Saturday, December 22, 2012

My Top Five Woodworking Books - With Reviews!

I know, I know.  You couldn't wait for the next in my series of tools for newbies.  You'll just have to wait a bit.  While you are waiting, you might as well read a book.

I have been collecting and reading woodworking books for a long time.  It has only been recently that I have figured out that while there are a lot of good woodworking books out there that are easy to find, there are a lot of great woodworking books out there if you dig a little deeper.

Here are five of my favorite woodworking books.  I couldn't pick just one favorite, so I picked one in each of five categories.

Category I:  Philosophy

The Anarchist's Tool Chest by Christopher Schwarz

You do not need to build a tool chest, but you do need to read this book.

After you read it, you'll want to build one.

There are three main parts to this book, a history, a list of tools, and instructions on building the chest.

If you have a ton of hand tools, you'll want to sell some.  If you are just starting your collection, you'll learn which ones you really need.  If, like me, you have been hoarding tools for years, you'll know you can get rid of most of them and buy ones you will actually use.  Even if your are a power tool junkie, you'll want to try some of these tools out.

Category II:  Techniques

The Essential Woodworker by Robert Wearing

Dining table constructed with techniques from Robert Wearing.
Another book by Lost Art Press.  The Schwarz has done a fantastic service to mankind by re-publishing this one.  The main project in this book is a table, but you can use the techniques for many things.  Indeed, the author mentions many techniques in this book.

I list this book here because of the detail describing each operation.  This book will make you want to go to the shop.

Category III:  Tools

Hand Tools by Aldren A. Watson

What this book lacks in imagination for the title, it definitely makes up for in content.  Find a used copy of this book (it's out of print) or borrow one from the library.

He not only shows you a bunch of really cool tools, he shows the proper way to use them.  For a bonus, he demonstrates methods for practicing basic techniques so any dummy can master them.


The section on a brace and bit transformed my accuracy and useability of that tool.  The only weird thing he advocates is a jack-rabbet plane for a basic tool.  Honestly, he makes a good case for it, though.

Category IV:  Joinery

Woodwork Joints by William Fairham

Example from Fairham's book. This would be a cool joint to use on a Roubo bench.
This book is why I am writing this post.  I wanted to do a review of this book, but thought that it made such a wonderful companion to Aldren Watson's book.  While Watson covers many hand tools and their uses, this book shows you what you can do with them.

I was blown away with the first chapter on lap joints.  Who writes a book with a whole chapter on lap joints?  Believe it or not, it is really eye-opening.  The only thing missing is the details of constructing each joint.

As the above example from the book shows, the author assumes you can figure out how to cut the joint once you see what joint to use.  That's what Watson is for.

Another cool thing is this book is reprinted through the Toolemera website.   Gary Roberts does this as a hobby, as far as I can tell.  His books are printed on demand, and are very reasonable in price and quality.

Category V:  Project

Making and Masering Wood Planes by David Finck

My latest plane built using this method, a big-honking jointer.
There are so many project books out there I had a hard time picking my favorite.  Until I remembered this one.

David goes through every tiny little step in constructing this plane, and even gives a few alternative methods as well as instructions on building some of the tools and jigs you may need.  He even recently released a companion DVD with 4 1/2 hours of footage going through the whole process.  Believe it or not, you'll enjoy watching it more than once.

What I really love about this book is he covers in painful detail for those of us dummies who didn't "get it" before how to use hand tools to get super-hyper accurate results.  Before this, I thought only machines were capable of such precision.  Silly me, hand tools are WAY more accurate than machines.


There are a lot of great books out there.  You can't go wrong at Lost Art Press, from what I can tell so far.  Also, don't be afraid to scope out used books.  Old books are a great source of information for old tools, after all.  If worse comes to worst, go to your local library.  Librarians I know will do backflips to get you an old book you want.  Inter-library loan didn't disapear with the advent of the internet.

What are your must-reads?


  1. Brian,

    I completely agree with you on your first three categorical selections. I haven't read the last two, but after reading your post I'm going to look up Fairham's joint book. All of Aldren Watson's books are excellent. Fortunately, Hand Tools is NOT out of print. For North Americans, it can be purchased on Amazon in softback for <$20. Unfortunately, many of Watson's other books are out of print.

    How does Fairham's book compare to Charles Hayward's Woodwork Joints book?

    1. I love what I have read from Charles Hayward. But, I haven't read "Woodwork Joints" by him yet. You can bet it is now next on my list to read, though.

    2. I love these books, I'm student of engineering and find these books amazing. William Fairham, David Finck wow, amazing people. Great work from them.

  2. I think that my favourite woodworking books are:

    No 1: The first book of Woodworking magazine (I think it is issues 1 -7)

    No 2: Measure and construction of the Japanese house by Heino Engell.

    No 3: Japanese joints ( I don't exactly remember the title, so it could be called something else.

    No 4: The Anarchist's tool chest.

    No 5: One of Kerry Pierce's book son shaker furniture.

    I am not near my books right now, so please bear with me, if the titles are not exactly correct.


  3. I couldn't make a decision on what my top fifty would be. Wm Fairham wrote quite few books on woodworking and I have 3 of them. A Watson wrote another book about a fictional country woodworker. What about Moxon? Or Graham Blackburn, Jim Toplin, JCS Brough, James Lukin, Tom Moser, Roy Underhill, Peter Korn, Roger Holmes, Mike Dunbar, and finish up with J Krenov. Those on the authors on the first shelf of my bookcase. I can't pick one.

  4. great post! thanks for the help with my Christmas shopping :-)

    check out lee Valley tools for some of these books. I looked at Amazon and they wanted $200 for the Robert Wearing book but Lee Valley has it at a regular price. Also, the Gutenberg project has that Fairham book online since its out of copyright.