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. 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.

  5. 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.