Sunday, May 15, 2011

Books for Beginning Woodworkers

Occasionally someone writes me with a question about woodworking. Sometimes I'm able to give them an answer and other times I enlist the help of others to provide a better and more thorough one.

This is where you come in.

A 31-year old woman from North Carolina would like to get into woodworking, but "knows absolutely nothing." She asked if I could suggest some ultra-basic beginner books and resources.

She has an inkling that she'd like to make furniture, but as she's just getting started, she's not really sure.

The book that changed my life nearly two decades ago is The Complete Manual of Woodworking by Albert Jackson, David Day, and Simon Jennings.  It was the perfect place to start for someone who didn't know the difference between a router and a bandsaw.

Beyond that, here is my short list of beginners' woodworking books (and I know darn well I missed a bunch). Some subjects might not apply to everyone. In no particular order:

1. Foolproof Wood Finishing by Teri Masaschi.
Many will disagree with me about the best finishing book, and indeed, I haven't seen Marc Spagnuolo's soon-to-be-released book, but of the ones I own, this one is the most cut-and-dried and clear to me.

2. The Complete Illustrated Guide to Joinery by Gary Rogowski.
Gary covers all of the most commonly used joints—how to cut them with hand tools or power tools.

3. Complete Illustrated Guide to Sharpening by Thomas Lie-Nielsen
No question about sharpening is left unanswered. Lie-Nielsen is a master sharpener.

4. How to Carve Wood by Richard Bütz
Bütz addresses all types of carving, starting with whittling. I do not subscribe to his lettercarving or chip carving techniques, but for relief carving and others, this book is a good start for beginners.

5. The Complete Guide to Chip Carving by Wayne Barton
Hands down, this is the very best book on chip carving.

6. Handplane Essentials by Christopher Schwarz
Absolutely everything you need to know in order to work with handplanes. This book is the definitive guide.

7. The Fine Art of Marquetry by Craig Vandall Stevens
This book is fantastic. Marquetry is well within your reach with Stevens' guidance.

8. Woodworkers' Guide to Veneering & Inlay by Jonathan Benson
Again, all guesswork is removed with this book. Benson is an expert on the subject.

9. Roy Underhill's books are perfect if you plan to pursue traditional woodworking.

I have no books on woodturning and very few on building furniture, so I'm not able to offer advice on those topics. However, if you are looking for some simple plans geared toward beginners, I encourage you peruse the I Can Do That page on Popular Woodworking's site for free downloadable plans and articles.

For more online help, I suggested she visit woodworking forums, blogs and podcasts—invaluable resources.

There are lots of great books and magazines for beginners. Help a lady out and post your thoughts in the comments.  And feel free to contest any of my recommendations. They are just my opinion and open to debate.


Adrian Baird Ba Than said...

While not strictly for beginners I love this book,
It shows a number of simple,intermediate & advanced techniques for shaping,drilling & sanding that are explained in a clear & concise manner using both hand & power tools.

Tom said...

I would add The Complete Illustrated Guide to Shaping Wood by Lonnie Bird and The Complete Illustrated Guide to Woodworking Tools by Lonnie Bird. His dovetail video and Handplane video are also very good. Also, Bruce Hoadly's Understanding Wood. I also second Kari's Rogowski's Joinery book.

Trevor Walsh said...

I think that...

Wearing's The Essential Woodworker

Milton and Wohlers' A Course in Wood Turning

Korn's Woodworking Basics

Jamie Bacon said...

I think that "Hand Tool Essentials", a collection of articles put together by Popular Woodworking, is one of the finest and most diverse books ever put together. If you're into hand tools that is. And who isn't? :)
I second the suggestion on any of Roy's books. Very informative and fun reading also.

Anonymous said...

Peter Korn's "Woodworking Basics: Mastering the Essentials of Craftsmanship" is the best beginners book that I know of. It is basically a beginning course on woodworking with hand and machine tools.

/Brian Sullivan

mdhills said...

You guys are listing out a complete library.
For a beginner, I haven't found much better than Getting Started in Woodworking by Aimé Ontario Fraser.

I like that it keeps the introductory survey material pretty minimal.
I like that it takes a programmed approach -- techniques taught in the course of building simple projects. Photos are pretty good (that tends to be a weak area in older books)

My ideal beginners book would provide a stronger point of view on a starting tool set (e.g., Hayward's book or Guidice's 7 Essentials of Woodworking). I think some attention to correcting common mistakes would also be well spent.


Marilyn in Seattle said...

I've read Handplane Essentials, which you recommended to me, and it's a great book! The best "resource" for me (a beginner still) was and is the online woodworking guilds - The Wood Whisperer and the Hand Tool School. They have lead me to many other books, blogs (including yours) as well as guided me through projects which is where I learn the most as well as answered questions. I also have more than 50 blogs that I follow via Google reader that I've picked up along the way. The online information has also helped me figure out what "woodworking" is for me .. which for now is furniture making.

DonP said...

I know you asked for books but you should think about ShopNotes Magazine. Lots of basic information for building things to set up shop.

It’s hard to think in terms of one book. I just went through my modest library and pulled out The Encyclopedia of Furniture Making by Ernest Joyce. It is full of a little about a lot.

If you think your interests could be in hand tools try A Guide to Hand Tools and Methods by David Charlesworth.

Have Fun

suggie said...

The triology of woodworking........Tage Frid,Book 1....Joinery,Tools,& techniques........Book 2...Shaping,Veneering,Finishing......Book 3...Furniture Making.

