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Working Wood by Simon JamesAs an editor, my work involves poring over woodworking books. And as guy who’s trying to learn a bit of woodworking and build a few things in my spare time, that’s not a bad way to spend the workday. In addition to the books I develop for Popular Woodworking, I also look through our library of books for ideas and inspiration. Recently I came across “Working Wood 3” by Simon James. It’s a book that’s absolutely brimming with information for woodworkers interested in modern hand tool methods for cabinetry and furniture. But don’t go thinking this book is only for those interested in old school methods – in fact it’s an in depth hand tool approach for today’s woodworker. The author explains his philosophy in this excerpt:

My philosophy of working wood is centered firmly on pragmatism, not on nostalgia or Western traditions. Woodworking always has been, and always will be, a very practical subject. As an art, a craft or a trade, woodworkers apply common sense, skill and ingenuity to get the job done . . . Adopting a pragmatic approach means finding out what works best for you. To save re-inventing the wheel, it’s always better to find out what your preferred method of work is by studying the methods used by others . . . Hand tool furniture making should never be a chore, a bore or a tedious grind. It shouldn’t wear you out either. If you know your hands are not as strong as they used to be, get a local wood shop to surface plane, thickness and crosscut all your stock and materials before you start. In the past I have stubbornly handplaned so much timber that my hands were barely usable for a couple of weeks after. Machines are great for donkey work, so make the most of them as appropriate . . . but I have to say I have more fun and satisfaction in a single day using a bunch of lovely old wooden moulding planes than I would have in year of efficient machine routing. Just ask yourself what aspects of working wood do you most enjoy? Is it being able to tear into your stock, and against the clock, finish the project in record time? For me, woodworking is an expression of creativity, immersed in a world of possibilities and variety, enjoying the satisfaction of making something useful, beautiful or original . . . Whether I choose a machine for a particular operation, or just get on with using hand tools, is not chiseled in stone. I enjoy the variety, the peace and quiet of hand tools, the versatility of specialist planes and the undeniable efficiency of my band saw and mortising machine.

Personally I like that idea. I like the idea of getting close to the wood – of spending time studying methods and learning what works, but at the same time using machines to save time and energy, allowing me to focus on the aspects of my project that I’ll ultimately find most rewarding. After all, one’s approach to woodworking involves a lot of personal choices and in the end will make your way of working as unique as the wood itself.

If you’re looking for a modern take on hand tools or if you’re a hybrid woodworker I recommend checking out this book.

—Scott Francis

Working Wood by Simon James “Working Wood 3: The Cabinet Maker’s Workshop” by Simon James is available now at



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    As an editor, who is proofing your work? Two errors in the first line?

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