I’m generally hesitant to review woodworking books for several reasons, one good one being that books are written by people (at least I assume that they are), and people sometimes get offended. Of course being the sensitive, empathetic guy that I am, I try not to offend. In this case, however, the book I am reviewing is/was written by a person who has passed away, so I don’t think I can hurt his feelings in that regard one way or the other.
So being inspired by a book review that Greg Merritt just published, I’ve decided to give you a very brief review of The Woodworker: The Charles H Hayward Years, Volume I, which is being offered by Lost Art Press.
Let’s start out by saying that this book is a very nice looking book. That is an understatement. It is perhaps the most attractive woodworking book I’ve ever seen. If you happen to be a woodworker like me, and you’ve happened to build a few bookcases for your house, you might want to have books such as this one sitting on the shelves of those bookcases simply because it looks a lot nicer than your wife’s collection of Janet Evanovich paperbacks. I’m not above a little pretention I will freely admit. Having this book on my bookshelf happens to make me look smarter to the casual observer, and when you have the tattoos that I have it’s definitely a good thing to have something to counterbalance some of the more uncouth parts of my appearance.
For those of you who may not be aware, Hayward wrote for The Woodworker magazine, and this volume is a collection of his articles (this particular volume focusing on tool related articles). As far as the content of the book is concerned, I have scanned through the entire volume and read approximately three quarters of it. Happily, the drawings and photos in the book look great, which is a good thing, because often times scans taken from older sources don’t always look so hot. The book is also well organized in the sense that the sharpening, planes, saws articles etc. are grouped together in an easy to read format. Another nice surprise is the fact that Hayward is easy to read. Much of his stuff was written from the late 1930’s to the 1960’s, and while that is hardly the stone age, there is certainly a generation gap there. So in that regard this volume is as easy to read (in the sense of language/semantics) as anything currently written about woodworking. More importantly, this is a reference book first and foremost, and meant to be used as such. I would even go as far as considering it a woodworking encyclopedia of sorts.
As far as the actual content is concerned, here is my opinion: If you have subscribed to woodworking magazines, read a lot of woodworking books, or both, there is likely a lot of information here that you have seen elsewhere. Conversely, there is also some stuff that I’ve never seen in print before, such as several very good saw-sharpening articles, and an article about the Record 050 combo plane (that one really resonated because I was just given one not so long ago). I understand that I am trivializing it, but I’m also not trying to review hundreds of pages word by word. There are dozens of articles on individual tools and their maintenance and use, it would be too time consuming (and boring) to go through them all and tell you exactly what I think about each. Suffice it to say, there are many things that I would agree with Hayward on, and a few that I do not. For instance, Hayward apparently is a big fan of hollow grinding his plane irons and chisels, I am not for the most part. That being said, he presents a nice article on how to hollow grind while using a self-cranked bench stone that I found very interesting. But that is why we read, isn’t it? To learn to think for ourselves.
All in all, I highly recommend this book, not only as a boatload of woodworking knowledge wrapped up in a small package, but also as a historical record. Under $50 for hundreds of woodworking articles is pretty nice price anywhere. As I said earlier, this also happens to be one of the nicest looking woodworking books I’ve ever come across, and if nothing else it looks really great on my bookshelf. And if you don’t think that is important, you’ve never met my wife.