Over 20 years ago I wanted to increase my knowledge in woodworking. I was a carpenter, but felt the need to enhance my skill level. Now we did have the internet back then, but the more reliable information was in books. And where better to find books, than the library. The library near me had a huge selection of woodworking books and I believe I checked out every one!
Today, that same library only has 5 woodworking books in it. I couldn’t believe it! The subject matter that I love so much is becoming discontinued. What a shame. However, over the 20 years, I have started my own library of woodworking books. I have over 200 in my collection, so I thought I would share what I think are essential books for someone to have in their own bookshelf at their home.
Originally, I thought i would give my top 10 picks. But scanning over my collection, I have books of all categories. This makes a top ten difficult because woodworking is such a broad scope. Someone might just be starting out, while others might be highly skilled. Some like history, while others prefer art. And don’t forget the age old battle of power tools verse hand tools. So I will try to give my best picks for each selection.
I think my number one book I use on a regular basis is “Illustrated Cabinetmaking” by Bill Hylton. This is not only packed with hundreds of ideas, but gives a good description of different joints, the terms and parts of furniture as well as reference diagrams showing stand sizes and spacing for building furniture. An example is the standard height of a dining room table with measurements for ample knee and elbow spacing. This is, a great book to have for ideas and references and is great for a beginner and the well experienced.
For a beginner (and the skilled woodworker), a wonderful book for learning joinery is “Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking Joinery:Tools and Techniques.” This book will teach you everything. Dovetail, tenons, grooves, rabbets, mortises, you name it. From simple to complex. It will also show you different ways to make one joint. You can learn to make a dovetail with hand tools or with power tools. There is a lot of variety in this book. Everyone has a favorite tool and this book will show you how to make different joints with the tool you prefer.
For those of you who are really looking to get into the technical detailed points of fine furniture, one of the best books you will find is, “How to design and construct period furniture” by Franklin H. Gottshall. This book has not only details of furniture design but has actually formulas and rules for correctly dividing the total mass into vertical and horizontal, major and minor divisions. In short, this book shows the science behind the art.
If you are more of a hand tool person you can’t go wrong with Roy Underhill “The Woodwright’s Apprentice”. Roy has several books that he has written, but I think this book has the best in terms of projects to build and knowledge of the old hand tools.
“The Complete Woodworker” by Bernard E. Jones. This book was reprinted in 1980 from books at the turn of the century. It shows proper usage of hand tools and joinery techniques. It also has a variety of projects to make. Projects range from a workbench to an actual workshop. It reads very much like a school textbook, but there is no harm in going back to school, right?
If rustic style furniture is more to your liking, then “Green Woodworking, a hands on approach” by Drew Langsner is one that you need in your collection. Again, this is a hand tool book, but this shows you how to work and deal with wood that has just been cut down from a tree. There are certain rules and techniques in dealing with green or wet wood and Drew is a master in teaching this.
A great book for the history of the craft of woodworking is,”Windsor Chairmaking” by Michael Dunbar. Besides giving “how to “ steps for making the classic Windsor chair, he gives a great recollection of the days gone by of what a woodworker had to do just to earn a living. All in all, a very enjoyable read.
If power tool is more where you gravitate, then Glen Huey’s Illustrated guide to Building Period Furniture is for you. This book show you step by step with clear photos how to make intricate moldings and joints with power tools. And as a bonus, it comes with a DVD to watch him perform some techniques.
Maybe you are thinking of turning your woodworking hobby more professional? If that is the case, I suggest “Jim Tolpin’s Guide to becoming a Professional Cabinetmaker.” Jim shows you his method for building cabinets but also give useful tips on shop layout, work flow, marketing and pricing your work to become competitive in the cabinet trade. If you are going to make the transition, then this book is where the tire meets the road.
The last book is aimed more at the serious period furniture maker. “The complete illustrated guide to Shaping Wood, by Lonnie Bird, shows step by step the methods used to create some of the iconic shapes of period furniture. Ball and claw, flutes, reeds, ellipses, turnings and much more, all done with power and hand tools. This is the skill level that I hope to one day aspire to in workmanship.
Some other books I really enjoy having in my collection are;
Traditional Woodworking Handtools by Graham Blackburn
The Handplane Book by Garrett Hack
American Furniture Understanding styles, construction and quality by John T. Kirk
The Encyclopedia of Furniture by Joseph Aronson
Woodworkers’ Essential by Ken Horner
Carving Classical Styles in Wood by Frederick Wilbur
Early American Country Furniture by Denis Hambucken
The Story of American Furniture by Thomas Hamilton Ormsbee
These are some of the books I think you can’t go wrong with owning. All of these books (and more) will not only improve your skills in wood, but deepen your appreciation for this fine craft we call woodworking. And that makes me want to DANCE!!!!