Last updated: November 2005
Some essential books for any woodworker.
If you want a single volume that teaches you pretty much everything on the basics of cabinetmaking, then this is the one to choose.
Tage Frid is an interesting writer. He's hugely opinionated on many subjects, unusually so for some - most famously, his use of a bow saw for everything. This all makes for a book that's readable, as well as a good reference. Illustrations are copious, clear and useful and the general production of the book is excellen...
It's not a particularly wide-ranging book. Part of Tage Frid's approach is to rigorously ignore techniques that aren't necessary (in his view). You won't find obscure twisted dovetails in here, but you will learn to do the useful things, and to do them well.
An excellent book for any student of furniture making, looking to put the time in to learn their craft seriously.
As much a classic of the English craft furniture-making tradition as Tage Frid is for the American.
Perhaps more historical than Frid, and less tutorial.
Canonical books that every woodworker should have.
Instructs readers in the art of cutting, seasoning, machining, joining, and bending wood.
I cannot praise this book highly enough. The information contained in here is essential for any woodworker. Perhaps there are other ways to find this out, but this is by far the best book I know that contains all the useful things you need.
Wood is tricky stuff. It shrinks, expands and splits. It can't be used until it has gone through a complex drying and seasoning process. If you want to design furniture that doesn't open up gaps or, worst of all, split, then you need to understand this.
An incredibly well-written book. Just the right depth to be useful, yet readable.
Describes the anatomy of trees and provides instructions for identifying the wood of nearly two hundred species.
Introduces wood finishing tools, materials, and techniques, and covers oil finishes, stains, shellac, lacquer, varnish, and water-based finishes.
Finishing beginners start here. Generally accepted as the best tutorial from scratch, this is a good book whether you're trying to improve your technique, or to learn a more complex one.
The next step up from Flexner, for those who take their wood finishing seriously.
The expert's description of true french polishing, from one of its acknowledged masters.
Although this is also a competent text on general finishing, the real interest of this book is in its historical recipes for old processes and mixtures. If you're looking for the use of alkanet root or dragon's blood and you don't fancy wading through the old references yourself, this is the book to read.
Sadly out of print and almost unavailable, snap a copy up whenever you see one. Prices are steep though.
Hack (professional furniture maker and avid tool collector) extols the joys of turning off the power equipment, putting hand to wood, and bringing out the beauty of a project with skill and superior hand tools. Numerous color and b&w photographs illuminate 13 chapters covering every type of plane
This isn't as valuable a book as his first book.
Now that's no real criticism, because the first book is excellent and no mean target to reach again. My 4 star rating is simply because I have to make some sort of distinction.
It's hard to understand this book. Simply put, it's a list of designs (with enough detail to build them) of furniture pieces that very few people would ever want to make. Each design is taken to pieces, the design decisions are analysed,and there's a lot of discussion about why he chose to make them the way he did. - but they're still ugly, and I wouldn't have any of them in my house !
This certainly isn't a book of designs to build. Neither is it a book of instructional manufacture techniques. My respect for Tage Frid is as a teacher of technique, not a designer, and I simply don't like the designs he offers here. Maybe it's an issue of fashion ? This is furniture of the American '50s and '60s, in a strange craftsman-made Eames crossover. Perhaps if you like Dean Martin and Martinis, then you'd like the furniture too.
Is this a useful book ? Yes, but only to a small audience. If you want to think very carefully about subtle design choices and how they affect ergonomics and long term usefulness of a piece of furniture, then this is a good book. The comparisons between the dozen different ways to make a pull-out table are a good example - few other texts will show more than one of these, let alone compare them, they just describe "an extendable table" and leave you thinking they're all equally good.
On the whole, I find the first book of this series to be one of the best cabinetry teaching books around, but this one is strangely lacking. It's useful (to some readers), but not so widely useful that I'd happily recommend it to others. If you want guidance on design, then I suggest you read Krenov first.
Presents and explores the furniture style developed by the Shakers, from the Shaker bench to the highboy chest, through a series of more than two hundred full-color photographs of both traditional and rare pieces from Hancock, Lebanon, and other Shaker communities.
An excellent book by the leading expert on the Shaker's furniture. The book is in two sections; a historical survey of the Shaker movement, and photographs of museum pieces.
