Chris Schwarz's Blog

Roy Underhill’s 3 Favorite Books

In the June 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine we have a fun article that lists all of the woodworking books that the magazine’s staff consider to be “classics.” It’s a great list, but the best part of the article is that we went to many of our contributors and asked them which books they thought were essential.

Here are the people who gave us their lists of books:

Kelly Mehler
Michael Dunbar
Roy Underhill
Peter Follansbee
Marc Spagnuolo
Chuck Bender
Adam Cherubini
Tommy MacDonald
David Charlesworth
Jim Tolpin
George Walker
Bob Flexner
Marc Adams

Here are Roy Underhill’s (and don’t bother trying to find “Woodworking in Estonia,” it’s a tough one to get. Good book, though – neener, neener).

“Woodworking in Estonia” by A. Viires (National Technical Information Service). This is our share of the booty from the cultural exchanges of the Cold War years. The Soviets got models of our nuclear subs, and we got one of the best books on folk woodworking ever. Aside from showing how to make everything from wooden wheels to bentwood cheese boxes, this book is also an education in the way Eastern European history gets written. Imagine Eric Sloane dividing early American woodworking into feudal, capitalist and socialist periods!

“The Wheelwright’s Shop” by George Sturt (Cambridge UP). Here is the real deal. At the turn of the 19th century, a guy comes back from college when his father falls ill and can no longer manage the old family wheelwright business alone. He realizes that he has stepped into a vanishing world of “kindly feeling” when the “grain in the wood told secrets to men.” Thanks to Sturt, the old English way with wood is still alive in the pages of this remarkable book.

“With Hammer in Hand” by Charles F. Hummel (UP Virginia). Resurfacing like Brigadoon, the woodworking shop of the Dominy family was sealed up with the tools still on the benches and saws still sharp. Moved to the Winterthur Museum, the workshop is an open portal into village woodworking in early America. Hummel’s book takes it tool by tool, piece by piece, expanding our view with a true scholar/craftsman’s eye.

— Christopher Schwarz

13 thoughts on “Roy Underhill’s 3 Favorite Books

  1. Mike M

    I have been interested in ‘Woodworking in Estonia’ since seeing it mentioned in one of the Scott Landis books. That was many years ago. I hope that, one day, it might be reprinted by a small company that specializes in books about the lost arts.
    ‘The Furniture Masterworks of John and Thomas Seymour’, by Robert Mussey, deserves to be better known. Signed copies (like mine) are selling for 800.00 and more. The pictures and text are wonderful. There is sadness, too; John lived his last years in an almshouse, Thomas lived on his inlaws farm in poverty.
    ‘Antique and Collectable Stanley Tools’, by John Walter didn’t make it on to the list, but it should. If you like Patrick Leech’s ‘Patrick’s Blood & Gore’ (Superior Works.com)and want more (but without the brutal summary evaluations), this is it. I take better care of my copy, now that it is selling at 600.00.

    1. redavis

      “Woodworking in Estonia” is available any time from NTIS as a $35 download in PDF form. Pictures are rather muddy, but in true Roy fashion, “You get the idea.”

      RD

    2. Cribbin

      Mike M,

      You might consider checking out your local university’s library. Turns out all the WWing books at mine were donated decades ago … when Viires was current. :) It’s a tad idiosyncratic due to the class struggle overtones, but an enjoyably informative read.

      1. John Cashman

        I actually tried WorldCat, and there wasn’t even a university library near me that had it. It is just a really rare find, and the old guys that have them aren’t giving them up.

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