Chris Schwarz's Blog

An Excerpt from Roy Underhill's Next Article

The February 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine
is off to the printer. And I can safely say that it contains one of my
three favorite articles we’ve published since I started here in 1996.
It’s Roy Underhill’s article titled “Roubo’s Folding Bookstand.”

And
while the article itself tells you how to build the clever project, the
text itself is something you almost never see in a woodworking magazine
– a fine piece of writing. I’ve included a short excerpt here to give
you a taste.

The February 2011 issue will mail out to subscribers
the week before Christmas. (And thank you, subscribers. We don’t say
that enough.) The issue will be on the newsstands starting the week of
Jan. 11. If you do want to subscribe, this link will hook you up. Otherwise, read on!

— Christopher Schwarz

Paris, July 14, 1790
Church
bells began ringing through the rain at 5 a.m., but everyone in Paris
had been awake for hours – if they had slept at all. André Roubo’s boots
were soaked through by the time he reached the door to his workshop. He
fished the key from the sodden pocket of his blue lieutenant’s uniform,
unlocked the door and half-closed it behind him. Once inside, he
slumped into a sigh that was instantly followed by uncontrollable
coughing. Gagging for the moment, he pushed forward into the blackness
of the shop and slapped his hands onto the first of the eight long
workbenches.

Roubo rested there for a moment, drawing strength
from the massive oak benchtop. Slowly, running his hand along the dips
and damages of the front edge of the top, he eased down its length until
the nip of the iron-toothed bench dog told him he was at the end.
Reaching out with his left hand through the darkness, he rattled against
the chisels lined up in the rack on the rear of the neighboring bench.

Reassured,
he turned and made his way slowly back toward the door. Dawn was
approaching and so too was his duty for this momentous day. Outside,
joyous in spite of the persistent showers, singing packs of
torch-bearing, arms-over-each-other’s-shoulders citizens passed the
half-open door. The beloved Benjamin Franklin had inspired their song.
When asked about the rocky progress of the American revolution, Franklin
always replied, “It’ll be fine, be fine!” And so the citizens sang the
new song as they passed, “It’ll be fine, be fine!” – everyone relieved
that their own revolution seemed to have been won so quickly with such
minimal violence – at the cost of only a half-dozen heads to speak of.
“It’ll be fine, be fine!”

Much Like Franklin
Roubo
watched as the torches passing in the street sent flickering beams
sweeping across the vacant workbenches. No crowds would ever sing words
from his books. “The torch of theory must illuminate the lessons of
experience,” was simply not as catchy as “It’ll be fine!” Still, he had
much in common with Franklin. Like him, Roubo had once been a penniless
apprentice who had often chosen to buy books over having a full stomach.
Young André had even made a habit of pocketing candle stubs so that he
could work through the night, studying his old books….

— Roy Underhill

12 thoughts on “An Excerpt from Roy Underhill's Next Article

  1. Adam Cherubini

    Every now and then, I catch myself walking along a street where a cabinetmaker’s shop once stood and I imagine the light through his windows, the muddy ground, the smell of horses.

    Wearing the clothes of the period can bring this on as well. You tug at your short sleeves, wipe the sweat from your brow, and think this is what guys did, but you don’t really know for sure do you?

    What is exciting about Underhill is that he’s had all these experiences, and he DOES know. And he can write about it AND tell a story about it.

    I think Roy Underhill the single most important and influential figure in woodworking in the past 50 years. I say feed him whatever he wants and get him to write more stuff down. We’re in the presence of a giant. Let’s have the presence of mind to recognize that. Sounds like Chris is already there.

  2. AAAndrew

    Nice tableau you put together for the photo. Like the bookmark. The inkwell’s a little anachronistic, but that’s a tiny quibble. (and aren’t those tiny quibbles so darn cute? All furry and friendly?)

    Seriously, Roy is like no one else. When I took a class with him at his new school, it reminded me much more like my old college art history classes combined with a top-notch shop class. What a combo. Bring us more Roy!

    Andrew

  3. neinfil

    Actually I did not mean intend to be cynical and evidently I’ve misread your original post. I thought you said it was 1 of 3 of the best articles written by Roy for PWM. Thus my comment was to imply that this was one of the best, the first one Roy wrote was of the best because it opened your eyes to his storytelling and the next will also be your favorite because Roy just seems to keep getting better.

    As for the little poke at advertising via teasers. I’m not saying to overdo it (you guys don’t currently) but it’s OK since it’s targeted advertising on topic (no sham-wows please.) I trust the regular readers here recognize that the PWM folks aren’t making Wall St. salaries off us and have to to put food on their tables too; and thus we prefer to support them when it’s something of interest to us. Sure, I read here cause its free and great info and writing. But, I also get PWM, even if I’ve read most of it here already. Like NPR etc., just because you don’t HAVE to pay for it, and it’s made of thought and not wood or steel, doesn’t mean it’s without cost or effort.

  4. Tom Holloway

    Would it help to have been present at the ceremony at which the Marquis de Lafayette swore allegiance to the Federation?

    Or should we just wait for Roy’s article?

  5. Tom Holloway

    Hmm, July 14, 1790, you say. The assault by the people of Paris on the notorious Bastille prison took place exactly one year previous. Roubo in a lieutenant’s uniform? Wonder what this day will bring . . . .

    And how the folding bookstand figures in . . . .

  6. neinfil

    Likely the first one he read, and the next one he’ll read…

    Roy is a true master storyteller. Make sure you read his book Khrushchev’s Shoe; it’s a great book on communications that I find myself recommending to non-woodworkers all the time. Can’t wait to read the rest of this story and hopefully Chris will dig up those old articles and tease us with those as well. That might help PWM be as good at selling CD-ROM’s of past articles as these teasers are getting at enticing subscribers/newsstand buyers out of blog readers.

  7. Gene

    Wow! Talk about setting a scene. I can’t wait to read the rest of the article (and perhaps a book???)

    As tantalizing as the excerpt is, it didn’t distract me from the obvious question: What are your two other favorite articles?

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