The history of the Shakers is well presented, with just the right amount of detail to explain their principles of design and their geographical organisation. It's not a full history or theological description of the movement, nor is it intended as one, but it explains a lot more than the usual furniture book. Some description of modern designs with Shaker influences, particularly from Danmark, is also welcome.
The furniture is illustrated by large clear colour photographs, usually one per page, with a simple description and most valuably, their date and origin. This is one of the few books I've seen that illustrated the range of coloured finishes found on Shaker pieces.
This is not a constructional guide to reproducing Shaker pieces. There are any number of such books, from Thomas Moser's (somewhat surpassed) "How To Build Shaker Furniture" and Ejner Handberg's valuable series of volumes of bare measured drawings to Fine Woodworking's "In the Shaker Style". Anyone serious about reproducing Shaker pieces though, or understanding the style's development enough to be able to design their own stylistically consistent pieces, would certainly benefit from reading it.
Photography and production values are as good as ever from Taunton.
Looks at the history and influences of the arts and crafts movement, and shows furniture produced by Gustav Stickley, Frank Lloyd Wright, and other designers
"Craftsman", "Arts and Crafts" or "Mission" there are a great many sub-styles within the overall trends of 1900 America. This book is a good overview to all of them.
Rather than concentrating on just one maker of furniture or ceramics in isolation, it covers nearly all of the makers and their products. The usual favourites are here, the Stickleys, Greene & Greene, but also some of the less known makers of small items.
Format is the classic "coffee table" hardback. Good photographs, mainly of full rooms from some varied and less well-known locations or collectors. They display the pieces well, but it's also nice to see the overall design at work, not just a piece of furniture in isolation. Craftsman was always a style and an attitude intended to permeate the whole house, not just one or two display pieces.
There are a few good "raw plans" books around too, but this is the only one with good instructional details, and authentic designs.
I have a number of books on Stickley; his designs, his history, and project books on how to reproduce the pieces. Of all these books, this is by far the best for anyone looking to recreate their own piece of furniture.
It's not an exhaustive list of all the pieces, but it's a good selection. There's a good graduation in difficulty and complexity too, so any weekend carpenter should be able to start making high quality furniture.
As well as the projects and plans, there are good sections on the history of Stickley, and on the cabinetmaking techniques you'll need to build them. Neither is (of course) a replacement for any number of other books, but both are just about the right level of detail for what you really need to know.
If you're looking to build your first piece of Stickley, this is the book to start with.
Featuring working shop drawings, this book demonstrates 27 pieces of authentic Craftsman household furniture by Gustav Stickley and his contemporaries. Every type of furniture is represented here: Morris chairs, chests of drawers, wall shelves, bookcases, sideboards, dining tables, occasional tables, beds, side chairs, and rockers. Each project includes a perspective view along with elevations, sections and details, and complete measurements.
This is a collection of shop drawings. No pictures to give you a sense of the finished item, no glowing descriptions to inspire you. If you're looking for a pretty complete set of dimensioned sketches to make another Stickley piece, then this is the book for you.
If this is your first introduction to the style, or you're an inexperienced cabinetmaker, then you'd be happier with Bavaro and Mossman's "The Furniture of Gustav Stickley". The drawings are good dimensioned sketches, not complete drawings of every detail or cutting lists. You're expected to know how to build these pieces without further instruction.
There's an introductory section on basic techniques. I don't know why the editors felt this was necessary; it's nowhere near enough detail for a beginner, and most readers won't need any of it.
I enjoyed this book, and I'll build pieces from it - but be aware of what you're getting.
Unabridged reprints of two Mission furniture catalogues; "Craftsman Furniture Made by Gustav Stickley" and "The Work of L.&J.G.Stickley"
This is a historical study of fine American furniture around the 18th century. The pieces included are all premium quality items, and as other reviewers have noted it doesn't include more common or rustic pieces. The extent of the period covered is quite generous, from the mid-17th to the Federal and Empire periods of the early 19th. Furniture development went through a fascinating period in the 18th century, from designs and techniques that had changed little from Tudor times, through to the celebrated Goddard and Townsend secretaries.
Geographical differences are well described. Although all the pieces are American, there's a great deal of context and comparison with the rest of Europe. Styles, traditions and regional variations are particularly well traced. I was fascinated by the identification of a ball-and-claw foot's origin city simply by studying the talons.
