Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 141, May 2017
 
With All the Precision Possible:
Roubo on Furniture

Book Review by J. Norman Reid

Do you, like me, find hand tool woodworking intriguing? Do you wonder how the old masters went about their work? Are you curious to know what lessons can be applied to today's practices? If so, this, then, is the book you've been waiting for. Andre-Jacob Roubo, 18th century Parisian joiner, wrote many works detailing then-current and past woodworking methods and tools, including his much-celebrated and previously-translated work on marquetry. But for cabinetmakers, this tome contains the material you will most want to devour.

This book is a treasure. As an encyclopedic treatment of woodworking as it was in late 1700s France, it's a trove of valuable information. But it's far more than an historical treatment of woodworking in a specific time and place. More than anything else, it's a highly-detailed guide to hand tool woodworking best practices that can be put to work in today's woodshops.

Because this work is so comprehensive, it's easy—and fun—to lose yourself in it. No one is likely to come away with a full understanding of the range of material Roubo presents. Instead, each reader will find new insights and inspirations in those sections that most attract their particular interest. Each reading is likely to produce fresh impressions and generate new ideas of value.

This work is too voluminous for me to give my usual comprehensive summary of its contents. So, I'll content myself with a few observations about sections that especially drew my attention.

The first is an early section on the design and construction of what has come to be known as the Roubo workbench, which he regards as "the first and most necessary of the woodworking tools." Roubo's description is quite detailed enough to construct your own bench, but if that does not suffice, Christopher Schwarz has added a commentary on the Roubo bench in practice, based on the many examples he's built over the years. I don't need another workbench at present—mine's working well enough for me—but if I ever do decide on another, this description will surely inform my decision.

The second topic that engaged my attention was the extended discussion of handplanes. At the time Roubo was writing, all planes were wooden-bodied, which means his treatment is especially apt for understanding the design of wooden handplanes if one chooses to construct them, as I do.

I found the treatment of using taps and dies to cut wooden screws and nuts especially useful. I've seen nothing anywhere that approaches this discussion in detail or helpfulness.

Also fascinating is his discussion of woodworker's tools, though it is scattered through several sections of the work. The reader will not only gain an appreciation for how things were done in Roubo's time but also useful guidance that can be directly applied in today's woodshop. His novel design for winding sticks—discussed in detail in an accompanying sidebar—is but one case in point. The careful reader will discover other tools and techniques that can be readily put to use in his or her shop.

The wide-ranging content of this book, its highly-detailed and clear drawings and its precision in description of methods and means of woodworking make this one of the most valuable woodworking books ever to appear. True to the traditional practices of Lost Art Press, the publisher, it's printed oversized on quality paper with an attractive cloth cover and a sewn binding. It will last for generations and be treasured by the many who follow its first reader.

I have no hesitation in saying that any woodworker who intends to pursue his or her craft with serious intent should own a copy of this book. It will provide a great depth of instruction and much enjoyment for years to come. I don't have superlatives enough for it. Suffice it to say it has my highest recommendation.

Find out more and purchase With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture


J. Norman Reid is a woodworker, writer, and woodworking instructor living in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, a woodshop full of power and hand tools and four cats who think they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He is the author of Choosing and Using Handplanes. He can be reached by email at nreid@fcc.net.

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