From instructional to inspirational, woodworking books are a great way to spend some holiday free time. This is a highlight reel of new – and some not so new – books that every woodworker should check out.
Thomas W. Stender, Editor
The Penland School of Crafts has been operating in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains for over 75 years. This book details how ten instructors – all experts in their fields – make some of the furniture for which they are best known. Each instructor is vastly different from the next, and the tips they detail are highly innovative yet understandable and useful to the amateur woodworker. The director of the school, Jean McLaughlin, says the aim of the book is threefold. “To give the reader insight into the creative and technical processes of leading woodworkers, to provide detailed, intermediate-level technical information, and to showcase a range of approaches to the material.” The book excels on all three levels. Even when I strongly disliked the style of furniture being discussed, I revelled in the unique approach the maker took to break new ground to complete the finished piece. If you would like to see how one-of-a-kind pieces of studio furniture are made, and start to add some new techniques to your arsenal, either take a trip to North Carolina or pick up this book.
Fox Chapel Publishing
Many kids have the natural desire to learn about tools and make wooden objects, but as adults it’s difficult to know where or how to start teaching. Kid Crafts Woodworking starts at the very beginning, with short sections on, among other things, the properties of wood, gluing and metal fasteners. Nothing long or boring, just the basics, for a kid-length attention span. With straightforward paragraphs and clear, simple photos, the book goes on to discuss the safe usage of basic tools. Then comes the fun part – the 21 projects. Easy-to-follow instructions will guide your child through the projects, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be there every step of the way. Just don’t get too eager and do all the work for them … it’s their project after all.
Popular Woodworking Books
Tom Fidgen, a regular contributor to our magazine, works only with hand tools, so he has a slightly different way of looking at a project – and an honest respect for good, old-fashioned hard work. He seems to appreciate the small things in woodworking, gaining great satisfaction from a smoothly planed surface or a strong mortise and tenon joint, and it rubs off. Made by Hand takes the reader through the entire process of making six different projects with nothing but hand tools. He talks a lot about the philosophy behind his style of working and how you can bring some of the simple life into your next project. He doesn’t hit you over the head with electricity guilt – he realizes that balance is what most people ought to strive for. Tom’s welcoming, open writing style is also a nice surprise. It’s almost like you’re having a conversation with him right in your living room, discussing what really matters in woodworking.
Oscar P. Fitzgerald
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Fox Chapel Publishing
The wide variety of landmark furniture pieces, no matter the style, is what makes this book so visually stunning. That, and the fact that all of the 84 pieces that comprise the collection are beautifully photographed and a short description about each maker and piece is included. Many of the great makers from the last 100 years are covered – Sam Maloof, Wendell Castle, Tage Frid, George Nakashima – as well as many lesser known makers. If you read this book one hundred years from now, I’m sure it would be as thought provoking as it is today. These are 84 great pieces, and this is one great book.
Even in today’s world of electric machinery, when most people were asked to name a woodworking tool, planes and scrapers would probably be at the top of the list. They are as useful now as they were years ago but, because of their electrified cousins, they are often overlooked in favour of a faster option. In this comprehensive book, John English explains what each type of plane is for, how to set it up for optimal performance and how to use it. The text is thorough and the photos are informative. All in all, this is a good read for a beginning or intermediate woodworker. Or a woodworker who simply never gave hand planes and scrapers a fair shake.
If you’re even the slightest bit interested in the history of Japanese furniture, you will love this thorough collection of chests. The attention to detail is astounding, the photographs glorious and the historical insight intriguing. This is exactly what you would expect from a book that covers such a proud history of chest making on the land of the rising sun. Almost 100 pages of colour plates are complemented by information on typical construction materials, finishing techniques and regional characteristics. This book will please the antique collector, interior designer or woodworker equally.
A. William Benitez
Woodworking Business is an informative, common-sense-based book that may answer many questions for the amateur woodworker who is considering going professional. This is not a gorgeous book. It doesn’t have glossy photos or beautiful graphic design. What it does offer is practical, down-to-earth tips while forcing you to consider the toughest question of all: Is running your own business right for you? Chapter topics include Setting Prices, Contracting Jobs, Getting Help and Everyday Lessons. Although it’s written from an American perspective, most of the information is pertinent to a Canadian reader.
