We get a lot of emails from people wanting to get into woodworking and wondering where to start. While I always first point them in the direction of Off the Saw, where we teach woodworking workshops or College of the Redwoods, where some of us have sought refuge and instruction–the truth is that most of us have very little, if any formal training in woodworking. Almost all of what we know about woodworking we have learned on the job, from trial and error (a lot of error), from mentors and colleagues, and from reading BOOKS.
At OWS books guide us daily: from how-to books that refine our technical skills, to artist books which inspire our design and remind us to be patient and reverent in our practice, to scientific texts about the cellular structure of our medium, to more light hearted texts that remind us to have some fun with our work. So whether you are a soft-handed, starry-eyed novice, or a gnarled and jaded old woodchuck like me, here are some of our favorite books to guide you in your woodworking pursuits.
Keep in mind that we have a lot of overlapping favorites so if, for example, you are a die hard Josh fan (not only for his majestic and world famous facial hair, but also for his charm and ease in front of the camera), but its Nick who recommends “The Soul of a Tree”, rest assured–Josh most likely loves that book too.
- The Soul of the Tree by George Nakashima
This is a great book by one of our heroes about the process of milling, selecting, designing and building with slabs.
- Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking: Joinery by Tage Frid
This is a go-to text for any wood shop. The black and white photography is unfortunate, but Tage is so damn cute you wont care.
- The Perfect Edge by Ron Hock
Keeping your tools sharp is fundamental to good building. Learn how to sharpen from the guy who makes and sells the best plane irons in the country.
The Complete Illustrated Guide to Joinery by Gary Rogowski
Understanding joinery is crucial for designing furniture that will last. This book will help you choose the right joint for the job.
Understanding Wood: A Craftsman’s Guide to Wood Technology by Bruce HoadleyWant to geek out on the cellular level? This book is an informative guide to tree and wood science geared towards effective practices of working with this living medium.
- The Impractical Cabinetmaker: Krenov on Composing, Making and Detailing by James Krenov
Matty actually selected Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for this post, but I gave him this delightful Krenov book last year for Christmas so I’m deeming it his favorite book/best gift ever. Both practical and philosophical, Krenov’s Goblet of Grain wins every time.
- The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking by James Krenov
Some of us have had the luck to study in James Krenov’s program at the College of the Redwoods. This book is a good summary of the teachings there–including philosophical musings on practicing patience and letting the material guide the design, this book also delves into machine and hand tool techniques.
- The Nature and Art of Workmanship by David Pye
Written in 1968, this text is still extremely relevant to craft today. Pye illustrates the vital importance of caring about one’s own craftmanship despite emerging technologies of automation and mass production (and today, digital fabrication). A fundamental read on design, theory and creative risk.
- Canoecraft by Ted Moores
The official OWS go-to boat building book for all three of our shop made canoes.
- Chairmaker’s Notebook by Peter Galbert
On how to work green wood with traditional hand tools–this book is guiding Nick through the completion of his first windsor chair and shaving horse.
- Table saw Magic by Jim Tolpin & The Bandsaw Book by Lonnie Bird
Nick’s favorite jigs and tricks lie within these pages.
- Artists’ Handmade Houses by Gotkin/Freeman
Peek inside the homes of our favorite craftsmen/designers such as Sam Maloof and George Nakashima.
- Nomadic Furniture by Victor Papanek and James Hennessey
A favorite for quick DIY projects–emphasizing the use of affordable, recycled, and generally accessible materials and tools. Plenty of 70’s hippy flavor: i.e. were they high when they wrote this book? Double check all of the dimensions–stoners are bad at math.
- The art of Japanese Joinery by Kiyosi Seiki
Beautiful pictures of complex joints along with a succinct history of traditional Japanese construction and joinery.
- The Craft Reader by Glenn Adamson
If you are interested in more theoretical pursuits–this book is a collection of excerpts which put our craft in the context of art history, mass production, capitalism, and technology.
Mirthful yet Discouraging:
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
Great for the young and senior woodworkers alike! These books remind us to respect our trees and they make killer bedtime stories.
Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England and Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature both by William CrononThis is the ecological and historical take on the problem posed by Shel Silverstein. Where does wood come from? The answer ain’t always pretty. With a forward written by my second cousin, colonial historian John Demos, how could you put this one down?!