The Craft Classics in Just 5′

Fight woodworking ignorance 15 minutes each day.

By Christopher Schwarz
Pages: 30-35

From the June 2011 issue #190
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In 1910, Harvard University President Charles W. Eliot laid out a plan that allowed every man and woman to get the basics of a liberal education by reading for 15 minutes a day from a list of books that fi t on a 5′-long shelf. Called “Dr. Eliot’s Five Foot Shelf,” the 51-volume set of books were later renamed “The Harvard Classics” and are still a must-read list for people with ascots, pocket squares and elbow patches on their corduroy jackets. Eliot’s list is comprised of everything from Charles Darwin and Cervantes to Descartes and Confucius.

What does this have to do with woodworking? Every week – if not every day – readers ask us for book recommendations. What they are mostly looking for is a single woodworking book, that will cover everything they need to know about every aspect of the craft, that they can refer to for the rest of their lives. Oh and it would be nice if it were $10. That book doesn’t exist. But the idea of Dr. Eliot’s Five Foot Shelf inspired me to compile a 5′-long shelf of woodworking books that would make you a well-rounded and well-read craftsman. And though I have a sizable woodworking library, I also know that my interests are a little too narrow. I like traditional texts and traditional furniture.

So I enlisted the help of the magazine’s staff and asked them to bring in the books that they consider essential to their woodworking. Then I built a 5′-long shelf and we spent a long morning debating the merits of each book before we placed it in the shelf.

Video: See a short clip of all the books fitting on our 5′ shelf.
Article: Find out reader responses about their favorite books in the comments section of this blog post.
Blog: “Good, Better, Best,” by Glen D. Huey.
Blog:
Christopher Schwarz’s has posted about a number of his favorite woodworking books under “required reading” on his blog.
To buy: We carry many of these books in our store.

From the June 2011 issue #190