Saturday, September 5, 2009

French Connection 5

Things are proceeding well with the lantern - after three days and multiple coats of paint, the end grain is finally dealt with and came out well. I am assembling the lattice frames and a few other things - nothing really worth taking pictures of though, so I thought I'd return for a moment to another topic - French carpentry.

The next project in my endless list of study is going to be the Mazerolle sawhorse, last mentioned in the previous postings titled "French Connection 1, 3, and 4". In relation to that, I was spending a little time yesterday checking out a French website (<-- a link) that shows a few of the compagnon masterpiece models of the past, when I came across this wonder:


Insane! Looking at it more closely, this complex eight-posted affair is at the core a pair of variant three legged (in this case being 4-legged) joiner's benches (detailed in a previous post in this thread) connected to each other and rotated half-way out of phase with one another - and then some! Notice how a cross brace from one leg connects through and behind its neighboring post to the next leg over. Compared to the standard three-legged joiner's bench, this piece has a more logical arrangement of top beams, in relation to the support posts, as they are in plane with one another. While I can't say that the above piece is exactly beautiful, it does show the craftsman's mastery of the théorie des devers de pas (a layout technique) and, above all, his ingenuity at figuring out how to interweave so many braces in amongst themselves.

It goes to show there's always another level to which something can be taken, and I realize that the examples in Mazerolle are in some respects but starting points - though in comparison to the other French layout texts I have looked at, his book does show far more complex examples in general.

There's so much material to study yet, and that's just within the realm of rectilinear work - after that there is a veritable ocean of single and double curvature work to explore. How is a carpenter supposed to do all this in one lifetime? I guess, step by step, and well see how far along we get. It helps to not have a tv set or similar distractions, lets put it that way.

The other amazing thing about that model is that it's pretty small - only 47cm tall (for the metrically-challenged, 47cm is about 18.5"). The tiny size would add to the difficulty of making the piece I am sure.

Here's a picture of the piece with its maker, newly-minted compagnon François Rastoueix:


I wonder, looking at the photo, what sort of life he had, both leading up to and subsequent to that picture. I wonder how long it took him to make his 47cm. tall masterwork, and what he made previous to it in his studies. I also wonder how the heck it assembles! I also am curious to know if he ever had the chance to make use of those layout skills in his working life. More than all of those questions though, I thank Mr. Rastoueix for having pushed his skill to a high level and showing us all what is possible through concerted study and practice. This is one form of technical carpentry at its finest, and I find the piece highly inspiring! The model survives to this day and resides in a museum, and one day I hope to get a chance to look at it in person along with other similar pieces.

More to come on the lantern soon enough - stay tuned.

3 comments:

  1. Incroyable!
    Thank you for finding and showing us this model, Chris. I've been enjoying your writing every time and am grateful for the peek into your work and approach to woodworking. The lantern thread has been a particularly thorough one and a really good demonstration of the way you work (as far as I can tell, at least :) ). It does bring one question to mind though, and I hope you indulge my curiosity here.

    The quest for this kind of perfection is admirable, yet I want your thoughts on the practical aspects of it. As a craftsperson, one relies on patronage to make a living. This level of work must make it very tough to find the right kind of patron for it. You have touched on this issue before, but I'd like to hear your thoughts on how you try to strike a balance between achieving work that you as the maker are satisfied with and a patron can afford. Pushing the envelope is one hallmark of an accomplished craftsperson, but shouldn't also expediency?

    I hope you take my comments as they are meant. That is, the opening of a sincere discussion on this topic. I greatly admire the kind of work you are capable of and willing to do and value your opinion here.

    cheers,
    -Toscano

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  2. I went to the exhibition at the Royal Saltworks. Fascinating.
    What I did notice in a large number of the models was evidence of metal pins at each joint of the bracing. Either filler that had lost its colour or corrosion products protruding slightly from the surface.

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  3. Thanks for that piece of information Guy. Lucky you, having the chance to see such models in person!

    I am also sure they used metal fasteners at a ot of the connections. In the picture at the top of this thread, for instance, there is a short section of brace missing on the left hand side towards to the bottom of the piece, just above the horizontal cross bar. No joinery is evident at the connecting piece, so it must have been simply nailed.

    ~Chris

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