Chris Schwarz's Blog

André Roubo's Screw Press (and my Poor French)

The only awful grade I earned in high school was in my second year of French class. Despite my best efforts, I could only eek out a B- during the first semester. Of course, it didn’t help things that I was 18 and smitten both with my French teacher and Jodi Huth, the girl who sat next to me.

Now more than 24 years later, I wish I had stuck with French through college and resisted those two Francophone vixens. A better command of the language would allow me to make more sense of AndrÃ?© Roubo’s “L’art du Menuisier.”

That’s why I’m glad that Don Williams and a team of woodworkers and translators are piecing together a translation, which Williams discussed during our “Feast of AndrÃ?© Roubo” dinner at Woodworking in America. The first of two volumes should be ready next year.

To illustrate what a huge effort this is, let’s look at my own lame attempts to work out the details of one section. As I was researching Joseph Moxon’s double-screw vise earlier this year for “The Workbench Design Book,” I took a crack at Roubo’s Plate 280, Fig. 3. This plate clearly shows a refined double-screw vise. And unlike Moxon or Randle Holme, Roubo gives us some details.

The first section translates like this:

After the workbench, the presses are the largest cabinetmakers tools: they are of two kinds, viz, those fig. 1 & 3, whose movement is horizontal, And whose heads of the screws were drilled to receive bolts of iron used to make them move.

OK. That’s not too bad in the gibberish department. Let’s go on.

These presses are composed of twin (chops) AB & CD, which are 5 to 6 inches wide, (and) about 3 to 4 inches thick, because of their length, which varies from 2 to 4 feet, and in one both, that is to say, in the AB, the screws are threaded, instead they all come alive in another.

This is helpful. Now we know that these presses are fairly large, which helped me size mine when I built my first prototype. And we know that the rear chop is threaded. But the “instead they all come alive in another” stumped me a bit. Next!

The length of the screw press should be about two-thirds the length of (the chop), of 2 to 3 inches in diameter: and we must take care that their heads are (bound) by a ring of iron to prevent it from cracking when they are cinched down hard.

I think this passage is easy to follow. Now for the hard one:

See fig. 1 & 3. We use these presses on the workbench with the rip tip, either for work or work to stick. In one or other of these different cases, we stop the press on the bench with two (holdfasts so)  that it (will not move).

The way I read this sentence is that the vise is used for ripping (such as dovetailing) and perhaps for sticking moulding.

Want to take a crack at the French yourself? Download the original (minus the accents etc.) below.

Roubo_plate280.doc (14.5 KB)

- Christopher Schwarz

Other Workbench Resources

- Our new “The Workbench Design Book” is now shipping. It’s available only through our bookstore and Lee Valley Tools. It features plans for the double-screw vise shown above.

- You can order a nice poster of AndrÃ?© Roubo’s famous Plate 11 from our store. It’s a great piece of art for your shop wall.

- Want to see and use this double-screw vise? Take my sawing class next weekend here in our shop at Popular Woodworking Magazine.

10 thoughts on “André Roubo's Screw Press (and my Poor French)

  1. Rob

    This is a beautiful illustration of a screw press, however you care to read it. I wonder if anyone continues to produce woodworking illustrations of this quality? It is to Google Sketchup what Mozart is to ringtones.

  2. Tom Holloway

    Scratch some of that last. Upon contemplating the whole passage, and with the help of several of the previous comments, here is a stab at a complete translation (note that the second, vertical, type is described in the subsequent paragraph):

    After the bench, clamps are the largest of the cabinetmaker’s tools. They are of two types, to wit, those shown in figs 1 & 3, which move horizontally, and where the screws have heads with holes into which iron handles are inserted to turn them. These clamps have two faces AB & CD, which are from 5 to 6 inches wide by 3 to 4 inches thick, depending on their length, which varies from 2 to 4 feet. The screws are threaded into face AB, so that it can be closed completely against the other [face]. The length of the screws on these clamps should be about two-thirds of the length of these last [the faces], by 2 to 3 inches in diameter. One should ensure that their heads are fitted with an iron ring, to prevent them from cracking under the force of use. See Fig. 1 & 3. One uses these clamps on the bench top, for ripping end grain, or to work a piece, or for gluing. In any case, one fixes the clamp to the bench with two holdfasts, so that it is held securely in one place.

