I enjoy reading woodworking books. Each one I read makes me better at my favorite hobby. I read books focused on hand tools because that is what I enjoy most. This generally means reading books written before 1950 (or 1800). There are a few exceptions to this, but people have been using hand tools for woodworking for a long time so coming up with “original” content that is relevant must be difficult.
What is original? I just finished reading “By Hand & Eye” by George Walker and Jim Tolpin. I highly recommend the book. When I first heard of the concept, I placed my order right away. Why? It’s a woodworking book that is not about tools, particular furniture styles, or methods of building. It’s about learning how to design good looking stuff. I can’t think of any woodworking book that is similar.
I’m an engineer by training, so form follows function (and only function) with me. I have built more than one piece of furniture that I designed but was not happy with the look. After reading this book, I understand more about what “looks right” and more about how to get there through thoughtful design. I didn’t need the drafting lessons in the book, although they are very complete and helpful. I didn’t need the project ideas in the back, but they are good starting materials. I needed the understanding of what was already in my mind. Before reading this book I could look at something and know right away if it “looked right” or not, but I could not place what was wrong. Now I have a better sense for “right” & “wrong” – aka proportionate or disproportionate. After I got into the book, I started noticing elements in the design of everything around me that I have never seen before. I’m measuring buildings, cars, people (not too closely on this one), and furniture with my eyes to see what looks right and what does not. It really is an eye opening experience.
I found this book very original, even though I did not notice anything in the book that was invented by George or Jim. The originality was their idea that we should explore designs that have been around for 1,000’s of years. This approach is original in the new woodworking book market. I enjoyed how they distilled tons of established references and made classic design lessons easy to grasp.
I will say the writing of the book is unconventional. It is conversational and there are two authors who are talking to the reader. They make it work pretty well, but it is different from other “how to” books. Also, some of Mr. Walkers writings (his blog and PWW articles) are eye opening but others leave me scratching my noggin. This book is the eye opening writing style – no guesswork.
So, read it today and improve your designs. Maybe this book will move you from following magazine article sketches to design your own pieces. It’s not rocket science.
My tool cabinet – the design was refined using tips from Mr Walkers PWW articles.