Book Review: David Charlesworth’s Third Book - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Book Review: David Charlesworth’s Third Book

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Required Reading, Woodworking Blogs

Our corporate web site experts encourage us to write as briefly as possible when speaking to an Internet audience. So with that in mind, here is my review of David Charlesworth‘s new book, “A Guide to Hand Tools and Methods” (Guild of Master Craftsman).

It’s a fantastic book. Really worth buying. And it ties up all the loose ends from his first two books on furniture making.

So with that out of the way, here is the giant footnote to the above review.

I first met David Charlesworth during his first visit to the United States about four years ago. He touched down in the cornfields of central Indiana to teach a class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking and then shoot his first video on sharpening with Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. It was a hot spring, and David was still tired from traveling but was happy to go to dinner with Tom Lie-Nielsen, Mario Rodriguez and me.

After some searching, we ended up at Texas Roadhouse, a Western-themed chain restaurant where they eat peanuts and throw the shells on the floor. I ordered a beer. Thomas ordered a gin and tonic, I believe. David asked for the wine list.

Somehow we didn’t get hassled that night, and David plunged into the menu with surprising gusto, ordering the “rattlesnake bites,” which are deep-fried jalapeno peppers and cheese with a Cajun horseradish sauce for dipping. That is not your typical Devon, England, fare.

David’s willingness to fearlessly try new things is one of the traits of his work as a woodworker, teacher and writer during the last 30 years. He mixes a deep drive for precision woodworking with a self-confessed laziness (which I think is a bit of a stretch). The most famous example of the result of this approach was “the ruler trick,” a way of preparing the unbeveled face of a plane iron with the help of a ruler. It removes hours of tedious labor and produces a spectacular edge.

I purchased David’s first two books (“David Charlesworth’s Furniture-Making Techniques” volume one and two), before I met him. I’d pored over them because they were so different than every other book on hand work. He went into far more detail on preparing and using tools than any other source I could find. His techniques were simple, but they required great discipline and attention to detail. They didn’t rely on years of training your hand and eye, just a willingness to pay close attention.

David’s third book continues in this same vein. Like the first two books, “A Guide to Hand Tools and Methods” is a collection of his columns from Furniture and Cabinetmaking magazine. So the book hops around from topic to topic a bit. There are four chapters on tuning planes, three on spokeshaves but one on chisels. However, when read with the other three books, “A Guide to Hand Tools and Methods” feels much more like a cohesive whole.

It fills in many small details that are important to accurate work, such as the chapter on how to true waterstones. His chapters on marking and paring dovetails will help many woodworkers who have been bewildered by the varying approaches available. And there are chapters on little bits of cleverness that Charlesworth has developed, such as an ingenious adjuster for a spokeshave designed by Brian Boggs, and how to alter a marking gauge to use a pencil in place of a pin.

With all three books now in print, I wish that they could be combined and re-organized into one consistent volume so you could get all of the sharpening techniques in one place, all the plane tuning articles in one place, all the sawing advice in one place. Perhaps some day.

Until then, “A Guide to Hand Tools and Methods” is really worth buying. And it is a worthy successor to his first two books on furniture making.

And as I read the last chapter in the book last month, I started wondering where David would go next with his teaching and writing. Would he apply his same insight to  preparing other tools that vex woodworkers, such as profiles of moulding planes or carving tools. Would he delve more into the vast unexplored area of design? Or the equally vast forgotten realm of traditional casework?

I don’t know, but I would be willing to take him along to a square dance in a barn to chat with him and find out.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 6 comments
  • Christopher Schwarz


    Thomas Lie-Nielsen has one of the Charlesworth-style benches in his showroom and I plan to discuss it at some length durng the seminar. The version that the Toolworks sells has striaght legs instead of angled ones. Other than that, it’s quite close to the version shown in his books.


  • Michael Rogen

    Maybe David or someone posing as David, could bring his bench design up to Maine for yor seminar and have you put it through it’s paces?

    I think that would be quite enjoyable.


  • Christopher Schwarz


    David’s bench is very interesting and functional. I got to work on the version that Lie-Nielsen makes during a show last fall. It is a sturdy and versatile beast — I particularly like the removable tool tray.

    I wish there was a little more facility for working on the edges of wide and long work. I’d put a sliding deadman on it, but David probably has a very clever way of working around my objection.


  • Alex Moseley

    Ironically, I don’t think your corporate web site experts understand your audience very well. We read your writing for insight and annecdote – neither of which should be abridged for the sake of formula.

    By the way, I’ve begun using the ruler on the sharpening stone trick, conceding that it won’t change the cutting geometry appreciably. The results are fantastic.


  • Swanz

    I enjoy all his articles and books. i used to read the English Good Woodworking magazine basicly for the articles by him and John Brown (the chairmaker). He got a great looking bench to boot.

  • John Clifford

    I’d like to second this recommendation. I too have read all of David’s books and they do get to the details that everyone else seems to omit entirely. These details can make a vast difference in both your understanding as well as your actual woodworking performance. After reading all of David’s books, watching all of his DVDs and taking a class of his it would seem fair to say he "specializes" in the details and that has made all the difference in my woodworking education.


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