  3. Tom Holloway

    On the tool being described, and depicted in Pl 280, Fig. 1: I think it helps to think of it being used much like a handscrew (clamp), predecessor to the Jorgensen metal-bolt version still being sold new. The difference is that both screws go in from the same side, and the work is held between the screws. This is clear from the method of use: securing it to the bench top with holdfasts (as "valets" are clearly called in the description accompanying the notorious Pl. 11).

    On translation, I think we’re getting there. As for "les vis sont taraudées, au lieu qu’elles entrent tout en vie dans l’autre," I think this means that the rods are threaded *their whole length*, so that the two clamping faces can be closed completely together. Said another way, so that the screws go all the way through the faces. That said, the first section of the threaded rods, that go through the "near" face, must be UNthreaded, so that the rods will turn freely as they screw into the (female) threads in the "off" face. This is clearly illustrated in the *vertical* type of clamp next to this on in Pl. 280, Fig. 2&4, which is shown holding a workpiece.

  4. Benoit Rochefort

    Hi there!

    Here is the french guy :-)

    Unfortunatly, I’m not very good at writing english (but good at reading it). And since all my sources of woodworking stuff is in english, sometimes I don’t even know the translations in french…

    A note here: the text is old french. Some expressions are not in use these days, so even for me some things are surprising. I also suspect that the writer was not the best writer of his epoch, which does’t help…

    Here’s my try. I won’t correct all, but just what I find necessary to understand well.

    First paragraph: did you mean “savoir” instead of “favoir”. These days, we say “à savoir” (like “to know”) but it is just there to add some “style” to the text. Here we go:

    After the workbench, the presses are the largest cabinetmakers tools. They are of two kinds: those shown in fig. 1 & 3 whose movement is horizontal and whose screws have drilled heads to receive iron bolts to make them move.

    In the second paragraph, note that “entrent tout en vie dans l’autre” is really not a modern expression :-)

    These presses are composed of two twin chops AB & CD. Those chops are 5 to 6 inches wide by 3 to 4 inches thick depending on their length which varies from 2 to 4 feet. In one of the two chops (AB), holes are threaded to catch the screw instead of letting it move freely into the hole.

    I have nothing to say about the third paragraph.

    Now the fourth. In French, “de bout” is the end grain. “ouvrage” is what you are working on: may be a piece of wood for example. “travailler l’ouvrage” would probably mean something like (sorry, here the problem is my english, not my french…) “to work on the work piece” (like shaping it, planning it, etc). So here’s my try:

    We use these presses on the workbench to rip end grain or to work or glue work pieces. Whatever we use it for, we maintain the press on the workbench using two holdfast so that it will not move.

  5. VRO92

    This text is written in French from the 18th century. Understanding is not so obvious
    even for a french.
    Jason, however, gives a translation that seems closest.

    VRO
    From Paris …

  6. Daniel

    "en tout vie" means "in full health", which would seem in this case to mean unthreaded. That passage reads to me as,

    "…and in one of the two, that is to say, in the A-B, the screws are threaded, where instead, they pass through in full health [unthreaded] in the other [C-D]."

    So it’s just saying that the rear chop is threaded and the front isn’t.

  7. Jason Young

    here’s my take on it:

    See Fig. 1 & 3. We make use of these presses on the bench to rip on end, either to work the piece or to glue it. In either of these different cases, we hold the press on the workbench with two holdfasts such that it is held in manner that is fixed and invariable.

  8. Dave Moore

    That is tricky….My best effort for the last paragraph is similar to yours.

    We use these presses on the workbench for ripping, working on components, or gluing. In either(any) case, we hold the press on the workbench with 2 clamps so that it can’t move.

    I guess you’ve translated valets as holdfasts rather than clamps, either because you have an illustration or they didn’t have suitable clamps for that when the book was written. Or because you like holdfasts so much that you’re willing to lie in order to get us all to use them :)

    Dave

  9. Damien

    I follow Greg, ‘coller’ for gluing. ‘refendre de bout’ is more tricky is it splitting the end or splitting while standing. I wait for the translation it will be easier to read than the original.

  10. Greg

    "work to stick" … could this perhaps mean clamping work that’s being glued? I think "coller" means "To stick" as in "sticky" like pasting or gluing.

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