Chris Schwarz's Blog

Finding Roubo via Canada

With all the woodworking books and magazines out there, it’s a bit surprising that we need any more. But we do. Nearly every woodworking book and magazine that gets published eventually crosses my desk, and I’m always amazed at the vast amount of homogeneity within the covers. The techniques and tools used are similar. In some ways, it’s like the authors all went to the same school , or maybe they’re simply all reading the same books.

It’s not that these authors are using the wrong techniques or tools or joints , quite the opposite. The advice in the books is generally sound; it’s just narrow. You can learn a lot about woodworking by exploring books that were published before you were born.

A fantastic place to begin is George Ellis’s “Modern Practical Joinery”. For $15 (or less if you buy it used) you can explore the vast world of machine and hand-tool woodworking that existed just as shops were beginning to mechanize. Ellis extols the virtues of the labor-saving machines and an affection for the fine work possible with hand tools. But more importantly, Ellis’s enormous book explores the vast and interesting world of joinery for cabinets and house fittings. There are joints in here you’ve probably never seen (really good and solid ones). Ellis explores aspects of joinery and construction that are rarely covered in today’s texts , such as scaling the components of many joints. I cannot recommend this book enough. And we’re lucky the sucker is still in print.

Which brings me to my next little adventure. For about a year I’ve been after a copy of Andre Roubo’s “L’Art du Menuisier,” the book that inspired me to build the workbench in Issue 4. Sure it’s in French , and I probably won’t be able to read it even with my translation dictionary. But the plates are illuminating.

But finding a copy hasn’t been easy. Vintage copies cost thousands. There is a reprint, which I believe is published in France. I haven’t been able to find a U.S. bookseller that carries it, but I did find one in Quebec at Archambault. So I ordered it months ago. It was out of stock. I waited. No luck.

Then yesterday I received an email in French. My MasterCard had been charged and the book was on its way, with a tracking number. As of today, it had departed Quebec and was headed toward Kentucky. It looks like my own copy of Roubo might finally arrive. They have the text in three volumes; and the price? Much less than thousands.

There are, of course, a lot of other books that should be available (such as many books by Charles Hayward), but we’ll save that for another day.

Christopher Schwarz

10 thoughts on “Finding Roubo via Canada

  1. Gregory J. Humphrey

    Chris,

    Do you have some suggestions or even plans for adding a deadman and tail vise to the Roubo bench? I am planning on building one, and would like to consider adding a deadman and tail vise.

    Thanks,
    Greg Humphrey

  2. Gregory J. Humphrey

    Chris,

    Do you have some suggestions or even plans for adding a deadman and tail vise to the Roubo bench? I am planning on building one, and would lilke to consider adding a deadman and tail vise.

    Thanks,
    Greg Humphrey

  3. Christopher Schwarz

    Bjenk,

    Good question. You are right that this bench is designed for joiners. But what is important in my mind is that it shares all the important and basic characteristics of the benches that Roubo shows for making furniture and even for marquetry throughout his volumes.

    The marquetry benches don’t have a crochet. The furnituremaking benches have a deadman and a tail vise. But they are all the same basic form. The legs are flush to the front edge. The top is very thick. They have no apron. They all have a planing stop and a few holes for holdfasts.

    Those are the important lessons I learned from building this bench.

    Chris

  4. Bjenk Ellefsen

    About Roubo. I am wondering about the interest in the Roubo bench. If we take into consideration that Menuisier refers to joiner, it says a lot about the use of the Roubo workbench. It was a joiner`s bench. Joiners worked with longue and heavy stock for doors and such.

    Why would somebody interested in building furniture be interested in this bench ? I have seen many people that are actually into furniture making that built the Roubo bench. I wonder why ?

  5. Dean Jansa

    Thanks Jerry — I have a copy, was just sad to see it went out of print. Good to know I can point others to Amazon!

  6. Dean Jansa

    Chris —

    You’ll let me borrow that book won’t you??? If I ask nice? Speakin of dado planes — seems you and I are after them at the same time, you got a 5/8" from Tom I wanted!

    It is too bad even Moxon is out of print now…

    -Dean

  7. Matthew Sanfilippo

    Hi Chris,
    I love your book recommendations. While I rank myself as at best an advanced beginner in woodworking, I love to "tinker" with both the old methods and the all-new power methods.

    All of the magazines except your "new" one (and I read almost all of them) have begun to feel very alike to me. Things like your insights into books that are out of the mainstream have become what I look forward to about your magazine and blog.

    I just finished "Memories of a Sheffield Tool Maker" by Ashley Iles that you recommended and loved it.

    I just ordered George Ellis’s book that you mentioned above.

    Keep passing these books along!

    Thanks,
    Matt

  8. Christopher Schwarz

    Greg,

    Though Ellis’s book does deal with house carpentry, I urge you to read it because the joiners of yesterday exceed the cabinetmakers of today in large part. (Warning: the preceeding statement was pure opinion). Read over the joinery section carefully and examine Ellis’s joint drawings. Read the sections on building doors. I think in time you’ll find it a revelation.

    Chris

    P.S. And do read the section on sandpaper, too. And building a planing board.

  9. Greg Vaughn

    I’m not normally inclined to post blog comments, but the serendipity in this is just too much. I’m still a novice woodworker, but just a few months ago I checked George Ellis’ book out of our local club library. I did it on a lark because I’m named after a George Ellis (a different one, and it’s my middle name) who was my Dad’s favorite uncle.

    I found the book quite overwhelming and skimmed a large part of it. My impression was that it was more about the Joiner’s craft. Again, I’m a novice, so my understanding of the history is still in the early stages. Weren’t what we now call finish carpenters then called joiners? It was much more about architectural work than my own interest in joints to use for furniture.

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