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Thread: Relatively new hand woodworker - books

  1. #1

    Question Relatively new hand woodworker - books

    I'm thinking of buying a good general woodworking book (I'm a relative amateur). I'm trying to make a choice between Robert Wearing's "Essentials of Woodworking" and Paul Sellers' "Working Wood 1 & 2 - The Artisan Course". Tom Fidgen's "The Unplugged Workshop" is another possible option, as is Jim Tolpin's "The New Traditional Woodworker". I intend to work mostly with hand tools. I already have "Hand Tools", by Aldren Watson. Which one would you recommend?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Plano, TX
    moved to NH as it's more suited here than the carvers forum.
    The means by which an end is reached must exemplify the value of the end itself.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Austin Texas
    Those are all good choices. Sellers' and Toplin's stuff may be a little more beginner-oriented, with the Wearing book (IMO) more of a reference type. I have not gone through Fidgen's book, but have heard good things about it. Sellers' book has lots of good, close up photos that show exactly what he is describing as to tools and techniques and is very helpful for someone starting out and/or can correct those who have been taught an incorrect/inefficient technique. Toplin's book is a more of a somewhat less intensive cover of beginner's tool needs and techniques. Wearing's book is something that can be reached for to show which joint may be best used for a particular situation and (I am not sure on this) the technique best utilized for that joint. It does not have the detail of the Sellers book, but is one that may likely be used more so over the years after some experience is acquired. Sellers and Toplin can start you off, then possibly may not be referenced much later on.
    Last edited by David Eisenhauer; 03-15-2017 at 8:03 PM.

  4. #4
    My disclaimer is that I haven't read any of the books you mentioned - most of them didn't exist when I was learning. But I think looking at YouTube videos featuring the authors is probably a good way to get an idea of (1) whose approach to woodworking you most resonate with, and (2) who best explains things in a way that you understand.

    For example, I really wish that Paul Sellers had been around when I was first getting into this a couple of decades ago. If I'd had someone to tell me that all you need is a #4, a panel saw, a couple of chisels etc. ... and lots of PRACTICE, I would have saved a lot of money on tool accumulation. I eventually gravitated to a more minimalist approach, but only after buying a lot of stuff that it turned out I didn't need.

    I've gotten a lot of use out of Wearing's other book, on woodworking jigs and fixtures. He was a no-nonsense guy.

    On the other hand, we had Tolpin's "The Toolbox Book", which, along with Scott Landis' "The Workbench Book" were things you kept under the bed to look at when nobody else was around. Not tons of information, but ... beautiful pictures. (Of course, we all read them for the articles...)

    And we had a bunch of Roy Underhill books, which were a different kind of porn. YMMV, but, while these were a lot of fun to read and look at, for a guy in the close-in suburbs of NYC, an approach that begins each project with "Go out into the forest and find a tree ..." isn't that useful...

    Personally, I really enjoy both Tom Fidgen and Paul Sellers. Don't always agree with everything they say, but I really enjoy them.

  5. #5
    Hand tools require a lot of touch and feel. I think pictures and words in books are a poor way to learn COMPARED to videos and dvd's (and of course, personal instruction). The key is understanding and achieving 'sharp' blades. That's so subtle, I submit it'll take you 10 books and then a bunch of trial and error vs. following live action.

    To that end, I suggest you invest in buying or watching for free videos. I like David Charlesworth's set, but there are plenty of others.

    Then I would seriously save up a little $$ to take a course on learning the fine points of flat, sharp, and how to saw. The best would be one-on-one instruction. A few sessions will do miracles for your understanding, goals, and ability. From there, everything else is icing.
    Last edited by Prashun Patel; 03-16-2017 at 9:41 AM.

  6. #6
    Check Lost Arts Press. I like Hand and Eye.

    Personally, I would give more consideration to videos than books. I've bought several hand tool books and while I've learned from them, the best way IMO is to see someone actually using and teaching.

    You don't need to spend $$'s on classes. I've learn a LOT of hand tool ww'ing from watching project videos like Paul Sellers, etc. on You Tube.
    FineWoodWorking has an excellent set of videos although mostly power tools there is some hand tools stuff there.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Silicon Valley, CA
    Paul Sellers covers the most detail.
    I'd recommend watching some of his free videos online. These tend to focus on technique, but will give you an idea if you learn well from them. He also has a subscription service where he takes viewers through projects, with an equivalent amount of detail. Doing some of these build-along projects seems like a viable way to get going. His books are surprisingly similar, but less dynamic. Might be good as a reference once you've done a project or two.