A representative range of pieces are described and drawn in splendid detail, obviously intended for other makers. The drawings (a single exploded oblique) are enough for a skilled maker to make a similar piece, but not a replica. Although overall sizes are given, I would have appreciated a few more dimensions and notes on material thickness or dovetail sizes.
A large part of the book is given over to describing manufacturing techniques. This is obviously intended for makers, like the author, but it's a fascinating and well-written historical explanation too. An unusual (and useful) chapter describes how to produce accurately dimensioned drawings from photographs. Finishes are described, but this is mainly for their reproduction. Those seriously interested might also appreciate Marianne Webb's "Conservation and Technology of Lacquer"
It's an excellent book for historians and furniture makers, but it might not be what some collectors are looking for. The pieces included are rare and even a well-heeled collector will also need a guide to the more common pieces that may appear on sale.
Personally, I'm a furniture maker with little interest in the styles of this century. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and although I'm unlikely to build one of these pieces, the understanding it gives me of later styles will prove very useful. I read the book whilst visiting Boston, and I'd certainly recommend it to anyone else who is about to visit the Museum of Fine Arts, or similar collections of such furniture.
This is the perfect introduction for older children or interested adults to the timber framed buildings of England and Wales. It's enough to make a visit to somewhere like Rufford far more interesting, yet simple enough for anyone to pick up and read in one sitting.
A little thicker than the usual Shire books, but still keeping to their usual format of small, lightweight books that offer a neat introduction to a subject
This is very much a hands-on book. It follows the American East-coast tradition of rural timber framing. The techniques are described with reference to a simple project, a small toolshed.
For once, the seemingly-mandatory section on the trivial basics of the tools is thankfully short. Some knowledge is assumed, but not much. If you have a modicum of skill and this book, then you can build yourself a toolshed.
It's nice to see a framing book that doesn't stop at the frame. Options for cladding and roofing are described, both from a historical perspective and also some of the more modern and better insulated options. It assumes you're building an unheated shed though, and doesn't describe the issues of chimneys and habitable windows that would be needed for full-blown housebuilding.
The book has its failings. It isn't a historical review of the techniques, it's inaccurate in its description of pre-colonial European framing, and it entirely ignores Japan. It's a book for the D-I-Y framer, not the historian. There's a lot more to framing than just the American Square system, and if this were the only book you read, then you might get that impression.
One omission is that of detailed calculations for loading, deflections and ultimate strengths. The author's assumption is that we'll only ever want to build a shed, and can simply follow their designs. Some discussion of how to go beyond this would have been welcome, even if it's just enough to stop the floors bouncing.
This isn't the only book that a serious framer will need, but it's a very good start for the amateur.
An American carpenter travels to Japan and becomes an apprentice during the construction of a major temple building.
Presents an intimate view of master carpenters at work in the reconstruction of an 8th-century temple in Nara. The book captures the technical side of traditional Japanese techniques as well as the spirit of the craft.
This introduction of Japanese joinery delves into the history and development of Japanese carpentry, and it also reveals many secrets of Japanese joinery. It presents 48 joints, selected from among the several hundred known and used today. With clear isometric projections complementing the photographs, any carpenter can duplicate these bequests from the traditional Japanese carpenter. They can be applied to projects as large as the buildings for which most of them were originally devised or as small as a sewing box.
This is a very restrained book, a series of black and white photos of completed joints, with short descriptions of each. It's a popular introductory text, and deservedly so.
There are two limitations in this book, perhaps surpassed by more recent books such as "The Complete Japanese Joinery". There's no description of how to choose these joints, and where they might approriately be used. More seriously, there's no description of how to lay them out, or their traditional proportions.
Still worth having.
There are two traditions to this book, Asian lacquers (true urushiol lacquer) and Western attempts to copy them. It's hard to judge which is the more interesting, and students of Western furniture who think they have no interest in lacquer might find themselves pleasantly surprised.
The main topics covered are the history of lacquer and its techniques, and modern needs for conservation and restoration of artefacts. It's not intended as a guide to applying lacquer and although lacquer artists would find this a valuable resource, it's not going to teach you the skills on its own.
Throughout the book there is an air of knowledgeable competence. This is not some vague historical text, it's rooted in the work of a skilled conservator and their research. Despite all this, it's a well-written and enjoyable read, without the dryness that might have been expected or even gladly accepted, given the immense detail contained in it.
