Thursday, August 18, 2016

A few of my favorite (wood working) books and videos

There are a lot of woodworking books out there:  some are good, some are bad, and some are just weird.  Last week, someone asked me what books I'd recommend, and I had to stop to think about it.

After consideration, here are some of my favorites.  This list isn't anything near exhaustive, nor am I making any claim that everyone who wants to be a woodworker should read them.  They're just what comes to mind when I think about what books have been valuable to me, in no particular order.

1) The New Traditional Woodworker, by Jim Tolpin.  For my full review, click here.  Jim Tolpin looks a lot at how to set up a functional workflow, and what tools are necessary if you're going to use all (or mostly) hand tools, and includes directions on how to make some basic jigs and tools you'll want.  This one is fairly easy to find, and an excellent starting point.

2) The Anarchist's Toolchest, by Christopher Schwarz.  For my full review, click here.  I'm always a little leery of recommending this one, despite how much I like it.  Chris has a weird sense of humor, and a philosophy that's a little unusual.  That said, I really like his theories on tools and tool use, and I think there's quite a lot of value in the book overall.  His tool list gives not only what he recommends, but why, which I found very helpful.  Overall, I think he gives a pretty good basis for hand tool work.

3) Working Wood 1 & 2: the Artisan Course with Paul Sellers, by Paul Sellers.  Paul Sellers was the first person I got to watch doing hand work in person, which left me with a soft spot for his teaching style.  The book walks through basic tools, and then starts working on projects (a spoon, a stool, a dovetailed box, and a few other things), covering the three basic joints, what tools to use, and so on.  He definitely has an anti-machine bent that comes through in the book, but there's more than enough good information in the book to be worth reading past that.  I also strongly recommend watching his videos, which are mostly available on YouTube.  He mostly does a very good job of explaining what he's doing, and they're fairly short.

4) The Joiner & Cabinetmaker, By Anonymous, Christopher Schwarz and Joel Moskowitz.  This is a good look at what woodworking was like before the era of common powertools.  There were mills to produce boards, powered by water or steam, but an individual shop wasn't likely to have anything powered on hand.  The book walks you through the work of an apprentice in a good joiner's shop, and talks about tools, their use, and habits that a good woodworker should get into if they want to be successful.  Later in the book, Schwarz goes through each of the projects presented in the original text, which is also quite useful.

5) Anything by Roy Underhill.  I love his writing style, and while he's frequently short on details, there's enough information to figure out what he's doing.  I think his videos are stronger, and some of the more recent seasons are available through the PBS website (  He also teaches classes, if you're lucky enough to live near him.  The Woodwright's Apprentice is probably the book of his I appreciate the most, but everything I've read has been worth the time.

6) Woodworking Forums.  There are a lot of good forums out there, and even if you never log in to ask a question, you'll learn a lot from reading them.  At the moment I mostly visit,, and  And if you have specific questions, there are always people with answers on those forums.

As I said, this is nowhere near an exhaustive list.  It's really just my first reactions when someone asks me what to read.  They've been helpful to me, though, so they may also be of use to you.

There's one key thing to remember, though:  Nobody has all the answers.  Woodworking is, in many ways, an idiosyncratic hobby, and different people will find that different techniques work for them.  If you don't like the way one author has you cutting dovetails, find another author.

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  1. Welcome back! Good list and I agree 100% with the titles I have read (adding the rest to my list). One book that I would add to the list is "The Essential Woodworker" by Robert Wearing. I am just finishing it up and it is similar to Paul Sellers "Working Wood 1 & 2" with more detail on general best practices and things to consider in every furniture project. With little to no information on making a specific piece.

    1. Thanks! It's good to be able to type again.

      I think that one is still on my "Try to remember to buy" list. Hopefully I'll come across it soon!