Many of you have read of the Roubo bookstand featured recently in Popular Woodworking and related blogs. For those that have not, it’s an ingenious design that folds out into an “X” configuration, but is crafted from a single piece of wood. Even though I have no need for such a bookstand, it was an intriguing concept and a challenge. I decided to try it for myself and blog about it, even though others have done so. Each person brings his own viewpoint to a project, and emphasizes details that others might skip. It’s easy for experienced woodworkers to assume that unmentioned steps are implicit, even to the less experienced. Perhaps some of my details will be helpful to those that are interested in giving this project a try.
The article that started it all was by Roy Underhill in the February, 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking magazine. Later blog articles and video by Christopher Schwarz expanded on Roy’s article and provided a simplified method of making the joint. He also provided a full-sized pattern derived from the drawing from Roubo’s text. I decided on a blended approach, and added a procedural twist of my own. I also decided to make the piece using only hand tools.
As usual, I started changing things right off the bat. The original design seemed a little narrow to me. True, it was perfectly sized for books in the 6”x9” range, but seemed a bit undersized for larger books. Also, the piece of red oak I was planning to use was 10½” wide and, since I didn’t really want to rip it down, I decided that the width was perfect. This being the case, the first step was to cut a piece to length, and true up the ends on the shooting board. I had printed out a full-size version of Schwarz’s pattern, and made mine a bit longer for good measure.
My decision to make the bookstand wider than the pattern required a redraw of the decorative edging at the top and bottom, so I grabbed a couple of french curves and made a pair of patterns in the new width. (Side note: It’s always a good idea to keep a stack of old file folders or cereal boxes handy in the shop, as these can’t be beat for short-term-use patterns.) I decided to wait to saw them out until all of the other layout had been done and the joints cut, and I was ready to split the pieces.
Schwarz uses a different hinge design than Roubo, and it greatly simplifies the layout and cutting, although it loses something in asthetics. It’s easier to watch his method than to try to explain it, so you can find it here. Since my version was wider, I used dividers to lay out seven joint sections rather than the specified five. When you do this, be SURE to mark the waste correctly on the opposite sides of the board. If the waste is UP on one side, it must be DOWN on the reverse. An error here ruins everything.
Now, I had to saw out the lines between the joint segments. Since I was using a #13 scrollsaw blade, I was able to get by with a 1/16” drill bit for the pilot holes. If I had used a smaller blade, I could theoretically have drilled a less-noticeable hole, but sawing would have been more difficult – there are trade-offs in everything. Underhill used a modified coping saw blade, and Schwarz used a scrollsaw blade, both barehanded. Since I had a deep-throat fretsaw frame, my life was made considerably easier. As you can see, the frame reaches all the way over the bottom of the blank, making sawing much easier and more accurate. Confession time here: I was so nose-deep in the instructions that I forgot I had the saw frame. As I was sawing the first slot, struggling with the bare blade, I happened to glance up to where the deep fretsaw frame was hanging in the french rack at the back edge of the bench. That’s right – LITERALLY under my nose! How embarrasing! (I hope no one finds out…)
We’ll leave off here, and pick up the story next time.