Book Review: Shop Drawings for Greene & Greene Furniture

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Before I knew Bob, one of our senior editors here at Popular Woodworking, I knew him as Robert W. Lang, the author of two landmark books I owned that were chock full of shop drawings of Craftsman furniture. Those dog-eared books (and two more he’s published on Craftsman interiors and inlay) were books that I gladly plunked down my own money on. They are books that I built three projects from. They were books that I referred to almost every week as I was teasing out a detail on a piece of Arts & Crafts furniture. I was a fan.

However, when Bob gave me a copy of his latest book, “Shop Drawings for Greene & Greene Furniture,” which just hit the streets this week, I was a bit reluctant to write a review. I’ve watched Bob slave over these drawings. When we all went to Las Vegas for a woodworking show last year, Bob slogged off through the desert after the show to spend time in Southern California researching pieces for this book. He’s been agonizing over the details in the drawings for the 23 pieces shown in the books. It has been a difficult project. I’m admittedly biased because I’ve watched the guy push himself hard to research, write and draw this book on his own time (It’s being published by a competing publisher, not Popular Woodworking Books).

But when I cracked open his book and started reading it, my hesitation disappeared. This is a landmark book and deserves your attention. If you have even a passing interest in the work of Charles and Henry Greene (and their builders, John and Peter Hall), you will be thrilled with the projects in this book. The Greenes, architects working in California during the Arts & Crafts heyday, were two of the most talented designers in the 20th century, though their pens produced only about 400 pieces of furniture.

I’ve seen a fair number of the pieces that Lang has chosen for this book , either in photographs or in person , and I think he’s accomplished what few other people in our profession can do: These shop drawings capture the true spirit of the Greenes without dumbing anything down. The furniture of the Greenes was subtle and full of detail, and Lang does the pieces justice.

These drawings are the missing link for the craftsman. There are countless books about the Ultimate Bungalows produced by the Greene brothers with sumptuous photos, sketchy dimensional details and highly romanticized copy. And there is great affection among woodworkers to produce these pieces, which are well-suited for the home woodworker in their construction details and joinery methods.

But until now, there was no easy way to go about building any of these works without a trip to California, looking both ways for the museum guards and ducking under the ropes with a tape measure.

The projects chosen for “Shop Drawings for Greene & Greene Furniture” are an excellent cross-section of the Greene’s work and represent pieces of varying difficulty. Beginning woodworkers can cut their teeth on the Gamble Mirror, the Blacker Medicine Cabinet and the Thorsen Plant Stand. As you learn the vernacular of the style (the mortise-and-tenon joints are particularly unusual), you’ll build confidence to tackle the stately Robinson Dining Table, the Gamble Kitchen Cabinets (I will build these someday) and the Blacker Hall Seat (ditto on this).
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The Blacker Hall Seat, a masterpiece of design, detail and craftsmanship.

Then you can give the Gamble Chiffonier a shot before you leave this earth. It combines all of the details of the Greene Brothers , cloudlifts, proud-finger-jointed drawers, inlay , into an astonishing package.

This is not really a how-to book. Lang provides some important details on construction techniques he’s used to reproduce some of the important details. And he gives a workman-like history of the work of the Greene and Hall brothers. And Lang explores some of the nagging work-method mysteries that remain about the work, such as why the Halls built their drawers the way they did. These details add to the corpus of knowledge about these four brothers, rather than just hyping it.

However, if the complete shop drawings aren’t enough for you and you’d like enlarged shop drawings with full-size details, Lang sells those as well on his website.

The book will soon be available everywhere, but I urge you to buy it directly from Bob. He has it in stock right now, he gets a bigger cut when he sells the book directly, and I hear his son, Hunter, also gets $1 for every book he packs up and mails.

You can purchase “Shop Drawings for Greene & Greene Furniture” for $22.95 at craftsmanplans.com or by sending an e-mail to info@craftsmanplans.com or calling 513-531-2690 x 1327.

– Christopher Schwarz

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