Les Rabots

             An amazing present arrived from Amazon.fr recently.  It was a gift from Sieur Vincent Lavarenne. Many of you know Sieur Vincent. He is le Premier Chevalier de France – The First Knight of France. As such, Sieur Vincent commands all French Knights of Windsor. There aren’t a whole lot of them right now, but that is going to change. The French are very interested in culture and as we accomplish our stated purpose “for handmade Windsor chairs to take over the world” the will soon be an army of chaisiers.

            Any way, my gift was a large full-color reference book titled Les Rabots and was written by Pierre Bouillot and Xavier Chatellard. Rabot is French for plane; as in the category of tools used by woodworkers. I have not yet read the whole book, but I have scanned its entirety. There is no doubt this is a landmark work. I have a huge library of books on woodworking and tools, but this one is full of information I have never seen before.  For example, I own and use lots of English planes. I recognize the foreign shapes  that tool dealers always label “European.”  However, I could never tell you where in Europe they came from. As you probably remember from 4th grade geography, Europe is a big place with lots of countries. Using Les Rabots, I can tell a foreign plane’s place of origin.  I can identify a generic Asian plane, but it never dawned on me that individual countries in Asia would have their own plane designs. I recognize the difference between Anglo-American 18th and 19th century planes. I never imagined that plane design evolved in other countries as well, and even by region. I do now. In fact, this book is so complete it could have been titled “History of Planes of the World.”

            The book begins with the planes of antiquity. You maybe surprised at how sophisticated Roman planes were, and the number of examples recovered by archaeologists. Did you know the Romans used iron infill planes 2000 years ago? Would you recognize a Roman molding profile? The book goes on to chronicle the plane industry. Many of the illustrations (engravings and some early photographs) are French and reveal a highly developed plane industry in that country during the 18th and 19th centuries. During the 19th century when American plane makers were improving their planes and inventing new mechanisms French plane makers were doing the same thing. They worked out solutions I have never seen before reading Les Rabots.

            Bouillot’s and Chatellard’s magnum opus contains lists of plane makers from different countries. These lists are necessarily incomplete, as such lists require books of their own.  These listings of plan makers in The United States and in England exist and a curious woodworker will already own them. Les Rabots also contains similar lists of European iron makers. I love the cutters stamped with a standing Napoleon.

            The book contains chapters on plane use as well as the devices, such as shooting boards – that are used in concert with planes. It has chapters on planes unique to various trades, such as the stair maker. The authors also cover plane related tools, such as spoke shaves and scrapers. The final chapters are for the collector, explaining how to buy and care for planes.

            The book has one draw back for an American.  It is written in French. I am able to read the text quite well, although I do have to look up an occasional term. The result is that I now know a lot more workshop vocabulary than I learned when I lived in France. I do wish now I had paid more attention to the ateliers I passed, but having turned 21 while there, I was more interested in girls, wine, and the great food. While you may not be able to read Les Rabots, you will salivate over the planes in the pictures. The photography is excellent and the planes enough to make any woodworker’s heart palpitate.

            The book is not cheap. It costs Eur. 80.75 which the currency converter on the internet tells me is equal to $103. 36. Of course the exchange rate changes from time to time, but this gives you an idea of how much you will shell out. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.  Here is the link that will take you to amazon.fr and Les Rabots. The site is all in French, but is the layout is identical to  amazon.com.    http://www.amazon.fr/s/ref=nb_sb_noss? _mk_fr_FR=%C5M%C5Z%D5%D1&url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=les+rabots&x=0&y=0

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                        You probably remember an earlier posting about Freddy Dudak, the 11 year old who took the July sack back. I received this message from his father Sir Freddy Dudak. “Freddy’s chair was entered in the West End Fair which is a local fair in our area that is in its 89th year. The chair was entered under the category of original crafts-junior, and he took home the blue ribbon. I entered my chair and didn’t fare so well coming home with a third. Freddy was consoling me when we picked up the chairs saying that I should be glad I didn’t see what I lost to. I love that kid.” Those of us around The Institute are real proud of Freddy too.

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