Among all the important historical woodworking books out there, Peter Nicholson’s “The Mechanic’s Companion” does not get enough notice.
Perhaps that’s because it wasn’t the first English-language book on joinery (Joseph Moxon was the pioneer in this field), or perhaps it’s not as well-known because original copies of the book are expensive. I paid $100 for my copy, and I got lucky.
The good news is that as of today, “Mechanic’s Companion” is back in print and at a price that hand-tool woodworkers can afford. At my insistence, our store now carries this book, and the price is $26.95.
This reprint was a labor of love by Gary Roberts, who runs the Toolemera Press, a small publishing outfit that specializes in bringing historical texts back to life.
Unlike your typical cheesy reproduction, Roberts takes great pains to scan every single page and tidy them up. The result is that it feels like you are reading an original, but only at a fraction of the cost.
To keep costs down, Roberts uses a domestic print-on-demand service. This is a paperback book and the printing is surprisingly crisp compared to many other print-on-demand books I’ve seen out there. Roberts knows what he is doing and how to squeeze the most out of the medium.
So why should you buy this book? Because it is one of the classic and most readable texts on joinery from the early 19th century. Unlike other technical writers at the time, Nicholson was an accomplished cabinetmaker, who later became an author and teacher.
So he writes with the authority that “gentlemen scholars” of the time don’t have. He was born in the shop – his father was a stone mason – and writes from first-hand experience about everything from sharpening to mouldings to joinery. And he does so with a clarity that surpasses earlier authors.
I first read this book as a terrible scan that I crammed onto my laptop and read on a long overseas flight (and you can reproduce that experience by downloading this public-domain book from GoogleBooks). This Toolemera edition surpasses the digital version in every way. It’s easier on the eyes to read and looks better on a shelf.
The book is 363 pages long, though not all of the book is about woodworking. The first two large sections of “The Mechanic’s Companion” are on carpentry and joinery. Those are followed by shorter sections on bricklaying, masonry, smithing and turning (among other topics).
I hope that you will help support Roberts and his efforts to bring these early woodworking texts back at a price that all of us can afford. Like Roberts, I still love printed books and I’m thrilled to see this particular one back in print. Click here to get to the book in our store.
— Christopher Schwarz