Last week I received my copy of By Hand & Eye from Lost Art Press. I’ve just about finished reading it and something has compelled me to comment on it. The book is co-authored by George Walker and Jim Tolpin. Because this book is a text book more than anything else, it is not easy to review, nor is it easy to judge after just one look. My first impression is that it is a very good book. It is the first “new” woodworking book that really has made me think since Christopher Schwarz’s first workbench book. That isn’t to say that the woodworking books I’ve read in the meanwhile haven’t been good, or even just okay. I try to take just a little bit from everything I read. By Hand & Eye is more than just a little bit of information and tidbits; it is a guideline on learning the art of furniture design. I won’t go as far as calling it a crash course, because it is not. This isn’t the type of book you read once and put it back on your shelf for a few years. This book is a book to be referred to, this book is the book you take out when you are working on your next sketch.
Before I go on, I am compelled to say this, though very reluctantly. Jim Tolpin is one of the authors of By Hand & Eye. I have two other books of his and I didn’t particularly care for them all that much. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy what he did here, I did. In fact, a section of the book, which I believe was written by Tolpin, that explains using a sector in conjunction with dividers was the clearest and most concise writing I’ve ever seen on that particular topic. But the fact of the matter is there is something about Tolpin’s writing that rubs me the wrong way. Before I continue, let me be clear and state that this is in no way a personal attack of Jim Tolpin; his accomplishments speak for themselves. At that, his accomplishments may be the very reason that he rubs me the wrong way, and that is because in every article/book I’ve ever read of his, it seems to me that he loves to just throw his resume’ out there for no apparent reason. I can’t seem to figure out why he feels the need to do this. I’ll be the first to admit that I like to brag a little bit; just about all of us do on some level. We may brag by posting a photo of a project we’ve just completed, or something we are still in the process of building. In the last sections of By Hand & Eye, there are several projects by Tolpin highlighted, and rather than just letting them and their proportions do the story telling, Tolpin feels the need to point out why those projects that he built “by hand” are so fabulous. And this part I only say to be completely forthright, but the projects highlighted in the book, while all very nice, are nothing special.
Before I finish, I would like to point out that Jim Tolpin is a far, far more accomplished woodworker than I will ever be. He’s written more than a dozen woodworking books, runs a successful woodworking school, and has made a living being a top notch craftsman for years. I don’t feel “right” criticizing what he’s done, but I am doing it out of total honesty. Does this make me a jerk? Perhaps, but I am an honest jerk. As far as By Hand & Eye is concerned, would I recommend it? I would, in fact I would highly recommend it. I’ll take that a step further: if you are a woodworker who is interested in designing furniture, or you are a woodworker who is simply wondering how and why furniture was and is designed, I would tell you to stop what you are doing, go over to the Lost Art Press web page, and order this book immediately. For under $35 you are getting a highly informative book that also happens to be really well made and look great. I can’t say enough good things about the title.
In other news, I just finished spending the last of my guilt-free tool money. I picked up a new Starrett 6″ combination square, a new set of dividers to replace my old beat up ones (partially because I was inspired by the book), a new rasp, a new saw file, and the hinges for my blanket chest. I purchased the items from both Lee Valley and Traditional Woodworker. I spent around $175 including shipping, but I picked up some high quality tools that I really could use. In that sense, it feels good to spend the money on items I know are useful, as well as top quality. The construction phase of my chest should be completed on Sunday morning. After that, I have to convince my wife to help me do the finishing work. So all in all, it’s been a good year of woodworking.