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 email@example.com. Check out his website for wonderful furniture and unique custom-crafted outdoor gear.