Chris Schwarz's Blog

Highly Recommended: ‘The Mechanic’s Companion’

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

13 thoughts on “Highly Recommended: ‘The Mechanic’s Companion’

  1. kirkent

    Chris,

    With the availability of many old publications on woodworking, can we trust them for furniture making today? Have you found some instruction that is just wrong?

    Thanks, kirk

    1. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author

      Kirk,

      I have found that it is actually the modern books that cannot be trusted.

      Vintage texts were written during a time when tool skills were commonplace and the overall knowledge level about wood and making things with wood was far higher than it is today.

      So while I wouldn’t use a medical text from 1839, I’ll always trust the woodworking ones from that period.

      Chris

  2. David Keller

    A comment to Chris & Gary – it would be wonderful to be able to order the print of this book in an unbound state, and have it leather bound (at our expense, of course). Many of us would love to have an original 1835 edition of this, but holy cow is it expensive from an antiquarian bookseller. A leather-bound modern copy would be almost as good, though….

    1. Gary Roberts

      David

      The cost of printing and binding in leather would exceed that of an original!

      Hard cover with or without a paper jacket is not a problem, just a bit more expensive. Wouldn’t it be great though to be able to order a print on demand book in a blind embossed, gilt, leather binding?

    1. Megan Fitzpatrick

      That’s the half-finished one that’s been kicking around the office (and getting kicked) for months. So he can (and should) blame any defect on the abuse.

  3. Gary Roberts

    For clarification, I use Lightning Source, the POD service of Ingram Group. This gives me access to domestic US, Europe, UK and Pacific Rim markets through Ingram. Thus, shipping is local rather than overseas for anyone living in those realms. Which, if you think about it, is pretty incredible.

    Gary

  4. Mark

    I totally agree with Chris about the copy available on Google. The book itself is great but it’s a slog to get through when reading those scanned images. I have an ongoing argument with a friend who’s into the various e-format versions and their accompanying electronic gadgets. I much prefer paper. There’s nothing like a nicely bound copy in ones hands. I’m putting my order in for the book version today. A big thanks to guys like Chris and Gary and others who bring this stuff back and put it to print.

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