Chris Schwarz's Blog

Poll: You Can Have One Woodworking Book

We are
currently at work on our June 2011 issue, which we have dubbed “The
Bookcase Issue,” and it is the first jab at steering the magazine’s
content so that the articles relate to each other in obvious and
sometimes not-obvious ways – a la Woodworking Magazine, may she rest in peace.

that end, we are working on a couple articles for the issue that I
don’t want to say too much about because it will give it away to our
competitors, and I happen to be a bit of the Type A personality.

one of the articles, I’d like to ask your assistance. Just answer the
following question: If you could own only one woodworking book, what
would it be? You can make your choice based on sentimental or practical
factors. Maybe you like the pictures. Maybe you use it every day in the
shop. Perhaps it opened your eyes in some significant way. It can be a
book that’s in print or long out of print.

Simply post the title
of the book and the author as a comment below. You don’t have to say why
you like it, or why you chose it. You are welcome to do that, however.

So thanks in advance!

Oh, and to kick things off, here’s my pick: “Illustrated Cabinetmaking” by Bill Hylton.

— Christopher Schwarz

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97 thoughts on “Poll: You Can Have One Woodworking Book

  1. B Jackson

    Anyway, to continue my oversell job of last post, Guidice’s book did convey some real gems that might save somebody else some money if they are just starting out. One is, since you’re working dry, rather than green, wood, you don’t need a crosscut saw; a rip saw will do nicely and more efficiently. Another is, he’s puzzled, and frankly so am I, by the American failure to adopt the bow saw in place of the carpenter’s Western-style saw for furniture-making.

  2. B Jackson

    I know I’m way late, but my library is ….. scattered? Anyway, my vote would have gone to Anthony Guidice’s Seven Essentials of Woodworking. It’s pointed, blunt, which is why I suspect it never made anyone’s list, because it sounds like a lot of the Michigan “dutch uncles” to whom I was honorably forced to hear over and over till I tossed my cookies while I was growing up.

  3. Stephen V

    American Furniture of the 18th Century: History, Technique, and Structure by Jeffrey P Greene.

    This would be my choice for one book that is both inspirational – Newport style furniture, claw feet, mahogany for miles,and practical – hand cut dovetails, veneering, turning. You could take the construction techniques and joinery illustrated for 18th Century furniture and apply it to many other styles.


    1. sapfmgateway

      Yes! An amazing book by an amazing cabinetmaker. I was so impressed with American Furniture that I wrote Greene to tell him so. His gracious reply was encouraging and sincere.

  4. Kurt Schmitz

    Essential Woodworker – Wearing

    Close Second, though: Workbenches (D&T to C&U) – Schwarz.

    The first because, going forward, I’d need to as a reference. The second place vote gets cast for the book that inspired hand tool use, the building of my bench, work holding strategies, re-introduced me to vintage tools, etc. etc.

  5. Peter Baines

    1) The Complete Illustrated Guide to Joinery by Gary Rogowski

    2) Fine Art of Cabinet Making – Krenov

    3) The Impractical Cabinetmaker – Krenov (although i think he takes a pop at us lefties in this one, and certainly takes a pop at what he considers to be "Hobbiest")

    4) A Cabinetmakers Notebook – Krenov

    5) In the Shaker Style: Building Furniture Inspired by the Shaker Tradition Fine Woodworking

  6. John Cashman

    Wow, lots of votes for Tage Frid. His three volumes were among the first woodworking books I got, back when they first came out, and they still hold up really well. I had the good fortune to see him give demonstrations several times many years ago, and he was every bit as good an entertainer as a woodworker and teacher.

    It seems there are two categories here. The first is a practical, hands-on "how to" sort of book, while the second is a more philosophical, inspirational tome.

