For as long as I can remember I’ve loved reading. Growing up, we didn’t have much money, but we always managed to have books in the house. I can remember my dad winning a set of Readers Digest condensed classics with titles such as: Moby Dick, Of Mice and Men, Treasure Island, War of the Worlds, Robinson Crusoe, and Great Expectations, among many others. Because the books didn’t feature photos of young ladies with huge…assets…my dad wanted little to do with them. I read them all, more than once. Another one of my fondest childhood memories (which there are few of) was my first library card. When I was old enough, I would walk to our public library every day and pick out three books to bring home, which was the maximum number allowed for children under twelve years old. I can remember imagining Abraham Lincoln doing the same thing as a young boy, and while I wasn’t sure at the time which books Lincoln would read, I almost always found myself taking home books either about astronomy, or World War 2. In fact, I can say in all honesty that I probably read every title that our library had to offer on both of those subjects. Looking back on those times, my behavior wasn’t all that strange. My generation is probably the last to grow up without cable television, or home video games, or VCR’s for that matter. Nearly every kid in my neighborhood went to the library a few times a week, even the thugs. The only thing that set me apart was the fact that I did it more.
I can go on and on about my reading habits. I was a night owl all through high school, and read hundreds of books simply because I couldn’t sleep, and with only six channels, almost nothing was on television. By the time I was 18, I had accumulated well over one thousand books. Unfortunately, when I joined the army my dad donated most of them to Goodwill, likely because books are like kryptonite to my dad. That mishap aside, I still have some of those books, and many more that I picked up since. When I first started woodworking I started by purchasing woodworking books. I have more than fifty titles, though I never bothered to actually count them. As I’ve said before, some are good, some are just okay, and some are simply bad. I’ve managed to take a little knowledge from all of them. While you can’t learn to woodwork just by reading, it does give you a nice foundation to build upon. So with it being Christmas time, I’ve decided to continue my “gift ideas for woodworkers” theme and list a few of my favorite woodworking books (that I own) in no particular order. So here goes…
This was one of my first woodworking books, and I got it through a book club. At the time, I was planning on making a woodworking bench and I really didn’t know exactly where to start. Workbenches From Design and Theory to Construction and Use is in my opinion the clearest book on the subject of constructing a workbench. There is very, very little I disagree with when it comes to this title. Like it or not, sooner or later a woodworker needs a workbench, and if you can’t afford to purchase one you will have to make it yourself. This book is the best place to start in my opinion.
I’ve had Eric Sloane’s A Reverence for Wood for quite a long time. In this book, Sloane uses story telling to educate the reader about wood, it’s movement and grain patterns, it’s use in furniture making, and it’s importance to society. It is a fast and interesting read containing a great deal of solid facts about how wood “works”. I would highly recommend any woodworker reading it, especially a younger one.
An older former coworker of mine gave me his set of Audel tradesmen books. The Carpenters and Builders library is one of my favorites, with great descriptions of tools used in carpentry and woodworking. This is one of my favorite books to just page through, as it seems I learn something new just about every time I read it.
While I’m not really a big fan of period woodworking, The Pine Furniture of Early New England has some really great photos and description of Pine furniture (obviously) of the 18th and 19th century. Whenever I am considering a new project and I am looking for ideas, this is the first book I turn to for guidance. Best part, you can get it used for around a dollar on most web sites.
With the Grain by Christian Becksvoort is a great resource for any woodworker looking to learn about North American “furniture wood” trees and how to identify them. It is the clearest and most concise book on tree identification and information that I’ve come across, and a book that no serious woodworker should be without. If I were looking to purchase a book for a new woodworker this would be at the top of the list.
Handtool Essentials is a collection of articles written for Popular Woodworking magazine focusing on hand tool use. Not only are several important techniques discussed, such as sharpening, paring, and hand plane tuning discussed; there are also plenty of clear, close-up photos which actually detail the highlighted topics. Like it or not, woodworking is a visual art, and sometimes a clear photo can explain in seconds what an entire written paragraph cannot. Too many woodworking titles fall short in the good photo department, this book does not. Also, though the book is mainly focused on hand tool use, the sections on sharpening and joinery are just as important to a woodworker who uses mainly power tools. This is another title that I would highly recommend to a new woodworker.
Though I don’t have a photo of it because I left it in my desk at work, another woodworking book I really like is Tage Frid’s: Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking books 1 and 2. Most woodworking books that claim to be a “complete guide” usually fall a little short. I own books 1 and 2, and they are the best general woodworking books I’ve come across. It’s hard to say if these books would benefit an absolute beginner, but they certainly couldn’t hurt, and a woodworker with a bit of experience can take a lot from them. These are also books that I would highly recommend for any serious woodworker.
Though I’ve been a bit critical of woodworking books in general, there are quite a few very good ones that I’ve left off the list. I picked a few of my favorites that I know are easy to obtain, and if I’m not mistaken Amazon sells all of them with the exception of With the Grain. Most of these titles are probably of more benefit to a beginner rather than a woodworker with a good deal of experience. But I think that my list here is a good one for any woodworker looking to begin, or possibly expand his or her library.