A Different Kind of Translation

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Chris might have promised not to get too far into the “This Old House” mode as he works on the cool old building he plans to turn into the Lost Art Press Bat Cave. I however made no such promise, and my neighbor recently gave me a couple of pallets of old roof tiles as a contribution to renovating my own Bat Cave/barn (with real bats! but no belfry, which doesn’t seem fair or appropriate, somehow).

LAP tiles 2 The tiles are hung on laths nailed across the rafters. The ergot, or the little hook, to the left, is used to hold the tile on the laths. In this one, you could probably get a good fingerprint or two of the fingers of the child or woman that formed it.

When you receive a few thousand old roof tiles as a gift, on the condition that you do not leave the pallets full…

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The Hazards of Translating Felibien

F Fra giovanni da Verone

Fra Giovanni da Verona…

The interesting thing about translating André Felibien’s “Des Principes de L’Architecture is how interesting it is, and how hazardous a simple whim, a passing, “I wonder” can be.

There is the angel of my better nature, asking me “You going to wrap this up and get it off before the next ice age?”

On the other shoulder, the devil in the details is whispering “I’d bet you can find some of the work Felibien is talking about when he writes “There was in Florence a Filippo Brunelesco, and a Benedetto da Maiano, who started to create the best works that can still be seen today.”

The angel scolds, “The day is advancing, your long-suffering wife is starting to make dangerous noises every time she walks by the unfinished bathroom, and given that you are supposed to be translating Felibien you might get on with, um, translating Felibien.”

F1 guiliano Da Maiano

Guiliano da Maiano – Sacristy of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Firenze, Italy

“It’ll just take a second to have a quick look, it’s the details that can make the story,” the devil coos.

A couple of keystrokes and I’m off. A couple of hours later, well, it turns out that this Brunelesco fellow was in fact more often known as Brunelleschi, a giant of Renaissance architecture and engineering, and the subject of a book I loved, “Brunelleschi’s Dome” by Ross King.

A diverting side note was that Brunelleschi, though trained as a goldsmith and a fine graphic artist, was known more as an architect on the engineering and math end of the scale.

It took me a little looking around before I realized Felibien was talking about him. (It was a reference in some ancient tome to “Brunelesco’s stupendous dome in Florence” that clued me in).

F-1 Guiliano da Maiano

Guiliano da Maiano – Sacristy of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Firenze, Italy

It seemed odd that he would be specifically mentioned in the marquetry section, until I reflected that Felibian had included marquetry in the section on painting, and in fact Brunelleschi also contributed a great deal to the theory of perspective in Renaissance art.

F 220 verona Tarsie-lignee-Verona-2

Fra Giovanni da Verona – the choir of Santa Maria in Organo

A wander through the works attributed to Benedetto da Maiano and his brother Guiliano, made the connection clear.

The use of perspective is everywhere – perhaps even more because wood veneer lends itself well to being cut in precise geometrical shapes to depict this revolution in art that had swept the West and was so powerfully in vogue at the time.

But the really wonderful surprise was the reference to “Jean de Verone” in Felibien. A few minutes lead me to his name in Italian, Fra Giovanni da Verona, and then into the almost hermetic vision of the Benedictine monk’s marquetry panels. They are a world unto themselves.


Brian Anderson

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Roubo is Not Dead, he is Not Even Past

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One of the treasures I inherited when buying my house was a falling-down chicken coop/rabbit hutch with (I can say without blushing) a brick shithouse tacked onto the end. It is in the courtyard, and was built in a hurried fashion, with the materials the farmer had at hand – some brick, some stone, concrete block, wood and a steel roof that had come loose at some point and was weighed down with odds and ends of heavy things. The toilet, judging from its style, was in use well into the 1960s, flushed with a bucket.

So, being the sensitive type, this fall I decided to have a go at renovating the ruin; I sought to maintain the fabric, the “built textures of the countryside,” as they say in the more sensitive kinds of house magazines.

I was sitting at the table outside, looking at the building and plotting my…

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Router Plane Fix

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felibien router plane 5 Worked like a charm.

The old Stanley router plane turned up in the mail from a colleague in the States a while back, the box a little crunched and the threaded adjustment shaft was bent. Not a huge problem, but the thing was that it made it impossible to set the iron for anything less than about 3/8” (9 mm). The question was; leave it as is, or try to bend and risk breaking the shaft? Not needing the plane right then, I decided to think about it…

Felibien router plane 1 The bent shaft made it impossible to decrease the depth of cut.

