Chris Schwarz's Blog

Highly Recommended: ‘The Practical Woodworker’

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I was going to write about these books when they were first republished, but by the time I got around to it, ShopWoodworking.com had sold out.

The Practical Woodworker” edited by Bernard E. Jones is a one of the backbones of a good library on the craft of woodworking and is now back in print and in stock. Published in the early part of the 20th century, this four-volume set seeks this:

“…(T)o instruct the reader as to make it possible for any person, even for one who has never seen a plane or driven a nail, to be able from this book alone to make any ordinary piece of woodwork by sound craftsman-like methods.”

And “The Practical Woodworker” delivers on that promise. Written by a group of 31 experts in the field, the books explain every aspect of the craft (even building airplanes) using straightforward explanations plus thousands of line drawings and photographs. When I needed build a wooden crate to ship a piece of furniture to a customer, I looked up the chapter (yes, the chapter) on making crates. There I found many examples of how to put them together using little material.

There are sections on almost everything imaginable, from making wooden wheelbarrows, making billiards tables, carving, veneering, toys, ladders, beehives, proper kennels and on and on.

Of course, the set goes deep into the topics of tools and techniques, with perhaps the best explanation I’ve seen of how to tune and use a Stanley 55 plane. There are chapters on joinery both simple and complex (such as secret miter dovetails).

The chapter on handplaning is outstanding. It is the only explanation I’ve read that shows how to read the grain on a board using the help of the annular rings. So it’s not just your run-of-the-mill basic stuff. It’s all there.

Oh, and the chapters on workbenches and tool chests are outstanding as well.

This reprint by Popular Woodworking Books is classy. The books are hardbound, Smythe-sewn and made in the United States. They will be a permanent addition to your library and deserve a place next to the other classics in the woodworking genre.

The Practical Woodworker” is available for $85 with free domestic shipping from ShopWoodworking.com.

Highly, highly recommended.

— Christopher Schwarz

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