Jeffrey B. Snyder
Skirting traditional woodworking – sometimes seemingly allergic to it – this book shows you things you didn’t think were possible with wood, and many things you wish you had thought of first. The variety of the finished pieces is wonderful and makes for a nice read. Including 89 artists in total, each brief section contains background information, inspirational thoughts and technical details on how each artist completes their work. Wood Art Today 2 covers furniture, turnings, boxes, sculptures and more. One of the things I like most about it is you can open it up to any page and start learning about a specific artist and the work they do. This one is a lot of fun.
Fox Chapel Publishing
David Ellsworth has been refining his style for years and now, with his first book, you get to see exactly how the “grandfather” of turning does it. Offering more than just turning information, a number of chapters in this book discuss topics that non-turners will be interested in. Having said that, turning is the main focus here. Ellsworth speaks to what he knows best – an open bowl, a natural-edge bowl and the highlight of the book, a hollow vessel with an impossibly small opening. He also covers basics like sharpening, design, finishing and more. One chapter even details the stresses that turning puts on the human body and how to get the most from this overlooked “tool”. A crucial read for a wood-turner and an enlightening read for a woodworker.
Comprehensive is the only word to describe this three-book set on joinery, shaping wood and furniture and cabinet construction. The three authors answer questions you didn’t even know you had. They also do it in a clear, concise and visually pleasing way. Even beginning to list the topics covered would be futile. Safe to say, if you want to learn about something that would fit under these three headings, this set will steer you in the right direction. Each book starts out with the basics and builds on that information, finishing off with quite advanced techniques.
Finishing is often an afterthought and spraying a finish isn’t exactly the first technique discussed when the topic does come up. While it’s often easier to wipe on a couple of coats of finish and be done with it, there are times when spraying a finish makes the most sense. There are many advantages to spraying a finish but there are some drawbacks too. Spray Finishing Made Simple does what it claims – it takes an imposing, unfamiliar topic and makes sense of it. This book is for the first-time spray finisher, as it starts with the basics and progresses through the stages. Don’t let the unknown stand in your way if you’re interested in learning about spraying. Pick up this book and get spraying.
Charles Peterson with Andy Engel
Another comprehensive book by Taunton Press, Wood Flooring is extremely informative, not to mention visually compelling. From subfloors to finishing, and everything in between, you can be sure this is the only book you will ever need on the subject. My favourite chapter was on inlays and curves: using jigs and templates to add circular inlays to a floor, laying out and installing laminated curves, even working with stone and metal inlays … there’s a lot to learn in that one chapter alone. Much of it could be adapted to making furniture. If you want to lay a basic wood floor this book will help you add lasting value and beauty to your home. If you’re looking to one-up your super handy DIY brother-in-law, you can start here too.
I will admit, I’m not a pyrography genius. In fact the last time I used a woodburning tool, it was Christmas Day and I was about five years old. It didn’t go well. A lot has changed since then. The tools have improved, there is a large and growing group of woodburning artists and there are great books to show you the basics and inspire you to pick up the art of pyrography. Woodburning with Style is the perfect book if you’re just learning. Not only will it teach you about the equipment available, it covers decorative techniques, lettering, portraits and more, before providing a chapter of inspirational projects and photographs to really get your imagination going. Pyrography is an art in itself but can also be used in conjunction with turnings, carvings or furniture making.
The ultimate in cabinet design inspiration. Fantastic photographs, coupled with a little bit of information on each piece, is more than enough to give you that nudge to go ahead and try something different with your next cabinet. From surface decoration to using different materials, non-standard shapes to unique finishes, there’s a taste of everything for everyone. You won’t learn how any of these pieces are made but it will make you wonder. 500 Cabinets is the extension of the “500” series by Lark Books and, like the rest, this one will delight readers of any skill level. It will even interest those who know nothing at all about woodworking. There are many Canadian makers included. This is a collection I’ll refer to over and over again, because each time I look through it I’ll do so for a different reason, getting something different each time. This one rarely makes my bookshelf … it’s always right on my desk. And of the collection here, this is my favourite.
More articles in Books