Why These Books? In What Order?


Sometimes a customer asks us to recommend a good place to begin when buying our books.

It’s a question we take seriously. Our books are not cheap, they take time to read and each represents years (sometimes decades) of work to get to press. So recommending one of our 33 books is a bit like matchmaking.

Mentally, I arrange our books into a few “tracks” or “traditions.” Today, I’d like to discuss the United Kingdom tradition.

Joseph Moxon’s ‘The Art of Joinery’
AOJ_stack_IMG_8093“Mechanick Exercises” by Joseph Moxon was the first English-language book on woodworking. We reprinted his section on joinery, called “The Art of Joinery,” and it was Lost Art Press’ first title in 2007.

Moxon’s 17th-century language is a little stilted for modern ears, so I offer commentary on the text and try to explain some of the areas that are confusing. What I love about Moxon is that not much has changed in hand-tool woodworking in more than three centuries. The tools and processes are similar to what I do at the bench every day.

And so the details covered in Moxon are as relevant to me today as when Moxon printed them. Of course, you can get this sort of information from other sources, but understanding the primary source is the best way to separate good technique from Internet self-fondling.

While this was our first book, it’s not necessarily the first Lost Art Press book I’d buy from the U.K. tradition. That book would be Robert Wearing’s “The Essential Woodworker.”

Robert Wearing’s ‘The Essential Woodworker’
EW_blue_IMG_4051We had to fight like hell to get “The Essential Woodworker” back in print. Though the author was supportive, his previous publishing company was as pleasant as a bag of hemorrhoids. The company destroyed the original files and photos (or said they had been destroyed) and pretty much resisted us at every turn – even though the company had let the book lapse years before.

So we rebuilt the book from scratch. We typed in every damn word and made revisions from Wearing. We rescanned the line drawings. We took new photos. The result is my favorite book for the beginning hand-tool woodworker.

The Essential Woodworker” isn’t really about disconnected skills (sharpening, planing, mortising, dovetailing). Instead it connects all these disparate skills into a way that you can see how they are used together to design and build furniture. For many woodworkers, Wearing’s book puts all the puzzle pieces in order and makes it all “click.”

It did for me.

‘The Joiner & Cabinet Maker’
BK-JACM01-2This almost-forgotten book from the early 1800s tells the story of Thomas, a young apprentice in a rural workshop. It is similar to “The Essential Woodworker” in that it provides a framework for learning the craft through three projects: a packing box, a school box and a chest of drawers. But what is different is that all this happens through a historical lens.

We took the original short book and printed in its entirety, but we also loaded it with historical context from Joel Moskowitz and a modern interpretation (from me). For me “The Joiner & Cabinet Maker” is for woodworkers who also love the History Channel. It will make you look at your shavings, your folding rule and your name stamp in a different and deeper way.

It will make you appreciate that you cannot spell “woodworking” without “working” and help you grasp why historical technique is sometimes different than what we do today.

And you will loathe Sam, the villain of the book.

Charles H. Hayward ‘The Woodworker, Vols. I to IV’
hayward_cover4_img_2253For me, our series of four books from Charles H. Hayward represent the most exhaustive look at the art of joinery in the United Kingdom’s tradition. Hayward, the editor of The Woodworker magazine for more than 30 years, wrote, built and illustrated almost every word of the monthly magazine during his tenure.

He was uniquely talented, thoughtful and skilled as a writer, editor, builder, illustrator and publisher.

We sorted through every issue of The Woodworker published during his editorship and, with the assistance of too many people to mention, we culled it all into these four volumes that cover tools, techniques, joinery, workshops and furniture design.

These books are a joy to read casually and are a reference for almost every hand-tool process I know of. These books are for beginners. They are for hard-bitten professionals. They are (and I rarely say this) something that I wish every woodworker would read.

Unlike some practitioners, Hayward wasn’t myopic. He was fascinated by alternative methods from other woodworkers and other cultures. You can even see his own opinion shift on several key items as he listened to his readers.

For a taste of some of Hayward’s genius, check out the table of contents and the free excerpts available here.