    Tolpin has less detailed technique, and a bit more inspirational philosophy and some projects intended to help around the shop of a new handtool woodworker. (One of my favorite books of all time is his "Woodworking Wit and Wisdom" -- although it largely focuses more on the philosophy)

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jun 2015
    Northern California
    I just picked up Sellers book from my local library - one of the better basic instructional books available. But I concur with the majority in that YouTube videos are far more beneficial than a book when it comes to technique as long as the person doing the video is competent and not pimping products (again Sellers comes to mind, as does Bill Schenher). Chris Schwarz is great but I don't think he has too many freebies. The Lie-Nielsen instructional videos, while geared toward their tools, are very good. Oh yeah, and a lot of practice on scrap wood. To piggyback on Prashun's comment, one book I would immediately purchase is The Complete Guide to Sharpening, by Leonard Lee. A sharp tool makes life a lot easier and woodworking more fun. I'd also consider either purchasing or borrowing from the library The Handplane Book, by Garrett Hack. It won't teach you much about woodworking techniques but will save you a lot of money by explaining in detail what each plane/spokeshave does and prevent you from cascading down the slippery slope of buying unnecessary tools.

  9. #9
    Something to consider

    "General woodworking" isn't a particularly interesting thing to learn in and of itself.
    That's stuff like learning how to prep glue joints, saw wood, some basic joinery and some basic finishing.

    Generally - it's a lot more fun when you start doing woodworking that interests you.... And almost none of that stuff precisely fits into "general woodworking" per-se....

    What do you want to actually do? Make boxes? Woodwn spoons? Bread boards? Toys? Turn pens, bowls, and stuff like that? Make musical instruments? Casework and furniture? Outdoor furniture?

    So say for example - you want to turn pens... You won't really put too much time into fancy box joinery or fool with case work.... But you better know how to joint up all the little scraps into the blank so it doesn't blow up on the lathe. You better learn how to turn small blanks with thin profiles and be able to hit specific shapes and dimensions so it all assembles and put a good finish on it... But you won't have to worry with how a guitar supports 150lbs of string tension or getting a rocking chair to rock right.
    Last edited by John C Cox; 03-16-2017 at 2:50 PM.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2017
    I haven't read any of the books you list. I do agree with others here that videos are extremely helpful. I have watched everything Paul Sellers has on YouTube and have learned a great deal although I am more of a "hybrid" woodworker. I know these aren't on your list but I purchase used through Amazon for a little over $30 all three of Tage Frid's books. The books take you through joinery to furniture making and I continue to use them for reference.


  11. #11
    This is a good thread. I was considering buying a book, lately I've been watching Paul Sellers on YouTube. Lots of great stuff in those videos. All I need now is a #4 plane and a saw.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jul 2015
    North Virginia
    I thought Vic Tesolin's book, The Minimalist Woodworker, is a great starter book. Essential Woodworking Hand Tools by Paul Sellers is also excellent.

    With hand tools, sharpening is a must-have skill, so I would also highly recommend The Perfect Edge by Ron Hock.

    And get to know the Lost Art Press web site - as you get deeper into reading about woodworking, they are a treasure trove of good reads.


  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Silicon Valley, CA
    Meghan just posted an excerpt from Wearing's book on her blog. It will give you an idea of what Essentials of Woodworking is like:


  14. #14
    Can't recommend Sellers stuff enough. After you master the basics, you might find you disagree with some of the things Paul promotes, but that's his goal. To get you to that point so you can start working on your own; and solving things a different way.

    His classic "All you need is a #4" is a great example. That's not necessarily true, but he is so emphatic about it because he wants to break down barriers to entry and get people working.

  15. #15
    The book you have by Watson is the best of the bunch IMHO. Books are good use of time 1/2 hr before you go to bed-I find reading helps me relax in a way that videos do not, and I sleep better when I read a little bit before turning in.

    I would suggest Anarchists Tool Box by Christopher Schwartz before any of the books mentioned by the OP. Sellers Book is really good but almost too detailed, Fidgeons books are good but they are more coffee table books for a rainy Sunday afternoon when you don't feel like going to the shop or going outside...

    And ditto what everyone else here said. You will get further working in the shop and making mistakes with hand tools than reading about them.

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