American Canopy by Eric Rutkow

This is a beautiful book. If you like history and want to see the story of the American nation told through a completely different lens – well this is the book to buy. Essentially from before the colonists had set out on the Mayflower, right through to the current environmental movement – what Eric does is take you through each phase of American history as it related to trees. There’s the terror of the woods experienced by early settlers, through the hayday of logging and great commercial enterprises and the story of the orange plantations of the West. There’s the American Chestnut and borer’s and blight, battles to recognize the forests as precious natural resource and the CCC under Roosevelt as a response to the Great Depression.

I could not imagine a better history of the US forests and trees, as well as the characters that drove the story. Perhaps by the time you have finished it, you will recognize the true significance of everything from Johnny Appleseed to Prometheus.

The Essential Woodworker by Robert Wearing

The Essential Woodworker by Robert Wearing is a book that is frequently suggested to me by listeners to the podcast. I feel that in many ways this is one of the best books to start you at the beginning and get you to the place where you are comfortable to start out on your own. The author’s teaching style – honed by years in the classroom making sure he helped students to achieve their goals – is very thorough without being verbose.

The book is easy reading and doesn’t mess around. A few pages in and you’re stripping down a plane and getting into some pretty serious construction. If you’ve been thinking of getting into this woodworking thing – and knew you were only allowed one book ever on the topic – well this is a strong contender.

Where have all the planes gone? An interview with Thomas Lie-Nielsen

Thomas Lie-Nielsen was kind enough to join me on the show and give some insight into the kinds of shortages created by Covid. There are some obvious implications that you could have foreseen, but also quite a few that I had not thought about. I posed the question to him as a friend on a woodworking forum asked why he couldn’t get a plane at any of the normal places, and I thought rather than speculating – I’d go straight to the source.

Thomas was a fun guy to talk to, and I really appreciate that he took the time to give the interview. Sadly, it’ll be a little longer before we see the 140’s back in production, but there is some light at the end of the trouble. Join me on the show as we find out more.

English Arts and Crafts Furniture by Nancy Hiller

I am haunted by the Voysey chair. No matter that quite a bit of time has passed since I first read this book, I continually find myself breaking off cattail rush when I visit the park. These are twisted on my walk and serve as a reminder in the car that I really want to get around to building this chair.

One of three projects in the book, that chair is a exemplar of Arts and Crafts furniture and joins other (more complicated projects) to give you three great pieces of furniture to build.

But the book is so much more than a furniture “project book” – I feel like Nancy has avoided all the tropes and built a book that shows a honest wide ranging set of examples that give some idea of the extent of the style. The history is fascinating and interwoven into the text and I like the way the entire book has been structured around Ruskin and the nature of gothic.

If you have any interest in this style at all the book is one I feel you must add to your library.

John Ruskin – Unto this Last Audiobook

I did a fun collaboration with the folk at Cut The Craft podcast. Amy and Brien were great to work with and you can find the first chapter at:

I think that this is a book for all time. And many of the topics (if not all of the words) feel as if they could have been written by contemporary authors. I’ve taken the liberty of creating this abridged version of the book as a audio book over a series of podcasts. Basically the changes I have made are to exclude archaic English and replace these with simpler words that will be familiar to the listener. Very occasionally I have edited out a duplication or passage that I feel detracts from the core message – like a few of the classical illusions. otherwise this is a direct reading of the book into podcast format.

I hope you will enjoy listening to these as much as I did when I read the text for the first time!

Making Things Work and interview with Nancy Hiller

One of the most fun interviews I have had was the one I did with Nancy Hiller. She truly has a wealth of knowledge and is happy to share. At the same time her no nonsense approach to what life is really like in the field is refreshing. Making Things Work is a book that will rapidly disabuse you of any illusions you may have about what what life is really like – working with real customers and characters.

On the podcast the range of topics is broad as we covered everything from Ruskin to the cover of the book and the homage to Peter Korn’s book. That screwdriver still has a special place in my heart.

Interview with Tim Ewald

I reccently had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Ewald on my show. The keynote presentation – “Programming with Hand Tools” opened my eyes to a world that I did not know even existed. If I had to chart the journey with hand tools, this is the starting point on the map for me.

The presentation is suitable for all hand tool enthusiasts – IT and non-IT in that very little of the presentation actually covers IT in any way. I think you’ll really enjoy watching it. I believe it is one of the stand out influential discussion on hand tools of our time. I’d watch the original presentation first before listening to the podcast.

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.