10 Books that Changed the Way I Think

jefferson_bookcase_IMG_4123I get asked (a lot) for a list of my favorite books. The problem is that I have so many books that I use and rely on, that I can’t boil down my entire library to a list of favorites.

I don’t collect tools. But I do have a book problem.

This morning I went through my two rooms of books and pulled the 10 that made a profound change in the way I work or think. You might not like these books. Sometimes you have to be ready to receive the information before it can take hold.

These are in no particular order.

“Oak: The Frame of Civilization” by William Bryant Logan. I wish I had written this book. It is part narrative, part history, part detective novel. And all engaging. If you don’t love oak, this book might change your mind. I’ve read this book straight through twice.

“The Artisan of Ipswich” by Robert Tarule. This book examines the life of Thomas Dennis in 17th-century Massachusetts. This book will help you tie furniture forms to the economic and social structures in which they are created. Fascinating stuff.

“Woodwork Joints” by Charles Hayward. Buy the Evans Bros. edition — not the junky Sterling edition. Pay whatever. This book is one of the foundational texts – even though it’s just a bunch of reprints assembled together.

“The Essential Woodworker” by Robert Wearing. I’ve written ad nauseam about this title. I love it so much that John Hoffman and I worked two years trying to get the rights to reprint it.

“Welsh Stick Chairs” by John Brown. This book made me want to build chairs so badly that I started building chairs.

“The Woodwright’s Guide” by Roy Underhill. I read it in one sitting. I love all of Underhill’s books, but this one is the most cohesive. And it’s beautifully illustrated by one of his daughters, Eleanor.

“With Hammer in Hand” by Charles F. Hummel. One of my prized possessions is an autographed copy of this book (thanks Suzanne). Like “The Artisan of Ipswich,” Hummel’s book puts the furniture and tools in context. This book made me travel to Delaware to see the Dominy shop.

“Illustrated Cabinetmaking” by Bill Hylton. This book is an encyclopedia of furniture forms that explains things in woodworking terms – rather than antique collector terms. It’s a good place to start when you designing a type of furniture you’ve never built before.

“Green Woodworking” by Drew Langsner. This book is like visiting a foreign country, a delightful foreign country. Even if you have been woodworking for decades, this book offers surprises and insights on every page. It will make you more intimate with your material.

“The Chairmaker’s Workshop” by Drew Langsner. While John Brown’s book made me want to build chairs, Langsner’s gave me the information I needed to actually do it. Though I build chairs differently now, I could not have gotten started without this book.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Chris Schwarz

Publisher of woodworking books and DVDs specializing in hand tool techniques.
This entry was posted in Personal Favorites, The Essential Woodworker. Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to 10 Books that Changed the Way I Think

  1. jasongc says:

    Hi, my name is Jason, and I’ve been collecting woodworking books for 10 years now. Thankfully, my wife understands, and I haven’t yet returned home to find my stack of books, my t-shirt, and both pairs of underwear ablaze on the front lawn.

    Somewhat related – there needs to be a book ABOUT Roy. There’s a great story there that hasn’t yet been recorded in an individual volume.

    • Roger Davis says:

      Yeah, you’ve got to love a guy who made ends meet by blasting outhouse holes into solid rock with dynamite. I asked Roy about ten years ago about the possibility of an autobiography, and he said that he had promised Jane and the girls that they wouldn’t have to face that while they were still alive (and I think Eleanor’s still in her twenties).

  2. If book lists keep getting posted, I’m really going to need to build that library wing. I’m running out of space under the bed.

    • David Pickett says:

      You only really have a problem when you can’t get into bed because it’s jammed against the ceiling. Keep on buying them books!

  3. James Gee says:

    What am I missing if I only have the ‘junky Sterling edition’ of ‘Woodwork Joints’?

    • lostartpress says:

      Some of the Sterling editions have a sub-par binding and they replaced some of Hayward’s excellent drawings with scribbles. Some Sterling editions are fine.

      • John Cashman says:

        The problem with some of the reprints of Hayward’s books are the illustrations. They look like very bad photocopies of the original photograph — dark, muddy, and the details impossible to see. But still great texts.

      • James Gee says:

        Thanks! The binding of my copy, published in 1979 by Sterling (ISBN 0-8069-8806-1), is showing its age but the illustrations and photographs are excellent.

  4. Christopher Hawkins says:

    “Sometimes you have to be ready to receive the information before it can take hold.” – C Schwarz

    “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” – Attributed to the Buddhism tradition…

    The sentiment expressed by both the quotations is sometimes overlooked by teachers and students.

  5. Tim Henriksen says:

    Welsh Stick Chairs desperately needs a nice cloth (or leather) reprint!!

  6. rondennis303 says:

    I’ve never known an author that didn’t read voraciously. So what is this about a book problem?

    On a personal note Wearing’s book is on it’s fourth or fifth run through from my shelves. Thanks for your efforts.

  7. billlattpa says:

    I’ve read through just a few on your list but I would generally trust your judgement on the others. I won’t bother to mention any that I like though.

