Chris Schwarz's Blog

Roy Underhill on the Bookstand

Perhaps the bookstand article called for more matter and less art. My director once joked about my PBS efforts as being a “woodworking show – and less!” And it’s true – I tend to overbalance the “what and how” with a lot of “who and why.”

In this case, I began the Roubo bookstand article with a lot more step-by-step, but as I progressed, I found myself asking “Who am I to rewrite Roubo? Who am I to stand between his instructions and the reader?” The more I wrote, the more concerned I became that I would be stealing the reader’s fun if I did much more than provide a clear translation of Roubo’s words. If he thought his words and drawings were enough, then who am I to say the modern reader needs more?

Of course, if I did not have what I thought was a good story to tell, you can be sure the entire article would have been a how-to in great detail! The coincidence of the bookstand being in the famous painting of what was perhaps Roubo’s last working day seemed a worthy hook for a brief biography. I knew it was a risk, and without the bold support of Chris and Megan, I would never have tried it. True, it’s not something you would usually expect in a how-to magazine, but thank goodness for that!

I hope you’ll have fun making the bookstand – and that you’ll find some extra enjoyment in retelling the story that goes with it!

— Roy Underhill

28 thoughts on “Roy Underhill on the Bookstand

  1. mvflaim

    I remember Roy making the book stand on his show about fifteen years ago. I decided to finally give it a shot after seeing what the fuss was all about. After making the book stand today I can honestly say that it looks much tougher than it really is. As long as you can cut a mortise with a 45 degree side and rip a piece of wood in half, it’s pretty much a no-brainer.

    Give it a shot, you might be surprised how easy it is.

  2. John Sisler

    Loved the article.Who and why ARE important. I enjoyed figuring out the process. For those who are wondering about Roubo calling to make two at once and how to cut it-Go back in the Popular Woodworking archives and find the video of Frank Klausz cutting dovetails in some unbelievable short time- like six nano-seconds or something. He has a saw blade for his bowsaw made in Europe that cuts corners-not shortcuts,but actual corners. Using this old-time technology would make the cut splitting the two bookstands just another cut.
    Underhill translates archaic French? This is the most impressive thing I’ve ever read about him- and I’ve been impressed with his skills for many years. I myself have been studying French for forty-five years and I’m still afraid to order in a French restaurant for fear of getting a stewed boot. My hat is definitely off to St. Roy. Maybe that should be Le Roi.


  3. Jon

    I also enjoyed the article. If some readers thought there should be more step-by-step instruction, there are 3 or 4 other woodworking magazines out there that cater to that. Someone else above made a great point – what’s wrong with being forced to think a little now and again?

    I’d like to see a roubo topic translated every issue – if soemone like Roy Underhill is to include a background story, all the better.

    Do not change or stop stuff like this – PW can cover all levels of woodworking and not drop to solely beginner level like another magazine made the mistake of doing a few years ago.

  4. Eric Sandvik

    I’ll just pile on and say well done and add that your episode talking about the philosophy of woodworking is my favorite one.

  5. John Preber

    It is for articles like this that I buy the magazine. There is always time for a well written article. It gives us a sense of connection with our forebearers.

  6. James Ryan

    Hello – Yanted to say thank you and well done.
    There seems to be a lot of noise about this article – i for one enjoyed it, Thank you for making me think about what i was doing and not how i was doing it.

Comments are closed.