Lose one star for the high price. It's worth it, but it does limit those who might have access to this important book.
This is a reprint of an old book; privately printed in '40s Beijing and as rare then as it is today. Until this reprint, it was much sought after and hard to find any copy of it.
The content of the book is a Western connoisseur's survey of Chinese furniture. It's not a scholarly work on its history (although a brief guide is included), nor is it a "how to make" project guide. What it does show is the devoted amateur's best effort (and a fine efort it is) to catalogue the furniture he saw at the time. It's this naive (in the best sense) nature that makes the book so valuable; these are simply pieces that were available to the author. Not a commercial selection by expert or exporter, not some chronological section contrived to tell a subjective history, just those pieces available in a comparatively un-Westernised China that appealed to the author's eye.
For an amateur's book of this time, the production quality was staggering. Originally produced as a cardboard portfolio with a huge 161 plates and many calligraphed pages, Dover have preserved much of the atmosphere whilst binding it into a more convenient form. Modern DTP standards means it's less impressive than it was, and it would be improved by rewriting the text to follow the relevant plates, but overall I'm happy they preserved the original character.
The drawings are of good quality, and detailed enough to allow reproduction by an experienced cabinetmaker. They are not simple though ! Nor are the designs or techniques amenable to easy copying by a Westerner. As a furniture maker, I doubt if I'm going to copy more than two curved lines from this book (but what curves they are !); the styles are just too alien for me to emulate. I'm still delighted to have read the book though, and if my construction techniques haven't changed, my design draughtsmanship has certainly been influenced.
Congratulations again to Dover Publications on reprinting another rare classic that deserves a wider audience. They, like Taunton, are on my list of woodwork book publishers where I'll happily buy any interesting topic they offer, sure in the knowledge that it will be well carried out.
Designed for amateurs interested in the restoration of antique or period wooden furniture, this handbook provides step-by-step explanations of techniques and methods. It gives advice on how to date furniture, how to restore damaged structures and surfaces, and how to apply finishing touches. The reader is not expected to be a skilled cabinet maker, but he or she will be shown, in step- by-step detail, the most frequently encountered restoration tasks and problems. The experienced amateur should have no difficulty in following the techniques and methods utilized, while the less experienced should find much practical information showing how objects can be restored.
This is an excellent book, but more than that it's the _standard_ reference book on oak furniture. Extensively illustrated, it's commonly used as a thesaurus of patterns and styles, so that pieces are often described as "like the illustration on page 555 of Chinnery".
It's mainly about the "oak period" of English furniture, up to the Restoration. Quite unusually it also goes beyond this, describing the less fashionable pieces that remained in oak or ash even into the Georgian period. There's also some interesting comparison with early colonial-period furniture from New England.
It's an expensive book, but it's so good that it really is worth it.
I've bought a rash of books on smithing, most ranging from disappointing (Bealer) to extremely poor (Weygers). This is by far the best, and one of very few that I still refer to.
It takes a modern view of smithing. We no longer forge crankshafts, and farriers are specialists. Those who are working smiths today will mainly be producing indoor art and furniture or outdoor architectural work; gates, railings etc. This book addresses a number of audiences; those looking for a coffee table book of beautiful work, those starting out with smithing, and those who can already work the metal but seek inspiration on design. All will be well pleased with it.
The author also teaches and, having read this book, I'm looking forward to taking a course with him.
Highly compressed lessons in metalsmithing as a craft, illustrated with over 2,500 drawings, show the student how to polish, shape, connect, cast and assemble metalwork
Largely about silversmithing and similar-scale items, this is an excellent guide to benchwork techniques for hand-working metal from thin sheet and wire.
Just some other books I've been impressed with
A woodworker himself, and a frequent contributor to Fine Homebuilding and Fine Woodworking magazines, Schleining presents a stunning selection of boxes crafted for a variety of purposes by people with various backgrounds and expertise
This book tries to do two things simultaneously, and manages both.
First of all, it's a glorious coffee table book. Lots of high quality illustrations of beatiful and inspirational work. If you appreciate fine cabinetry, you'll love looking at these.
Secondly, it's clearly trying to inspire other makers too. It's not a "how to" book, and you need to be pretty skilful to start emulating the quality of the work in here, but it's also full of new and exciting ideas to motivate your own designs.