A Roubo Mystery Solved?

Frame Saw Complete

As I was planning my Roubo bookstand, a question started nagging at me.  In the Popular Woodworking article, Roy Underhill’s translation states:

“These desks are never made singly, but two at a time.  This is to prevent the great waste of wood…  When we make two at a time, one overlapping the other, we must increase the length of the original plank by that of [the length of the leg], plus what it takes to get the saw in and started.”

This passage puzzled me.  How on earth did this work?  Making room for a handsaw blade would use up as much wood as it saved.  Also, how on earth would you actually MAKE room for that wide blade in the middle of your piece?  This was a real headscratcher for me until, finally I saw the answer in the photograph of Roy in the article (sorry, I can’t post it here).  If you have the magazine, look in the background of the picture of Roy using the handsaw to separate the joint on page 37 to find the answer.

A frame saw.

Of course.  This older type of ripsaw with the blade in the middle of the frame, would have been the most common method of resaw in Roubo’s day.  With a blade on the order of one inch wide, it would have been no trouble with a crosscut saw, chisel, and router plane, to create a dado half the thickness of the board to allow the frame saw to start the ripping process, and thus only costing about an inch or so of wood loss.  Problem solved.

This is one problem we have as modern woodworkers.  The tools and techniques that made a certain operation practical or even possible have often faded into the twilight, leaving us baffled as to the reasons for certain operations.  All of us owe it to ourselves to read available reprints of old treatises such as The Joiner and Cabinetmaker, The Art of Joinery, or The Essential Woodworker.  Books such as these add a depth and perspective to our knowledge base that allow us to grasp the reasoning behind the old ways of doing things.  Besides, in many cases, the old ways often work better.

Maybe I ought to look into building a frame saw.

Thanks to Paul Terpstra of Terpstra Woodworks (http://www.terpstrawoodworks.com/) for the use of the photograph of his great modern frame saw at the start of the article.  Paul Terpstra is a custom woodworker and wooden ski maker in Ontario, Canada. He also teaches traditional woodworking. He can be reached at info@terpstrawoodworks.com.   Check out his website for wonderful furniture and unique custom-crafted outdoor gear.


3 responses to “A Roubo Mystery Solved?

  1. I see how the frame saw would work nicely to resaw the bookstand, but I don’t understand how two bookstands would be arranged on one board that would save any wood?
    When I make my one-piece book holders, hardly any wood is wasted. Only the opening I cut out between the legs is waste.

    • Let’s see if I can do this with a word picture.  Remember this stand has a tall back hinged to a short lip that supports the bottom of the book.  If you just rip the piece down like I did, you end up having to cut off a large piece of one side to create the lip.  This is the waste Roubo refers to.  Now, imagine two of the finished stands placed flat and face-to-face, with the short lip of one butted up against the end of the back of the other.  This sort of “nested” layout is what Roubo is talking about.  You simply leave a gap between the end of the back of one and the lip of the other that’s large enough to get the sawblade into after cutting a dado half the depth of the board.  You start from the middle and saw towards both ends (hinges).

  2. Sure, I can see it now. The stands I make have equal length top portions to make a book holder. That’s what caused my confusion.
    Thanks for clearing this up!

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