  7. Fred West

    Chris, I have virtually every book listed above but my new favorite is Spons on Carpentry and Joinery. I can’t believe all of the little things I am picking up in this book. I am actually treating as a reference book complete with highlighted passages. 31 years out of college but would have loved this book then as well. :o) Fred

  8. Jamie Bacon

    My vote goes for The Woodwright’s Shop: A Practical Guide to Traditional Woodcraft by Roy Underhill. All of Roy’s books are great.
    Number 2 would be American Furniture of the 18th Century by Jeffrey Greene. Great book. Give’s a history of furniture styles from Jacobean to American Empire and everything in between. It also discusses quite a bit of technique and has some great pictures and measured drawings of pieces.

  9. Bill Melidones


    As a beginner the book I found to be irreplaceable is
    "Woodworking Basics, Mastering the Essentials of Craftsmanship" by Peter Korn. A book you recommended to me back 4-5 years ago when I first started.

    Now that I’ve been woodworking for a few years "Illustrated Cabinetmaking"


  10. Josh B

    The Essential Woodworker, Robert Wearing

    I’ve read it straight through and keep it out in the shop as a reference. I’ve found it contains the answer to just about any question I have about a hand technique.

  11. Dave H.

    Is "The Essential Woodworker" still available anywhere (not including the bay and the list, of course)?


  12. Gary Roberts

    Full Disclosure: I’m cheating and naming another:

    Tage Frid. After Krenov, the second book(s) I read that opened my eyes to what woodworking could be. No offense to Krenov, but Frid grounded me in the sensible approaches to cutting and forming wood, the marrying of form and function and the awareness that there is more than one way to accomplish a task.


  13. Justin Tyson

    "The Woodwright’s Shop" by Roy Underhill. It changed my way of looking at (and working) wood the way no other book could. I’m glad I don’t actually have to go without his other brilliant books, though 🙂

  14. Ethan

    The Cabinetmaker’s Notebook, by James Krenov, is a book I go back to time and time again. It is where I go to when I need motivation and inspiration – not to make something in the style of Mr. Krenov, but just to go do SOMETHING with wood, even if it is to take a walk through a forest of not-quite-ready lumber.

  15. John Burton

    Tage Frid three volume work on woodworking
    Shaping, Veneering Finishing
    Furniture making
    I would love to see you guys update this with new pictures and methods, but it is the most comprehensive.

  16. Ben

    I have to echo the book, Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking. It was my first, and I always pull it back out for reference.

  17. Jorge G

    The Complete Illustrated guide to joinery by Gary Rogowski.

    You know how to make good joints you can build anything.

  18. LizPf

    Still another vote for Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking

    I bought my copy years ago, long before I had time to actually work wood. It’s as good for dreaming as for doing.

  19. Mark McKay

    The Great All-American Wooden Toy Book
    By Norm Marshall

    First woodworking book I ever acquired….
    Toys kids will play w/ for years,
    runs on imagination

    Mark McKay
    Sandston, Virginia

  20. Tim Tyler

    Hand Tools by Aldren A Watson.

    Amazing book. Clear and concise. Opens up the whole world of hand tool woodworking.


  21. robert


    What a great way to start to build a reading list. Ask for more – the top five books – so that we can get deeper and broader suggestions.

  22. robert

    I continue to return to "The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking," by James Krenov.

    I value all five of the books by Mr. Krenov because he contemplated more the "whys" of woodworking.

  23. Peter Baines

    The Complete Illustrated Guide to Joinery by Gary Rogowski

    The book is huge, some 300 pages.

    Very well laid out and illustrated with full colour step by steps.

    Full of alternative methods.

    Very clear and concise in its instruction.

  24. Seamus


    Just one hunh?

    How about Mike Abbotts
    "Living Wood From Buying a Woodland to Making a Chair"
    Living Wood Books
    ISBN: 0-9542345-1-0

    or his earlier

    Green Woodwork
    Working With Wood the Natural Way
    Mike Abbott
    Guild of Master Craftsman Publications Ltd (August 1992)
    ISBN 0946819181

    or the classic

    Make a Chair from A Tree by Alexander
    an introduction to working green wood
    Taunton Press, c1978
    ISBN 0918804019

  25. Leo

    Lavorare il legno
    by Ernest Scott
    (Working in Wood: The Illustrated Manual of Tools, Methods, Materials and Classic Constructions)

    The only good book translate in italian language.