The other day when cutting some tenons for a desk for my daughter Rachel, I decided to try to fix the shaft. I figured even if I broke the shaft the plane would still be usable, as the thumb nut is only used for fine adjustments.

I had had a…

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Editor’s note: The below entry is part of a series of articles we have commissioned Brian Anderson to write about André Roubo in preparationd for the publication of “To Make as Perfectly as Possible: Roubo on Marquetry.” Brian, the translator for “Grandpa’s Workshop,” also wrote this entry on Roubo’s famous dome.

It must have been a popular topic for the local gossips – the apprentice joiner André Roubo begging, here and there, a cup of lard or tallow from the taverns and housewives in the Paris neighborhood.

A boy from a poor family begging a cup of lard for his mother to cook, would have been one thing. But the young André did not want it to cook with, but to fuel a simple oil lamp for light to study by. At the time, in the 1750s, it would have been rare enough for an ordinary worker to even know…

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DELORME f27.highres

“In the past, the carpenter’s guild enjoyed great prestige. To be a house carpenter was to know how to lay out and join, with precision, the often huge systems of trusses needed to support the enormous weight of a roof in stone or tile. At the time it was very learned work, and lent to those who practiced the art an uncontested predominance.”

— René Fontaine, architect

On the 31st of January, 1783, André-Jacob Roubo stood on a platform 38 meters (125 ft.) above the streets of Paris, which spread out around him in all directions. He was just below the pinnacle of the wooden dome he had designed to cover the round interior courtyard of the Grain Market near the center of the city. The structure spanned 39.5 meters without any internal support, and it had been constructed of an uncountable number of spruce planks, laid out and precisely…

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Editor’s note: Normally, we would not post a blog entry such as this, where a writer abuses a fine Belgian ale. But because this is Brian Anderson, who happily translated “Grandpa’s Workshop” for all of us, I am willing to cut him some slack. This time. If he abuses anything more than a saison in the future, however, we will have to come down hard upon him.

Among the rolling hills and pastoral landscapes of southern Belgium, a countryside of old stone houses with red-tiled roofs and fresh-faced rosy-cheeked milkmaids, a community of Trappist Monks has been lovingly crafting truly divine beer since 1862.

Among those beers is Chimay Blue. As the monks write, “This authentic Belgian beer, whose tinge of fresh yeast is associated with a light rosy flowery touch, is particularly pleasant. Its aroma, perceived as one enjoys it, only accents the delightful sensations revealed by the odour…

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Despite word from Tibet from my milk paint supplier that Agnes the yak was busy assembling her hope chest and flirting shamelessly with a certain strapping young specimen of yakhood, I decided that I needed to take the bull by the horns and get on with painting my six-board chest.

I poured a liter (quart) of skim milk into the soup pan, let it warm on very low heat to the point where there were just the faintest hints of steam coming off it, and then added 4 cl (1.5 fluid ounces) of vinegar –stirring a few swipes, enough to mix, but no more. This is not a critical thing, the curds will form in one way or another. You can even just let it sit at room temperature, but that will take hours. The important thing is not to bring the mix to a boil.

I did this twice…

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Well, actually it was more like a 12-board chest, but they were 2-meter-long skinny tongue-and-groove floorboards that I glued together, so I guess it still counts. I have ended up using quite a bit of the tongue-and-groove pine, either 3/4″ flooring or 3/8″ wainscoting, for different things. The wood I get here in France is maritime pine from plantations down in the Landes region near Bordeaux. Not a fine Bordeaux of woods to work, certainly, and not for fine furniture. But it comes dimensioned, planed and sanded on two sides in widths from 4″ to 8″. Saves a lot of time when gluing up boards or making frame-and-panel sections for furniture or traditional paneling. It’s also dirt cheap, well under a buck a board foot. And with a little filler for the knots, it takes a beautiful paint, oil or varnish finish.

I am putting the finishing touches on a…

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Scott Stahl, aka The Pragmatic Woodworker, has posted a review of “Grandpa’s Workshop” on his blog.

As Scott is a father with a 10-year-old daughter, I was particularly interested and pleased to see how his young one reacted to the story.

I know that this book isn’t for every family. It possesses none of the Disney-era varnish that is comforting, bland and easily digested. And that is exactly why I love “Grandpa’s Workshop.”

Check out Scott’s review here.

— Christopher Schwarz

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