And Some Other Titles….
There are other books we have published that are part of the U.K. tradition that focus on narrower topics. “Doormaking & Window-making” explains just that – using the tools and processes common to the U.K. (and North America). “Campaign Furniture” explores an important form of British furniture that doesn’t get much attention. “Welsh Stick Chairs” is one of the most important books on chairmaking (it’s from Wales). And “Cut & Dried” spends a good deal of its pages explaining the woods common to the U.K. and how they are cut, dried and used.

Next – the French tradition.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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12 Responses to Why These Books? In What Order?

  1. miathet says:

    Could not agree more. I read joiner and cabinet maker first and might still recommend it first as it is a lighter read but wearing is the gift I give to new woodworkers.

  2. For a real treat, get the audio book version of “The Joiner and the Cabinet Maker.” Roy Underhill (who does the reading) was a theater major long before his PBS days, and this performance is worth every cent!

    • schugn says:

      Some many tomes,so little time (plus shop time). This is an archive endeavor that requires
      a lifetime (several when colleagues are involved) to compile. Regrettably, I cannot embellish my local library or my personal collection with a full listing of LOP publishings.
      I hope to have a moment with you & LOP crew at Handworks 2019 in Amana, Iowa.

  3. johncashman73 says:

    33 books. Holy crap. I wouldn’t have guessed. I’m pretty sure I own every one, except for the most recent 2 that I need to order.

    Congratulations. I can remember the comment from someone at that “other” magazine, who believed you’d be out of ideas after the first worbench book, and wondered what your post woodworking career would be. I fart in his general direction.

    As a minor correction, one does not measure hemorrhoids by the bag, but by the hogshead. Two hogsheads equal a butt. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butt_(unit)

  4. Dan says:

    The Essential Woodworker was the second LAP book I bought, and an excellent choice for that. I guess it doesn’t fall within the English tradition, but the first I bought was The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, and I’m awfully glad I did. I got interested in woodworking with literally zero woodworking tools or experience and a pretty limited budget. ATC did a wonderful job of walking me through how to get started from scratch under those circumstances, and in particular what tools I really needed to get right away, what I could put off for a little bit, what I needed to pay through the nose for and what I could get by with second-rate or beat-up versions of for a while. With that confidence I was able to make sense of The Essential Woodworker. Without it I don’t think I would have had a starting point. All of which is just to say that if you’re talking to someone who is really starting from scratch, it’s got to be ATC.

    Incidentally, I’ll look forward to the post on the French tradition, but I’m really looking forward to the post on the Estonian tradition. Seems to me you’ve got an all-star starter, but a pretty shallow bench.

  5. For true beginners, I always recommend “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker” because it is such a great story – very entertaining read and loads of fun. It got me excited about woodworking again. The Wearing and Hayward books are true reference manuals – Before starting a new project, I almost always go refresh myself on the techniques and tips in these books. Hayward especially has a wealth of small tips to make operations go smoothly and result in a clean product. Excellent stuff, Chris. Thank you and LAP for bringing these back to us!

  6. John says:

    Good afternoon,

    This was a topic of discussion a couple of weeks ago in a Facebook group. I believe the original poster asked for suggestions on the first 3 LAP titles. I had suggested,

    1. Anarchists tool chest
    2. Anarchists design book
    3. Area of interest. Chairs, campaign furniture, etc

  7. Tony Zaffuto says:

    Have all except Moxon’s. For me, Wearing is the guy.

  8. sleuthmilanowski says:

    I would argue to go with either Anarchist Design Book or Anarchist Tool Chest first. Then get Wearing’s book. Third get the Anarchist book you did not purchase first.

  9. I love the Essential Woodworker. I’ve suggested it to many a beginner. Then I suggest the Anarchist Tools Chest followed by By Hand and Eye.


  10. DenverGeorge says:

    ATC for me. I would have never switched over to hand tools without ATC. It told me what tools I needed, what they were used for, and basic care and maintenance. That book is still my “go to” source and the one I recommend to anyone who asks about getting into hand tools.

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