The Woodworking Trilogy

In my opinion all the best stories I know come in the form of a trilogy, including my favorite book of all time, J.R.R Tolkein's "The Lord of The Rings."
This week I have been devouring the recently released Anarchist Tool Chest by Chris Schwarz and a possibility occurred to me. I think it's possible that the woodworking world finally has it's trilogy. Three books, not all written by the same author, but all coming from the same publisher. Lost Art Press.

I own three books published by Lost Art Press, the tome mentioned above, Robert Wearing's "The Essential Woodworker," and "The Joiner and Cabinet Maker." and I wish like hell that someone had put these books into my hands ten years ago when I decided the same tools and skills I was using to remodel our house would also allow me to build furniture. (It's been a long, strange trip since that day) Yes I know these books were either not around or not generally available then but if someone would just hurry up and invent a time machine and help me out here, I'd be much further along my path.

If I knew someone who was seriously interested in starting woodworking I would not hesitate to put these three books into their hands. In fact I would consider it to be the most generous gift a novice woodworker could receive, but that isn't to say that veteran saw-dusters can't benefit either, it's never too late to learn the right things. The only issue I have is I believe they were released backwards. Given a new No-Name Apprentice to give advice to I would go about it like this:

The first book I would give this No-Name Apprentice would be The Anarchist's Tool Chest. In it Chris talks simply and  factually about the basic tools that are important to start woodworking. I know everyone believes it's a very hand tool centric view considering his reputation and "THE hand tool dude" but he speaks realistically about power tools and in my opinion the conversation really lists more to the side of the elusive Hybrid woodworking experience where hand and power live in harmony together. The philosophy included on buying tools, what to look for, what to avoid, and how to go about getting the things you need without drowning in a sea of worthless metal and plastic crap. (Oh no, there's that word again)

I also really appreciate the care in which the options and "rules" for building a tool chest are covered. I know that this will be one of the hot projects for this year and a couple more after the release of this book, but I was already in the market to start building my own this year so I can get the Family Heirloom chest out of my shop and into my home where it can last another generation or two. Chris's guidance will help me build a chest that will fit me for the rest of my life and hopefully beyond.

So, you now have an idea what tools are worthwhile to start with. What do you want to know next? How to use them to get results. Here's where I would hand my No-Name Apprentice a copy of The Essential Woodworker." Robert Wearing uses a couple hundred pages to break down the process of woodworking into it's fundamentals. All the basics are here, from flattening a board, to laying out and executing basic joinery. It touches on finishing, sharpening, shop made tools, and solid design basics.

The No-Name Apprentice now has exposure to good tools and solid technique. What else could you want but some thing to build. "The Joiner and Cabinet Maker" is the perfect book for that, included along with a great story about an apprentice named Tomas are three projects that build these skills one on top the other, from a simple packing box to a chest of drawers.

After working through these three books, the No-Name Apprentice should be ready to move on to bigger, better things.

It makes me wonder though, could Chris Schwarz be to woodworking what the wizard Gandalf is to the hobbits? One more question. If you were to consider these books to be woodworking's "The Lord Of The Rings," then which book would you consider to be "The Hobbit?" 

Ratione et Passionis


  1. Derek,
    Nice post. I enjoy the way you've framed your discussion of the Lost Art Press books. My nominee for "The Hobbit" would have to be Schwarz's own "Workbenches", my all time favorite woodworking book.

  2. Great post Derek. I have to get my hands on these books. I've been putting them off for a while.

  3. I would have a different list. I have not read Christopher Schwarz's new book so that one is out.

    I really love the enthusiasm and breadth of Roy Underhill's books. They are as fun as his television shows. They also cover a huge range of types of projects.

    Another book that is a treasure is Albert Jackson and David Day's "The Complete Manual of Woodworking." It is a miniature encyclopedia of information on tools and wood along with construction details on many different types of furniture. It is completely agnostic regarding power or hand tools. It is kind of like the Time Life books on woodworking but much more concise and useful. Loads of useful information if you want to look up something like standard table and chair heights. That kind of stuff.

    A really interesting book is John Whelan's "The Wooden Plane: Its History, Form and Function". It covers a huge amount of information on planes and moldings as well. Unfortunately, out of print and real pricey now. He also had a book on plane making that was interesting but not that much content and not as useful as Fink's unless you were trying to reproduce period planes.

    If you are interested in turning, the Holtzapffel books are great if you can get past the style (They were from the late 1800's and were meant as a treatise on turning.) Not a real gripping read but loads of information.

    I enjoyed Krenov, Nakashima, and the like to read once but honestly fell short of the "Must Read" list in my opinion.

    One I would really like to read because I enjoyed his articles would be John Alexander's "Make A Chair From A Tree: An Introduction To Working Green Wood." Another would like to read would be Cecil Pierce's books: "Fifty Years a Plane Maker and User" and "The Precision Cutting of Dovetails." The little I have read from Cecil Pierce is so clear and cuts through all the hype with an axe.

    Tangental to woodworking would be Alexander Weygers "The Complete Modern Blacksmith".

  4. Dyami, I don't own either of his Workbench books, but I have pretty much read the whole of the first one while sitting comfortable in those puffy chairs at Barnes & Nobles, and I would agree they are good books and very definitive about the subject. The nice thing about the Anarchist Tool Chest book is he gives an overview of workbenches and appliances in there too including the "rules" for workbenches. So you may have a good point.

    Jimmy, These books provided me with several "slap yourself in the forehead" moments where I went, DUH. Between the exercises in Essential Woodworker and the info in the Anarchist, I went to the shop and fixed the issues my #4 smoothing plane had been giving me, I had been wrestling with it for a while and these books helped diagnose and fix the problem, no outright, but they gave me enough info in the right way that it sunk in, and now I'm getting whispery shavings with the smoother again.

    David, By no means are these three books exhaustive for woodworking knowledge, but they are a good "gateway" into the world. I wish I had them when I was starting. I haven't read all the books you've listed but some of them.

    I was a little dissapointed in St. Roy's last release, "Wedge and Edge" I checked it out from the library looking for info on riving boards from a log, and I got a description of the tools, but not the process. Not like I was after anyhow.

    I agree that Krenov and Nakashima are fun to read, but really not critical or even best for someone getting started, and I agree that "Modern Blacksmith" is a awesome book. I want to play with that side of things but I have to find the right spot to build a forge.

    I think if I were to add on after these three, for the beginning woodworker, I would go with Leonard Lee's "Complete Guide to Sharpening" and Bob Flexner's "Flexner on Finishing" and try to connect them to info on design by George Walker (I think he only has DVD's now but I love his blog)

    As far as what I want to read next... I have been thinking about Alexander's "Chair from a Tree" for a while. I may just have to pursue that. I will probably have the info I was looking for in "Wedge and Edge"


  5. Derek, you've finally sold me on these books. I've wanted to get The Joiner and Cabinet Maker for some time, but have been reluctant. I'll place the order today in hopes that I'll receive the books before my trip to Germany. Nothing better than a good pint and a good book!

  6. Vic, The Joiner and Cabinet Maker, and the Toolchest book are both MUST HAVES in my opinion.

    You won't be able to put them down, and you'll want to read them again as soon as your done.

    Perfect for a long flight.

  7. Vic, I agree with Brander, perfect for that flight, Have a safe trip.



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