It’s Cinco de Mayo and today I’m going to talk about the five woodworking books I’ve read recently. I don’t do book reviews, just a “yeah” or “nay” and what stands out for me.
I really like Furniture In The Southern Style by Bob Lang and Glen Huey. If I had to pick a favorite style of furniture, right now it would be Shaker because it is timeless, simple, and elegant. I’m especially drawn to any Shaker pieces that have a curve or two in them, even if it’s just in a crown moulding. Though you wouldn’t mistake the pieces in this book for Shaker pieces, most of them appeal to me for the same reasons. I also really like the format of the book. The bulk of the content is the drawings, but for each piece there’s a small write-up discussing it’s history, and/or interesting details about the piece’s design or construction.
I’ve followed Peter Follansbee’s blog for quite a while. And I met him for the first time at WIA last fall. He’s a good guy. I have mixed feelings about the aesthetics of the joint stools featured in Make A Joint Stool From A Tree by Follansbee and Jennie Alexander, but not about the techniques used in making them – they’re all good. The book is in a very large format to allow excellent large photos. This book is worth buying because of the woodworking history or the photos alone.
I don’t normally give negative opinions of things. I prefer to keep it above the line, and talk about things I like. But there were two books put out by Popular Woodworking Books that I was really looking forward to, and that were, in my opinion, real stinkers. Note that both of these books generally get good or better reviews. The first one in particular has many reviews on Amazon, and averages five stars.
The first was Jim Tolpin’s The New Traditional Woodworker. I was repeatedly frustrated while reading this. Jim’s been woodworking forever, but he’s relatively new to working full-out with hand tools. And this book had the feel of someone who’s writing about something that’s fairly new to them. One specific detail I can remember (I no longer own the book) was that a shooting board was missing from his section on shop appliances. Instead he went in-depth on a method of “precision cross-cutting” that was terribly slow and just silly. I feel strongly that using a shooting board is a gateway skill in hand tool work and I couldn’t believe he left it out of his book. One book I’d recommend to help get started with hand tools is Christopher Schwarz’s and Joel Moskowitz’s The Joiner And Cabinet Maker. We’ll come back to that. (But shooting boards are covered beginning on pages 87 and 218.)
The second stinker was Thomas Moser’s updated How To Build Shaker Furniture. I like Thomas Moser. I met him at WIA in 2009. He seems like a nice guy. I envy his life story like crazy and I love his furniture. But this book is not about Shaker furniture. (I also no longer own this book) But, if I recall correctly, only two or three of the pieces featured in the book are actually Shaker pieces. The rest are Moser pieces that he or his company designed. Instead get In The Shaker Style (Taunton) or Pleasant Hill Shaker Furniture (Popular Woodworing Books) or several others.
Back to The Joiner And Cabinet Maker: When I went on a trip recently this was the book I brought with me. I first read this when it came out two or three years ago and liked it well. Since then I’ve learned a few things, and when I’m reading it now I’m picking up entirely new things that I don’t recall noticing before. Between the historical footnotes Moskowitz added to the fictional section, and the tools and technique talk in Schwarz’s technical section a surprising amount of ground is covered. It’s excellent. But it also makes me wonder if I shouldn’t just keep rereading my five favorite woodworking books over and over. This post has gone on too long, so I’ll stop here. After all this talk about books I still think the most important thing is to get into the shop and try/do stuff.