MuddleheadedWW (jmk89) said...

Great post, Kari and one that always starts a lively debate.

My 2c

I would start with Charles Hayward or Robert Wearing - they set realistic goals for both the tools you need and what you can do with them. I would then suggest something like Jackson and Day to get up to speed with modern (tailed) tools. But it is so much easier to start woodwork with a small kit of hand tools and learn how to manipulate (and sharpen) them that to start with the screaming sound of circ saws and routers.

Then all the rest (including the ones above and a whole lot more, but with a special mention to Tage Frid and James Krenov) will fall in line as the beginner starts to explore woodwork and the specialties that attract her.


Dave said...

One of the best step by step books that lets you make really cool projects has to be Glen Huey's "Fine Furniture for a Lifetime"

Now looking at the projects they seem overwhelming & daunting but Glen was able with the text/photos to walk people through each step of every project.

It's still one I refer to on almost every project that's not federal.

It's been remanded but he has them for sale on his site.

DonP said...

If I can take another shot.
All of the recommendations are great.
I think you should read the books but try to take a class. Many community colleges and some public school adult programs offer evening classes. This would provide an exposure to lots of FREE tools and some one to answer questions. I believe it is most important to build something as soon as possible. It should be noted that quality of both tools and instruction can be varied. Still after a class you will have a better basic foundation. If you read even a small number of the books listed you will get a wide range of opinion.


Kari Hultman said...

Excellent suggestions everyone. Thanks for taking the time to offer your advice. (And I'd never heard of Peter Korn's book--looks like a really good one.)

Anonymous said...

Richard Raffan's books are the best for wood turning.

But it is better to learn from another human. One of the best teachers is in Wake County, NC, and he has taught many women to be successful turners.

Books will only get one so far in woodworking. It is crucial to take classes.

Mark Hunt said...

I think these books would be a great start for a woodworkers book shelf. I quite like Chris Pye's carving books myself.

Over the years I have brought many woodworking books, and never regretted any of them (unlike some tools.)

Anonymous said...

Hi Kari,

Here is my vote for: Peter Korn's "Woodworking Basics: Mastering the Essentials of Craftsmanship"

As a novice, this is my "go-to" book.

BTW Peter uses this book as the text book in his beginners wood working class. A great place to start.

The Village Sexton

Guy Rivest said...

Peter Korn's "Woodworking Basics" seems to be a favourite and I can only agree with everyone suggesting this title because its the book that put me on the right track as a beginner.

Guy Rivest

Anonymous said...

Lots of good books, but I think the best way to see if you like woodworking is to take a course. Many are set up for beginners, most provide necessary tools, and one nice thing about a course is that everyone is ready to help, if help is needed.
Larry Barrett, in Gaithersburg MD

Jonathan said...

I agree with a lot of the above. One I would add is "Taunton's Complete Illustrated Guide to Choosing and Installing Hardware" Choosing and installing hardware seems to be a little talked about topic, and this is the book I always consult before starting a project that will require hardware

Kari Hultman said...

A few more votes for Peter Korn's book. You can view a few pages on Amazon if you don't own it. It looks great.

Thanks for the other suggestions. I had heard that Richard Raffan's book on turning are very good and recently bought one of Chris Pye's DVDs but haven't watched it yet.

Larry, glad you pointed that out. There's nothing quite as helpful as learning from someone in person.

Jonathan, hardware is something that many of us forget about until it's time to install it. That book is a perfect addition to round out a woodworker's library.

Bill Akins said...

Although I have several books on the subject (none that pop into mind right now), I feel I have learned more from the internet than anything else. I completely learned to turn bowls and pens from you tube. I glean my knowledge from sites like this one, The Wood WHisperer, Matt Vanderlist, Renaissance Woodworker, Rob Bois, Mere Mortals and a few others.

Anonymous said...

Nothing against the Schwarz, but his "Handplane Essentials" is far from essential or the "definitive guide." If you haven't read Garrett Hack's "Hand Plane Book", you should - it puts Chris' book to shame.

I also agree with "The Essential Woodworker" by Wearing. It would be my #1 recommendation to any beginner.

Anonymous said...

I learned woodworking from wood magazines and watching woodworking television shows.

Dallas said...

Hack's "Hand Plane Book" is solid.

I've enjoyed Tom Fidgen's "Made by Hand."

Also, perhaps a book that is more about the soul of wood and it's history re: American is Eric Sloane's "A Reverence for Wood." It's free to read here!

If you want to read some old school books online, this is a great library:

I'm looking forward to reading more books from the Lost Art Press as well.

Michael Ferrin said...

I read Anthony Guidice's "Seven Essentials of Woodworking" a bit after I was a beginner, but it made a big impression on me. I wish I had read it when I was starting out. He seems like he's a bit of a curmudgeon, but I really like the fact that he emphasizes using only a few hand tools and mastering a few basic techniques (flattening boards, cutting accurately, etc) before moving on to more complicated things.
I didn't see anyone mention "The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking" by James Krenov. It's a good read and discusses furniture making techniques as well as a lot of the philosophy behind how Krenov worked. It had a big impact on my attitude towards woodworking.
Someone mentioned Richard Raffan. He's also made some excellent videos. Seeing the techniques can be more helpful than reading about them.
Although it doesn't discuss techniques, I'd recommend Harvey Green's "Wood: Craft, Culture, History." It's an excellent history of woodworking throughout human history and may provide a lot of context and insight for a beginning woodworker.