Essential Reading: ‘The Art & Craft of Cabinet-Making’


We don’t know much about David Denning except that he wrote four books about woodworking in the late 19th century, was traditionally trained and had strong opinions about the craft. After reading his 1891 classic “The Art & Craft of Cabinet-Making” many times, I imagine he was a Frank Klausz-like character: He knew his stuff and was happy to let the world know his opinions.

Here’s his opinion on antique furniture: “I assert that it is almost impossible to obtain a really genuine unspoiled piece of oak furniture which has (not) had the misfortune to pass through the hands of a dealer or restorer.” Their work is, generally, “not honest.”

Denning disliked iron planes, calling them “toy-like” and “not used by the practical artisan.”

And unlike many other writers, Denning embraced the use of machines in conjunction with hand tools. On the jack plane he said there is “little occasion for it” when machinery is available. And so the planing can begin with “the trying or even the smoothing plane.”

In other words, Denning sat on the precipice between hand tools and machinery in the late 19th century. Unlike other writers, Denning refused to endorse machines as the end-all, and he swerved wildly away from the Luddite path. Denning was, in many ways, like the modern woodworker who has both options available and can make the most of them.

Because of this particular viewpoint, I consider “The Art & Craft of Cabinet-Making” a classic. The book is a thorough explanation of quality furniture making during the Victorian era. Denning covers tools, workshop appliances, joints, assemblies, veneering and installing hardware in excellent detail. He also covers all the major furniture forms of the time and explains how to make them well (and how others make them poorly).

“The Art & Craft of Cabinet-Making” is available on the antique market or in “print on demand” format, a paperback version where the pages are glued together, not sewn.

I am pleased to say that Popular Woodworking Magazine has done a limited press run of the book and it’s a quality job. It’s printed in the U.S. The binding is both sewn and glued. The hardcovers are cloth-wrapped. The price is only $36, which includes domestic shipping.

You can order a copy here. Do not tarry as there is no guarantee they will do a second press run.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
This entry was posted in Personal Favorites, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Essential Reading: ‘The Art & Craft of Cabinet-Making’

  1. holtdoa says:

    Got mine. I’m in the middle of Good Clean Fun, and have Making Things Work on deck, but then I’m tearing into this one, Here is some high praise for PW, when I opened the package and handled the look, I had to look at the shipping package to know it wasn’t a Lost Art product.

  2. fitz says:

    There is, in fact, my personal guarantee that there will be no second press run.

  3. wldrylie says:

    I purchased my copy right off. It was my only textbook in the six years I took woodworking shop in high school. Our shop teacher let students be on their own if they took shop since 7th grade, and he thought we were good enough, for me, the first day of my Junior year in 1967. Sort of like a Master turning out an apprentice to Journeyman. We knew this because he handed us a copy of ‘The Art and Craft of Cabinet Making’ and told us to make sure we had it all read by return from Christmas vacation. My Girlfriend who worked in the Library said their were still new copies unpacked in four boxes, along with 44 still serviceable used copies. I tried to buy one before I graduated, but the Librarian refused to let me purchase a copy. The first issue stamp in my school copy was September 1921 signed out to John Barclay, of the Barclay Hardware family. Thanks to Popular Woodworking, I now have my own copy.

  4. Got mine and thoroughly loving it thus far.

  5. calebjamesplanemaker says:

    Sounds like my kind of read. Order placed. Thanks >

  6. Salko Safic says:

    This book is still available in bookstores, not as pretty as this one is but is available.

Comments are closed.