Some projects are just plain fun, and the Roubo bookstand is definitely one of them. Published in his book of 1769, it is ingenious, attractive and practical. It can be built in an afternoon or evening and you'll find it hard to suppress a smile when the board magically opens up with a small splitting sound to reveal the bookstand. I will be making several from walnut to give to family members, but I wanted to refine my technique and design first by making one more in alder:
These pictures are "off the saw" prior to refinement of the hinge. which turns out to be quite easy. Perhaps this is a rationalization, but I found that some looseness in the hinge is preferable. As you can see from the picture, the hinge rests on the perpendicular faces of the board when open, so it doesn't affect the stability of the stand. I find the lines of this hinge when open very attractive.
What makes it a 21st century edition? First, rather than the traditional edge treatment, as in this plan by Roy Underhill, I wanted to come up with an alternative that wouldn't draw the eye away from what I want to be the focal point: the hinge. I experimented with an alternative, which seems to me a little less prominent. Second, it is sized for an e-reader or tablet computer, an idea I got by seeing popular accessories available for them. Finally, I wanted to see how it would look with seven hinge sections rather than five.
There are quite a number of good videos available online showing how the bookstand is created, several of which I post links to below. I offer just a few observations.
You should definitely not be bound by any predetermined plan or dimensions. Any board you have that suits you is fine. Dividers, a square and a marking gauge are all you need to lay it out. Locate the hinge at about one-third of the length of the board. Subdivide its width into an odd number of hinge sections, probably at least five. Seven is more work and doesn't seem to add much. The stand works fine even if it is substantially narrower than the open book you put on it.
It is important when chiseling out the hinge to get the bevel very accurate. You want the hinge leaves to be identical when the stand is open and you want to avoid unsightly splitting when you open the hinge. Either use a thin ruler or a chisel with blue tape on it at the right depth like Chris Schwarz does. If you start on the same line and bevel to a uniform depth that will meet the resaw cut, you're good. Some people use a chisel guide, but I don't think it is necessary.
The most difficult part of this project for me is getting a nice straight, cut along the vertical edges of the hinge sections. I tried it both ways and think it is better to make these cuts before creating the bevels because it defines the hinge sections. Roy Underhill has a traditional method that I tried on my last prototype. I made a little pointed saw from a hacksaw blade like he suggests but I found that opening up the cut from a small hole is very tedious. This was confirmed by someone who took the course at his school. For this one, I tried Chris Schwarz's approach of cutting off the pins from a coping saw blade and using it with your fingers. It works, but I had difficulty sawing straight with such a flexible blade. I did improve as I went along, mainly by first making angled cuts from the starting hole down each side to serve as a guide for the blade. One online video shows it being done with the Knew Concepts fretsaw, which uses pinless blades that will fit through a very small hole. I suspect this is the best way to do it. If you have ideas, please share them in a comment.
So, grab a scrap and have some fun.
Chris Schwarz video
Roy Underhill program