I own over 200 woodworking books (and that doesn’t include my growing magazine collection). Each one has at least one idea or technique that has made me think differently about the way I do things. Some are better than others. I wanted to use this space to recommend five books that I tend to open often.
1. The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking by James Krenov
Published in 1975, it’s become one of the classic woodworking books.
One simple but important concept that has stuck is the section on grain selection when purchasing wood and how it fits within your project. As a result, I’ve probably spent way too much time at the lumberyard picking through hundreds of pieces to find that perfect board. Of course, the extra time is worth it when the project is ultimately completed. The more important takeaway from this section is laying out your initial cuts and visualizing how the grain will line up on the finished project.
The more notable and often-cited chapter is his section on wooden plane construction (pictured above). I built a plane using only this book and it turned out really well. It’s not a step-by-step manual, but he gives you just enough to build a perfect plane on your first attempt.
2. Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking by Tage Frid
I have the three volume set, but the book I tend to open more often is the Joinery section. First, the illustrations are beautiful. Second, he doesn’t hold your hand with many of the instructions, you need to have some knowledge. For example, he illustrates how to do sliding dovetails by hand and machine with only a few pages, but it’s more than enough detail.
Below is an example on more complex joinery like compound mitered dovetails and what angles to set your bevel gauge.
If you’re on a budget, only purchase the Joinery book. Otherwise, the three book set is a nice reference book to have on-hand.
3. The Perfect Edge: The Ultimate Guide to Sharpening For Woodworkers by Ron Hock
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that all woodworking projects begin at the sharpening station. I suppose if you’re using nothing but machines and disposable blades that wouldn’t be the case, but even then you likely have a set of chisels that need to be honed.
One of the pages that stuck with me is about zero radius. The goal is to get as close to zero radius as possible during your sharpening, but you must accept that it will be impossible to achieve. You need to have your own, “how done is done?” standard when sharpening. It’s a simple concept, but when you strive for perfection in your woodworking, it’s a good reminder that there’s a stopping point.
The book contains beautiful illustrations, probably over a thousand photos, and covers everything from chisels, saws, and even knives.
4. The Essential Woodworker by Robert Wearing
If you’ve had the urge to take a hand tool course but lack the time or resources, this book can serve as an effective substitute. I like it because it also serves as a good reminder on technique or implementation when I’m approaching a new project.
I have the iPad edition from Lost Art Press (pictured above). Again, similar to other books I have listed here, beautiful and thoughtful illustrations throughout the book. Incredibly well-written. I took a three month intensive woodworking course from the Port Townsend School of Woodworking and this book reminds me quite a bit of what I learned during that period.
5. The Workbench Book by Scott Landis
I’m saving the best for last. I love this book, probably my favorite even outside of woodworking. I have an older edition (pictured below) and it has a different cover than newer editions. The condition of mine is pretty ragged, a testament to how many times I’ve read it.
I built my own Shaker-inspired workbench from those pictured in the book.
The book also spends considerable time on benches and workshops of other types of woodworking not typically covered including lutherie, carving, Japanese-traditional, and even country shavehorses.
On the back cover, the book is described as “the story of the workbench,” which is a pretty accurate assessment. Although there’s 19 measured drawings on how to construct the benches featured, it spends considerably more time on the history of each style and how it evolved.