  26. Kip

    But I learned from Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking, so that’s a close second. I just don’t open it as much anymore.

  27. Gary Roberts

    Weeehooo… one book…

    Bernard Jones, editor: The Practical Woodworker 4 or 2 volume set

    or, and perhaps of more importance to the woodworker:

    Complete Practical Brewer, by M. L. Byrn, 1856

    I just can’t decide which is more vital to the craft?


  28. Cory Watson

    Soul of the Tree by Nakashima, cause I wouldn’t be here without it, and everytime I read it, it teaches me something.

    -Cory Watson

  29. Glen Van Cise

    Audel’s Carpenters & Builders Guide Volume 1-4. It’s purely sentimental.

    My dad had a set when I was kid, and they sort of remind me of the foundations he used to the great cabinet work he later created.

    Although they do include some information on power tools, they also were written when hand tools were the go-to option for many (if not most) woodworkers.

  30. Martin Nordberg

    Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking for someone who doesn’t yet know woodworking. Krenov’s Cabinetmaker’s Notebook for someone who thinks they do. But best of all a blank sketchbook.

  31. Chad Williams

    American Furniture of the 18th Century: History, Technique, and Structure – Jeffrey P Greene

  32. B.W.

    I first thought of Flexner’s finishing book, then the Schwarz workbench book. Then, I noticed a missing classic, so I will pick it.

    A complete guide to sharpening by Lee. A great treatment of the most basic of woodworking skills.

  33. Floss

    Woodwork Joints by Charles Hayward or

    Encyclopedia of Furnituremaking Earnest Joyce

    Basically the same text,concerning use of hand tools, except Joyce uses more photos of finished pieces and goes into veneering and production work using power tools and plywood.

    Hayward was always my goto book. Well written and illustrated.


  34. Casey Gooding

    Here’s another one for A Cabinetmakers Notebook. It’s the first book that showed me the true spirit of woodworking, not just the grunt work of it.

  35. Doug F.

    The Woodwright’s Apprentice by Roy Underhill.

    There are projects in there that have really kicked my keister, but I learn more about the process of woodworking with each project I try than from any other single book.

  36. David Chidester

    For me it’s a tie between Woodworking Magazine-Issues 1 through 7 in hardbound book format, and Sam Maloof, Woodworker.

  37. john c.

    The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking.

    James Krenov.

    why- It covers everything one really needs to know in order to understand using wood and its natural grain to build fine work.

  38. Charles Davis

    "Illustrated Cabinetmaking" by Bill Hylton

    And I’m not sucking up! (Not that I’m opposed to sucking up) I blogged that it was my favorite in the past so I’m on record.

  39. John Walkowiak

    Another vote for:
    Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking: A Step-By-Step Guide to Essential Woodworking Techniques.
    This book will give the beginning woodworker a solid way to build furniture by hand or with power tools. The methods shown are simple enough to get the job done without being fussy or confusing.

  40. Phil Smiley

    Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking.

    I want to include The Soul of a Tree: A Master Woodworkers Reflections by George Nakashima but if we only get on then Tage Frid is my choice.

    There’s a lot to be said for a laptop and a broadband Internet connection too.


  41. Jonas Jensen

    Woodworking magazine compilation No. 1

    A great book made up from an extraordinary good magazine.
    Brgds Jonas

  42. John Cashman

    Queen Anne Furniture by Norm Vandal. Choice 2 would be American Furniture of the 18th Century: History, Technique, and Structure by Jeffrey P Greene. Choice 3 is Morrison Heckscher’s American furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Late Colonial Period: The Queen Anne and Chippendale Styles. These are all close, but I’d pick Vandal first.

  43. Simon Frez-Albrecht

    A Reverence For Wood, by Eric Sloane

    It was among my first proper books, along with My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (which has some basic carpentry discussed in it as well). I didn’t realize it at the time, but it set up the foundation for what would later become an appreciation for greenwood working. It is also a terrific reference (all of Sloane’s books are) for dating various antique items and building styles, including how to tell the difference between gang sawn and pit sawn wood, for example. I still learn something new every time I pick it up.

