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Just a test to see if I’ve figured out my new blog page. But maybe this is a good opportunity to thank PW for giving me this space to jot down my thoughts.

Megan asked for a list of books I recommended. Like many of you (Dave), I have a huge ww library. But I didn’t want to bore you with a listing of every title I own or have read. Still, I can’t help thinking about all the books that have inspired me that I didn’t mention.

I’m rereading some of the books I read when I first started woodworking. David Pye’s book “The Nature and Art of Workmanship” is well worth a second reading. A quick skim in a public library isn’t sufficient for this text.

I don’t know if it’s my attitude, or the fact that I’ve given up on FWW’s KNOTS, but I get the distinct sense that folks are no longer arguing for or against hand tool legitimacy. Hand tools are becoming mainstream.

Pye’s view on hand tools and workmanship is much more sophisticated than the arguments I engaged in or read. According to Pye, a beam boring machine, clearly a hand tool, falls into the workmanship of certainty category. His beloved electric lathe, clearly a power tool, is part of the workmanship of risk.

I’ve had to defend my Jet 1236 many times in the past. Without remembering what Pye had to say, I argued that my electric wood lathe wasn’t entirely different from a hand tool in that all the motor did was turn the work. It was my hands that shaped the wood. Those feeling frisky would counter that their tables saws were little different. The motor only turned the saw blade.

I’ve also struggled with jigs of different sorts. Honing jigs don’t sit well with me. Certainly, things that guide hand saws (what about miter boxes?) and parts that attach to planes to ensure 90 degree edges are things I tend to avoid. Pye would put all of these in the workmanship of certainty column.

I’m not saying Pye is right or that I am right for agreeing with him. Rather, what I was left with was the sense of how completely I was influenced by Pye. My guess is, my friends at PW are nodding their heads and saying “Duh, Adam, are you just now getting this?” What we read changes us.

If you have a spare moment this week, dust off a dog eared copy of an Underhill book and read it again. As you read the familiar passages and wonder (as many of us do) how Roy can look exactly the same after 20 years, you may be surprised to find yourself there, mingling there like a bookmark.


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Showing 10 comments
  • jacon4

    OOPS, sorry, I can see the number of comments now on blog home page where before i couldnt, my apologies on that point.

  • jacon4

    I’d have to say at this point I am not a fan of this latest blog format. It’s difficult to navigate, the back button on browser wont work and if one wants to check comments to see if there has been a reply to a post, you must click the thread, the number of comments are not listed on blog home page. In sum, a step down from the old blog format.

    My 2 Cents

  • B Jackson

    I just bought David’s book and am reading a little bit each day. I am already taken with his distinction between “workmanship of certainty” and “workmanship of risk”. I did skip ahead and read the critique of John Ruskin’s writings. Frankly, in agreement with Pye, I never cottoned much to Ruskin’s roamntic notion of “the pottery leaks because it’s handmade”. Indeed as I look at Arts and Craft furniture, most of it was in reality quite well made, and mostly with the technology of the day (See Greene and Greene and the Hall brothers’ use of power tools), which included mortising machines, table saws, and band saws, with significant work with hand tools thrown in where aprropriate or necessary. Someone speculated that had the Hall brothers had routers in their hands, they would have made extensive and innovattive use of these machines. I think we all do our best regardless of the tools we use or the style / period of our work. My own snit with the Victorian period, like Ruskin’s and Morris’s, is more political than commentary on the quality of the best of that period: I tend to see the relative simplicity ot the American Federal period as a retort to the increasingly overwrought British Empire / “Rule Brittania” quality of the Chippendale / Sheraton / Queen Anne styles. Some of the more overwrought styles were done simply from a desire to feel your oats as a master craftsman in tune with the nationalistic jingoism of the period. Do it to set the standard for the world yet to fall under your colonial sway. The Arts and Craft movement parallels the Federal period in its desire to move to express your art from a more individual, intimate framework.

  • Steve Branam

    I love Underhill’s books. I resisted buying them for years when I was working with power tools, intrigued whenever I saw them, but not enough to spend the money. But once I switched to hand tools and got in tune with his teaching method, I bought them all up.

    Like his program, they are packed with an incredible amount of information. You just have to be receptive to his methods. Initially he seems to be jumping randomly all over the place, but as you start to pick up skills, you appreciate what he’s doing.

  • Dave

    Hi Adam
    Well maybe I do have a couple of books…
    One of my favorites is Four Centuries of American Furniture by Oscar P. Fitzgerald. It traces furniture in relation to architecture and influences, to the history and cultures that came into play as well as the regional variations in our furniture. I just checked and it is obscenely priced-but if someone can get it reasonably – it’s great.
    I’m working on who you resemble–watch out!

  • watermantra

    Underhill is the Dick Clark of woodworking! My wife mentioned that yesterday. I showed her a recent Woodwright’s Shop episode, and she said, “I think I saw that one when I was little,” meaning that very episode. She didn’t think it possible that Roy looked EXACTLY the same since her childhood.

    A book I was recommended a long long time ago, but have never read, (ashamed) is a history of the screwdriver. Not exactly woodworking, but I’m told it is an incredibly insightful book about the nature of the evolution of tools. I’ll find the name and post a reply to this in a bit.

  • xMike

    Hi Adam,
    Some Knotheads have migrated to The Burl at delphi forums. It’s not as active as the old Knots was but it is certainly easier to navigate and you’ll find many familiar posters. Here’s the general link Navigate to Hobbies & Crafts Forums, then go to The Burl.

  • robert

    If you are proposing to review an older woodworking book from time to time – that would be really cool. Suggestions for further reading are also always welcome.


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