Furniture making in the Roubo style
Thursday, March 20, 2014
Roubo it seems is very much back in vogue some 200 years after he penned the now famous L"Art du Menuisier - The Art of the Joiner. Published over several volumes between 1769 and 1774 it has been an invaluable source of reference and inspiration to woodworkers and students of cabinetmaking ever since. Folk have copied his methods, proved and discounted some of his working practices, and even dressed up in flouncy 18th Century garb to presumably get closer to their icon. It’s very dodgy ground if you ask me as we have come a long way from pit saws and candlelight only to end up romanticising the tortuous conditions of the past. I’m all for reenactment and accuracy if it helps bridge the gap between past and present, but let’s not turn the clock back completely. The mind numbing repetitive daily grind of an 18th-century blue collar worker is nothing to be celebrated any more than it is today in the sweat shops around the world that put the clothes on our backs or the phone in our pocket.
If prancing around in the workshop decked out like an extra from the court of Versailles helps focus the mind, then that’s fine, but make sure when you’ve finished your 14-hour stint that you remember to walk a few miles round the block ankle deep in mud to get home to a plate of mush - if you’re lucky - to get the full experience. I guess the true value of the Roubo files lies with the notion that the craftsmen managed to cut or plane a straight line at all given the tools they had; something better understood perhaps against a backdrop of what psychologists recognise as social cognitive development than studying the tools themselves or how they were used.
Roubo, I’m glad to say, is back in print and for the first time in plain English courtesy of Lost Art Press. To Make As Perfectly As Possible: Roubo on Marquetry is available from Classic Hand Tools in the UK or Lost Art Press in the US and really should be part of your workshop library. More than just a treatise on marquetry, it covers many aspects of fine cabinet work from timber selection and casework to finishing and brass casting, of which most techniques can be faithfully reproduced. Now, if that doesn’t quite do it for you, then please, please have a go at the Roubo book stand. I did and take it from me it’s nothing short of a miracle. Never mind how he did it, what on earth made him think it would work in the first place? Genius.
(PHOTOGRAPH BY GMC/DEREK JONES)