American Furniture of the 18th Century by Jeffrey Greene

American Furniture of the 18th Century is in my opinion one of the best period furniture books that is available. It’s an affordable buy in most cases on the second hand market, and I believe it’s the kind of book that will stand you in good stead for years to come. Its 311 pages long and is written by Jeffrey P Greene, on the second hand market you should be able to pick this up for around $30. 

Its a large coffee table book format the book covers off a lot of information, and I am sometimes overwhelmed trying to process and categorize it all. I’d suggest that it’s the kind of book that you will read, and reread as you progress through your woodworking career. The kind of reference book that you’ll refer back to when faced with a problem – but also the kind you’ll pick up a few times a decade and re-read in front of the fire – wondering how you missed all those gems on previous readings.

I believe it will evolve and keep pace with your growth in skills and provide a good starting point for any investigation into a particular form. I could possibly rank this book in terms of history techniques and projects. But I think it’s fairer to simply give it a top ranking in the category good all round books – this book is the benchmark against which I would evaluate future books dealing with different styles.

As I run my eye over the bookshelf, its easy to see how a book from the Shaker Encyclopaedia to Cottage Furniture in South Africa, The pine furniture of Early New England or World Furniture could all be held against this book and their quality judged accordingly. I’d heartily recommend you get a copy if you can find one at a decent price.

Join me on the show as I review it, and then listen to a great interview with Shannon Rogers as we discuss it further.

Series 2 Episode 5 – Craeft by Alexander Langlands

It is safe to say that Craeft covers a very important idea, one that is influential and important. Mike from Mortise and Tenon is a author and woodworker who I admire a lot and his article on the Radical Efficiency of Green Woodworking cites Langlands in the notes and it is clear that the book is an important influence on his thinking.

If you’re interest in history or an amateur archaeologist, heck even if you’re simply curious this is an interesting book. However I would suggest that it is not a book for every woodworking library. Join me on the show as I explore why.

Series 2 Episode 3&4 – Mouldings in Practice by Matt Bickford

Moulding planes are expensive.

If you’re considering buying a half set through a reputable second hand dealer, or ordering from any one of the new makers that make these traditional planes you are in for a lot of money. A new set of two can easily cost $300-$400 and a vintage pair can easily top $100 if they are in good condition. 

Add to this the confusion of what you really need among the huge variety of options, and what to look for when buying, and you can understand why this book is an investment that will save you frustration and money.

I have quite a few planes on my shelf that felt like bargains when I bought them, but have become paperweights as I’ve learnt more about making mouldings. A cheap plane is seldom a bargain if it’s not what you want. Likewise, an expensive plane might be good value if you really need it. You can create 41 profiles with a single set of hollow and rounds. Reading this book is very likely to change the way you go about acquiring moulding planes.

Secondly, moulding planes seem like they are very tricky to use. There is no dark magic here, just a bit of knowledge needed and the book contains a large number of illustrations from Matt that explain what to do. They are color coded and step by step so you know in exactly what order to perform operations.

It’s like paint by numbers for mouldings.

From beginning steps and picture frames, through to duplicating parts on period furniture pieces, I believe that Matt’s book is the next best thing to a course with an expert. And in some ways better, because while the book might lack the personal instruction, a lot of making mouldings is about the process and this book will serve as an excellent reference that you can go back to for years to come. It’s the kind of book that every woodworking club really should have a copy of in their library. 

If, like me, you’re starting on a journey with these planes I can heartily recommend you get a copy of this book. And to quote the author – “ open the doors to infinity”. Join me on the podcast as I explore the book and interview the author.

Series 2 Episode 2 – Mortise and Tenon #6

Issue 6 of Mortise and Tenon Magazine has one of my favorite articles of all time – Mike Updegraff’s excellent piece on the radical efficiency of green woodworking. In a first for the podcast I am reviewing a magazine, although I am sure that anyone who has read M&T will realize that it has more content than many books. I often return to this issue as it has so many thought provoking concepts in it that it is worth a re-read. As far as I am concerned this is the gold standard for a magazine. If you’d like to hear more, join me on my podcast today as I go through why in more detail.

