People regularly ask what my favorite woodworking books are. It’s a tough question because I really love writings about dead trees that are printed on dead trees.
Most of the books I like are ones that altered the way I look at the world. Charles Hayward made the tools a thing I could master. Robert Wearing connected the dots so I could build stuff entirely by hand.
But Peter Follansbee and Jennie Alexander changed the way I look at furniture.
Their book, “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree,” is not just a treatise on building a joint stool. It is not just an examination of 17th-century joinery techniques. And it is not just the personal journey of two impassioned woodworkers.
While being all those things above, it is also a code of ethical conduct for building furniture from the past.
When we build furniture from the past, the ethical path is to build it true to the materials and techniques of the time. Only that path will produce a true understanding of these furniture forms that make our hearts beat faster.
Highboys built with shapers leave me utterly cold. Block-front chests built with a dovetail jig make me confused. Six-board chests built with a router and a pneumatic nailer make me want to chop down my neighborhood power lines with an axe.
All of this came into focus as I was editing “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree.” I’ve read the entire text at least a dozen times, so its lessons, which I first encountered more than a year ago, have had time to seep deep into my sinew.
It seems at first to be like your typical project book, but it’s not. It should perhaps be retitled: Make a Joint Stool from a Tree Without Idiot Compromises that Will Cripple Your End Product. For Alexander and Follansbee, the tools, techniques and the end product are all equally important. Why? Because the end product will not look right unless you embrace the other two. A joint stool made with a table saw might as well have been extruded from plastic resin.
I know that some of you are reading this and thinking: Yo Schwarz, don’t you have a table saw?
Yup. I have some machines. And when it comes to building furniture from the 19th century to the present, basic machinery is required so the end product will look right. But when I build a joint stool – and I will build a joint stool soon – you can rest assured that it will be with a froe and hatchet. I might not even turn on the lights in the shop that week.
The medicine in “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree” is strong stuff. It’s just a delayed-release drug. Once you read it, all sorts of crazy things become perfectly reasonable. Then they become obvious. Then them become imperative.
If you haven’t had a chance to read the book, borrow a copy from a woodworking friend or your local library. Yes, you can also buy “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree” in our store.
— Christopher Schwarz