  44. Bill B.

    First choice: Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking: A Step-By-Step Guide to Essential Woodworking Techniques.

    (Second Choice: Bob Flexner’s Books—good stuff.)
    Bill B.

  45. Dave Brown

    A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook – James Krenov

    The first book, for me, that put into words the emotional, sometimes spiritual, journey that is possible when working with wood.

    As a footnote: I never would have opened this book before I began using handtools and found my inner-Zen. = )

  46. Greg M

    Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking: A Step-By-Step Guide to Essential Woodworking Techniques.

    This is the one that "opened my eyes".

  47. Shawn Nichols

    Such a tough one.

    I’d be looking for inspiration if I only had one book. I’d use it to aspire to new heights, which is what this book did for me:

    The Workbench: A Complete Guide to Creating Your Perfect Bench by Lon Schleining.


  48. Mike Lingenfelter

    The Essential Woodworker – Robert Wearing

    I wish I had the book when I started to learn about hand tools. I would give this book to anyone I know, who is going down the hand path.

  49. Albert Gauché

    This is a tough choice with so many good books to choose from. My favorite is probably my first woodworking book as 12 year old in junior high school by E.J Tangerman,"Whittling and Woodcarving". It just covers a massive amount of topics. Chapter 2 Woods, is an excellent reference. However page 46 covers my favorite topic carving spoons and noggins. If I could only have one book on woodworking this is it for me.

  50. Phil

    The Woodwright’s Shop: A Practical Guide to Traditional Woodcraft or any other of Roy Underhill book

  51. Sean

    My book would be Woodland crafts in Britain by H.L.Edlin 1949.
    It covers a lot of woodland crafts and is an important history book, with good black and white photos of the craftspeople. It has and will constantly inspire me, a book that can be read form cover to cover or just dipped into. Probably not the sort of book that most people would recommend on this site but these craftsmen were specialists and really understood the very nature of wood and what can be made from it, in it`s raw form.

  52. Josh

    The Essential Woodworker, Robert Wearing

    Other than The Jointer and Cabinetmaker it is the only woodworking book I have read multiple times.

  53. Wesley

    For me that would have to be The Book Of Shaker Furniture By John Kassay, which I bought when I came out, and still love to spend a few hours with.

    Wesley Tanner

  54. Heinz Stuecklin

    Toshio Odate : Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use
    Heinz Stuecklin

  55. Dan

    I second Illustrated Cabinetmaking, and if I could have 2 books, the second would be Understanding Wood Finishing: How to Select and Apply the Right Finish by Bob Flexner.

  56. Joseph Watson

    Shop Drawings of Shaker Furniture & Woodenware, Vols. 1, 2 & 3 by
    Ejner Handberg

    It’s a great resource for shaker furniture to build and design your own variations of. This is a must have if you like shaker designs.

  57. Don Peregoy

    Please forgive me Mr. Charlesworth.
    But there is only one choose.

    Encyclopedia of shaker furniture.

  58. ben l

    The Essential Woodworker, Robert Wearing

    I just keep picking it up and learning something new, even after reading it 20 times. It’s just such an incredibly dense book.

  59. Dave Griessmann

    Fine Furniture For A Lifetime – Glen Huey

    As a woodworking book, it was the first to provide furniture you’d love to have in a manner you could build w/out being discharged.

    You were able to learn cabinet making while building the projects.

  60. Andrew Yang

    Workbenches: From Design And Theory To Construction And Use. Can’t remember the author…

    For me it was about more than workbenches. I’m sure the intent was to show how the workbench could be used for certain operations. For me, as a beginner, it served to give a good overview of what woodworking operations are commonplace.

  61. David Mathias

    But Chris, that was originally published within the last 100 years…

    For my choice, I’ll go with the book that I think taught me the most: Understanding Wood Finishing by Bob Flexner.

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