind which it is empty. That is why this slope [skew angle] is made inside, not only to make the shavings eject, but also to make itself open to the iron [give a cutting angle or pitch to the blade/iron].
Since the point of the duck beak [see other description above] is very thin, the wood of their body [of the blade tip] can hardly survive very long. That is why it is highly advisable to make soles of copper or iron, which is even better, just as I said elsewhere. Look at Figs. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7, which represent a duck beak viewed in all directions, as well as its iron and its wedge.
The gorge fouille [literally furrowed gouges] are types of duck beaks which do not differ from the former except their end is rounded in the form of a gouge, and it is squared up [the blade edge is configured more like a scraper than an edge tool]. The iron of these tools is not found ready-made at the Merchants, at least not normally. That is why woodworkers make them themselves.
Their use is to dig [out] bottoms [hollows] of ogee shapes, [and] to enlarge and finish the bottom of grooves, see Figs. 8, 9, 10 & 11. When it is [used on] frames with bevels or chamfers rounded with a fillet or tip at [the] end, one makes use of an ordinary grooving plane that is used on the edge of the frame, noting only to make it void on the inside.
There is still another tool where the iron is placed upright and which cuts horizontally which is called a side rabbet plane. Its use is to enlarge the grooves and to re-cut those that were badly made, see Figs. 12, 13, 14 & 15.
When the panels are dry, that is to say, the glue has set well, you set their length and width as needed, which in workman’s terms, is called squaring up the panels. You then produce the raised panel, which is made with a tool called a fielding or raising plane, which is similar to other rabbet planes, with the exception that they have a fence [and] that the slant of the mouth is skewed within the inside over the width of the iron, to make it more appropriate for cutting the end [grain] wood and [working] cross-grain. There are two irons on this tool, one that is in the form that we call flatbanded [making a bevel or chamfer], and the other in the shape of a square called a nicker. The two together are about 14–16 lines wide. On top of this plane and toward the front is a notch similar to that of the bench fillister, which serves to support the hand of whoever is pushing it, see Fig. 16.
Before I travel, I make enormous lists of everything I need to do before I depart. At the end of each of these lists I should add this item: Get dumped on.
Less than 24 hours before getting on a plane for Germany, a huge task landed outside my front door in a FedEx box. Inside were the imposition proofs for the deluxe version of “Roubo on Furniture Making.” This was my last opportunity to comb the pages for mistakes before the printer cranks up the presses.
So I dropped everything and spent six hours reviewing all 440 pages. This morning I sent it to Wesley Tanner, the designer, so he could look it over for design errors. When Wesley completes his work, the book will go on press.
So when will you see this book? I talked to our printing representative yesterday, and he is hoping that the books will ship to our warehouse on or about July 17. The printing part is fast. Then the sheets have to be trucked to New Mexico to be bound (very few binderies can handle a book of this size). And they have to hand build the slipcases for each book.
If the schedule changes, I’ll let you know.
For those of you who clicked on the link for the deluxe version of “Roubo on Furniture Making” and felt your checkbook stroke out, here’s the deal. This book will be about as nice a modern book as can be purchased. It’s something that is difficult to describe on a web page or in words. When people see it in person (these volumes are 11” x 17”) and they see the quality, they understand the price tag.
John and I are taking a sizable financial risk with this book (the print run cost as much as our storefront building), but we are more than willing to stick our necks out to bring something into this world that is this special and rare.
We just have our fingers crossed that after the books come out, we don’t say: “Want fries with that?”