    • Graham Burbank says:

      That’s a shame. I learn more about titles I have missed from reccomendations from fellow woodworkers than from any other source. Chris just added a stack to my wish list. I’ll be burning up “Alibris” tonight…

      • billlattpa says:

        A Reverence for Wood by Eric Sloane was one. It’s not a woodworking book in the strict sense but it was probably the first book I read that explained wood movement to me. The Complete Guide to Sharpening by Leonard Lee. Workbenches: From Design and Theory to Construction and Use from Herr Schwarz himself. Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking. These are probably old standbys to most people but none the worse for wear I think. I hope you didn’t misinterpret my motives. I usually keep my opinion to myselft on this blog though.

  8. sablebadger says:

    I’m a member of the too many books club, or would be if I considered this to be a problem. Fortunately my wife has the same “Problem” so I don’t get any grief for it. She has whole book shelves devoted to pre-17th century costume and fashion design and one devoted to archaeology, so I don’t feel bad about my two books shelves of woodworking books, one bookshelf full of medieval heraldry, and a small section on historical brewing among other things.

    We actually just started discussion of a series of books shelves in the living room to house our books, and free up some of the choke points all over the house where shelves and piles of books intrude on the walkways.

    Which is why I stared at the shelf in your picture for a while. This might be a solution to the problem we have… I need to do some research it seems.

    Also, I second the motion of a book about Roy, and I just finished reading the Artisans of Ipswich and highly recommend the book.

    Badger

  9. SDP says:

    My first piece of furniture years ago was a bookshelf because I didn’t have enough space for my books, I still don’t have enough space because of the wood working books acquired since then. Fortunately the county library system has a fantastic selection and as supplied the bulk of my recent reading material.

  10. Julien Hardy says:

    I must say I’m surprised Krenov didn’t make it into the list. He changed it all for me.
    But if he didn’t make it, I guess I must read some more from that list.

  11. Sam says:

    Tage Frid, Teaches Woodworking. Hey! you can never have to many copies of the Anarchist’s Tool Chest!

  12. Russ Morin says:

    I would love for someone to get the rights to publish all of John Brown’s writings in one collection. Seems to me I read that it was being considered.
    Russ

    • lostartpress says:

      There has been a project in England to reprint his columns from Good Woodworking. I do not know its current status.When/if the book comes out, I’ll be first in line. I have all of his columns in a folder in my office.

  13. Patrick says:

    Nice planes on the second shelf. How come they aren’t in the shop?

    • lostartpress says:

      I have a few planes that are symbols and have special meaning for me. They are not users (though I have used them). Those are on by bookshelf. To explain it would take pages and pages.

  14. Eric Bennett says:

    I came upon Graham Blackburn’s Traditional Woodworking Handtools about seven years ago – by a total fluke -a thunderstorm knocked out power at my favorite bookstore and sent me to the crappy bookstore. $7.99 on the clearance table and it changed my life.

    OK – how about a top ten music list?

    • lostartpress says:

      Eric,

      That list would be even harder to create for me. Music is on all the time in my day. But here’s an off-the-cuff list.

      The Velvet Underground
      R.E.M.
      Wilco/Son Volt/Uncle Tupelo
      The Police
      Guided by Voices
      Built to Spill
      Elvis Costello
      Whiskytown
      Nirvana
      Superchunk/Portastatic
      Modest Mouse
      Husker Du/Sugar/Bob Mould
      The Replacements/Paul Westerburg
      Pixies
      Eels
      Lucinda Williams
      Neutral Milk Hotel/Elephant 6 Collective
      Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker
      Beck
      Centro-Matic
      Black Keys
      Bright Eyes

      • John says:

        See? I knew you were a good guy! You got me with “Wilco/Son Volt/Uncle Tupelo”. Those guys are just a few years older than me, and from Belleville, IL about 15 minutes from where I grew up. Some of my fondest memories of my teens were going to see them at Mississippi Nights (gone, replaced by casino parking) on the Landing in St. Louis (just across the river from Belleville). Here, Schwarz, I’m going to do you a favor and send you to one of those concerts: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUJbT89wKHI

      • Christopher Hawkins says:

        No bluegrass? You’ve got some nice stuff accompanying some of your videos.

      • lostartpress says:

        Chris,

        It’s funny. In Arkansas I grew up saturated in Delta blues, bluegrass and country music. That is where I heard recordings by Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers. That stuff is in my blood, so my love of it is almost unconscious….

      • Gerald says:

        Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker — One of the most underated bands of all time.

      • Gerald says:

        Wilco/Son Volt/Uncle Tupelo — Good friends of mine were talking about these guys 20 years ago and somehow I never gave them a listen. SInce I now live very close to Belleville (Alton), I feel obligated to finally find out what all the talk was about. Wow, have I missed out. Thanks, John.

  15. Paul Cottingham says:

    Velvet underground! I’m glad to see someone else had heard of them.

  16. Richard Darby says:

    Any chance of getting the rights to reprint “Woodwork Joints”?

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