Series 2 Episode 1 – The Lost Carving by David Esterly

Have you ever tried to carve a Celtic weave? Have you ever tried to carve a ball and claw foot? How about a bouquet of flowers sitting on top of a life-sized violin? 

I accept that I have some limitations in what I can do with wood. Generally this means minimizing the gaps in dovetail joints. However today’s podcast reviews the Lost Carving by David Esterly, and he had no such limitations – in fact it’s safe to say that his work is some of the most spectacular carving I have ever seen.

I think the narrative has two main areas of interest for me. The first is David’s journey from struggling student to master. It’s fascinating to understand how badly he wanted to surpass, understand, excel and match Gibbons work, and the realisations he had about art as he went along this route.

Whether its his begrudging acceptance of sharpening as something he had to do, or the experimentation with different woods, I would suggest that the the book has a resonance with any woodworker. And there are some great quotes and thoughts to go with the story. A favorite of mine was:

“at my own workbench I slowly graduated to different kinds of mistakes, The quality of my errors improved”

It reminds me in a way of Rogowski’s line of thought that you’re not working on the wood at the bench, you’re working on yourself. Which got me to thinking about the difference between quality and perfection. The book is full of ideas like this, that I think are worth pondering. In fact I’d go as far as to suggest you spread out the book over a few weeks of reading. Read a bit, stop at a logical point, and then spend some time mulling over the thoughts before progressing.It’s a bit like Krenov’s Cabinet Maker’s notebook in that regard. Take your time on the journey – it will reward a slow an careful reading.

If you’d like to listen to the full review, you can find it wherever you get your podcasts, or listen here:

Episode 29 – The Artisan of Ipswich (with Shannon Rogers)

The Artisan of Ipswich by Robert Tarule is a book that doesn’t pop up as often as The Joiner and Cabinetmaker – or the Village Carpenter, but for me it is one of the best historical books about wood and woodworking. I had the pleasure of interviewing Shannon Rogers (The Renaissance Woodworker) on the show and we had a great hour going through what makes this book so special.

This book was an incredible find for me relatively early in my hand tool career – I’d never read anything like it that focussed on Shop based research. It feels in many ways that this set the groundwork for Author’s such as Christopher Schwarz and more recently Joshua Klein. When I looked at the format of the Lost Art Press version of The  Joiner and Cabinet Maker it’s hard not to immediately think about The Artisan of Ipswich. So I feel in a way that this book by Robert Tarule helped shape the way of writing of some of the best woodworking authors.

I also found interesting in the book is the theme of how Thomas Dennis was likely to solve problems in a specific manner which was a result of his apprenticeship in a long tradition. This struck a chord with me as in one way, learning from indirect experience minimizes errors, but at the other extreme, its only practical experimentation and repetition that develops our skills. It seems to me that one of the downsides of the internet, is that while it allows beginners access to a range of material – really the only way to get good at techniques is to do them. And to do lots of them. It feels sometimes that there is so much obsession with doing things the best way, rather than getting on with things and learning to do it well “any way”.

Whenever I read historical accounts I am reminded that a joiner in the 17th century had to work fast. The ways of doing things efficiently were hard-wired into his head, so work was repeatable, and accomplished almost without thought. I often hear how hand tools are “slow”, but my experience has been different. I find that doing different things quickly is very possible with hand tools. This past weekend I had lunch with a friend of a friend, and he found out I was a woodworker. He mentioned they were doing a team building and he needed some tools, one thing led to another and he was looking at pictures of my tool room. And he was a bit taken aback at the lack of power. Turns out he wants to strip a bunch of pallets and make some benches. I reckon if we raced on one or two maybe 3 benches I’d beat him with a saw, plane, hammer and some nails. Possibly beyond this he would gain an edge on me – but frankly I have no desire to make 4 benches for my house. 

If you want to hear more Shannon’s history and learning from his work at the Steppingstone Museum, and why I believe this book is one any woodworker would benefit from reading, you can listen to the full podcast here: