In the excerpt for “The Difference Makers” you’ll have access to the contents, preface, a long introduction filled with woodworking history and the chapter on Garrett Hack, which has, perhaps, one of the funniest stories you’ll read in the entire book. Simply go here.
In the excerpt for “Making & Mastering Wood Planes” you’ll have access to the contents, a foreword by James Krenov, an introduction and all of Chapter 5: Planing Techniques. Chapter 5 includes detailed information on how to prepare to plane, edge-joining techniques, flattening and truing surfaces, polishing surfaces, squaring end grain, profiling, and finishing hand-planed surfaces. For this one, go here.
For a more in-depth look of Peter Follansbee’s “Joiner’s Work,” check out the (free!) PDF excerpt we’ve posted here. It includes the table of contents, dedication, acknowledgements, introduction and the bookstand chapter.
While copy editing Peter’s book I was delighted with its rarity. It’s difficult to write a how-to, project-based book in a conversational tone well. Peter excels at this. He treats the reader as if he or she is in the same room and there’s no stuffiness, no holier-than-thou, no “my way is the right way.” He makes his recommendations, tells the reader what has worked for him – and what has not – and emphasizes that it’s fine to do it another way. This style of writing reads so easily but its casualness reminds me of the Steve Jobs quote: “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.”
Oh, and Peter is a master of boosting one’s confidence without making you feel like a child. Its subtle, but brilliant. You’ll see. And when things do go wrong? He promises you he gets it – for almost everything he warns you about, he recognizes his own humbling experiences.
I could go on. But just check out the excerpt. This one is a joy to read.
“Every now and then there comes a work of exceptional importance for a wide range of woodworkers,” writes J. Norman Reid in a review of “Cut & Dried: A Woodworker’s Guide to Timber Technology” by Richard Jones. “This volume, by British cabinetmaker Richard Jones, is such a book. In “Cut and Dried,” Jones examines a broad spectrum of issues concerning the character, qualities, and uses of wood, with particular emphasis on its application to cabinetmaking.”
After a thorough review of the book’s contents, Reid writes, “Cut & Dried” is one of the most complete and detailed works on wood and wood technology available to non-specialist cabinetmakers. For this reason, it merits a place on the reference shelves of all serious woodworkers. I highly recommend this important book.”
Thank you, Norman, for the kind review. You can read the entire review here. You can learn more about “Cut & Dried,” and purchase it, here.
We’re putting the finishing touches on “The Difference Makers,” an inspiring book by Marc Adams, founder and owner of the largest woodworking school in North America. In this 11″ x 11″ book (which will likely be 250 pages) Marc profiles 30 furniture makers, artists and toolmakers he’s worked with at his school. Each profile includes a biography of the person, Marc’s personal history with the person and lots of drool-worthy photos of each maker’s work.
The photo above is not drool-worthy. It’s a photo, taken at 1 a.m., of my desk. If I had known I was going to post that picture I would have taken it in daylight. I would have fixed the crooked blinds, removed those pens out of their packaging (the red pens I bought at the same time were long-ago broken into), tucked away the big gold earrings that had grown heavy on my head, tossed my son’s Nerf bullet off my desk and at least turned over the Post-It note pad with Girl Scout cookie orders scribbled on it, the red ink bleeding because I used the same pad as a second coaster a couple hours prior.
But then I looked at the piles of papers – Marc’s book with Nancy Hiller’s copy edits – and I fell in love with the photo. That pile of papers represents more than three years of Marc’s life – hours spent researching, interviewing, writing, gathering, organizing, editing. That pile of papers represents hundreds of photos sifted through and chosen, checked for size (and in a quarter of the cases higher-resolution images requested, some re-taken), saved as CMYK and .tiff, each one cropped, edited and clipped. That pile of papers represents Chris’s edits and my edits and hundreds of emails sent and received with fact checks. That pile of papers represents hours of design work by Linda Watts, who turned all of this work into a beautiful book, one well worth placing on a coffee table to be thumbed through, often. That messy desk photo is the truth behind all that work and I imagine, 20 years from now, I’ll be thankful to come across it and remember.
And unlike any of our other titles, each chapter in “The Difference Makers” represents the life work of each person profiled. That’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of weight. I’ve only met Marc in person a couple times, but I’ve known him for years. I imagine he’s someone who excels under pressure. I mean, he did this – he wrote this. Not many folk would attempt this. And he’s made it all seem so simple. The chapters are written as if you were having a conversation with Marc about the profiled person over coffee. And the part when he leans in a bit closer, to tell you a funny or surprising story about the maker? It’s in there. Over and over. It’s the insider’s view, a sneak peak into the life of – it’s brilliant.
Maybe that’s why, when clicking through hundreds of photos for this book, I found myself lingering on the makers’ shop photos. We didn’t include many of them (if any) in the book – it’s not what the book is about. But after reading accolade after accolade, and zooming in on all those jaw-dropping beautiful pieces of work, I found myself wanting to know the truth behind the work. And the few shop photos we received felt like paths to the hearts of these chapters.
I’ve always been drawn to workplace photography. We spend a huge percentage of our lives at work and so rarely is it documented. Same with hobbies. It’s why I loved writing the “Great Woodshops” column at Popular Woodworking Magazine. And it’s why I spent so long writing for my small city’s blog. My neighbors’ basements and garages held the most wonderful workplaces. Examples include a studio for painting, one for wood turning, another for music recording and still another for casting and painting pewter figurines. Hours of time are spent in these environments and even if you never make it into a book called “The Difference Makers” or you “just” end up written about in a small city blog, I believe those places should be documented and remembered. I recently came across the photo above while helping my mother-in-law go through things – it’s her father, John Owen, at work in the late 1930s or early 1940s at Indiana Bell. All I’ve ever seen are pictures of him with friends and family. Never before had I seen a picture of a space in which he spent so much time. I love it.
The same could be said for a parent in a kitchen – all those meals cooked for people they love. Or someone working in a well-tended garden or tinkering with an old car in a garage. A child doing homework. A teenager raking leaves. A young adult mopping a floor, trying to make ends meet. The work that we do, whether for pay, in order to survive or for pleasure, makes a difference to someone – maybe to just that person alone, maybe to a baby who will never remember, maybe to a small group trying to make a difference, maybe to hundreds of thousands of visitors to a museum. We’re all difference makers, to a degree. And I think the space we make those differences in should be documented and remembered.
Of course, this doesn’t mean tidying up, because that’s not truthful. That doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. If your shop is always immaculate, so be it. But let the coffee cup stay. And if you consider your shop to be an embarrassment, so be it. Leave it. And someday soon, after you finally finish that project on which you’ve worked so hard, or you cut that near-perfect dovetail, or the glue-up works out despite the worry, take a photo. Not a fake one, for Instagram. But a real one. For you. One that gets forgotten about until someone finds it, and lingers.
And know that in shops a lot like yours work comes out, daily. Maybe it’s a simple table a family gathers around every night or maybe it’s a piece of work so beautiful some editor somewhere, well past midnight, is lingering on an image of it when she should be editing.
Production update: All the makers have received their profiles for review, and I am making their edits now. (Fun fact: The personal stories from Marc in each chapter will be a surprise for each of them – we have kept them hidden until the book is released.) Marc will do his final review in the next two weeks, before MASW classes ramp up again in April. We don’t have a printer date yet, or a release date, but as soon as we do we’ll let you know.
Editor’s note: As we wrote about in August, longtime LAP author Don Williams is writing a new book, “A Period Finisher’s Manual.” Don is a conservator, craftsman and author of many articles and several Lost Art Press books, and the maker of Mel’s Wax, a patented archival furniture care product. This post has been adapted from his new book’s introduction. Don is currently editing the manuscript and taking lots of pictures at the finishing bench.
It’s probably not the best marketing approach but now that the first draft of “A Period Finisher’s Manual” (APFM) is in the compewder it is probably time to scribe a few words about what it is not. That’s right, what it is not.
Even the title gives a clue; it is not “The Period Finisher’s Manual,” not “The Complete Finisher’s Manual” nor “The Ultimate Guide To Finishing.” Regardless of the subject or context those kinds of book titles almost always make me roll my eyes audibly. Epistemologically they strike me as pretentious and implicitly fraudulent; even The Bible confirms there was a lot more going on than there was time and space to record it all. I am personally not burdened with undue humility, but any book I write is by definition incomplete. To quote the punchline to an old joke, “An expert is a guy with a briefcase a long way from home.” I’m at home so my work can only include a portion of knowledge. So my title is “A Period Finisher’s Manual.”
Another thing APFM is not is a slavish catechism of pre-industrial finishing practices. No, you will not need to don knee breeches and replace your electric lights with tallow lanterns or wax candles in order to comply with the thrust of its message. You do not need to be strictly limited to the materials and tools available to the 18th-century workshops of London, Paris or Williamsburg. Certainly these form the conceptual and practical foundations but are instead the guides to thinking about finishing compatible with the technologies and aesthetics of the past. It’s sorta like the tag line for Don’s Barn: “Where modern craft meets the past.” APFM is about a way of working at the woodfinishing bench that transcends the limitations of orbital sanders and catalytic spray lacquers. Hint: You are probably not astonished when I suggest that old-timey hand-worked surfaces and their finishes are the more beautiful option. Just my opinion, of course (but I am right).
Were I forced to describe APFM briefly, it would be “The
What, Why, and How approach to traditional woodfinishing.”
“A Period Finisher’s Manual” is not any sort of definitive survey of finishing materials and processes. It is a selective review of just a few materials and practices predating the Age of Synthetic Chemistry: a few waxes, a few varnish resins, and a few oils, applied (or not) with elegantly simple tools. The greatest attempt to recount a complete inventory of materials and processes available to the finishing enterprise was the magnificent WWII-era undertaking “Protective and Decorative Coatings” by Joseph J. Mattiello, consuming multiple volumes and almost 4,000 pages. Yes, I own and have scoured the set, along with its 1970s-era successor “Treatise on Coatings” by Myers and Long, and the most recent “Organic Coatings” by Pappas, Jones and Wick.
I could enter into writing APFM with the expectation that
the reader would undertake a thorough study of these tomes beforehand, but that
would likely be an unfulfilled expectation.
So necessarily APFM will be restricted to materials and information the
reader is most likely to actually use.
Recently I was corresponding with my friend John, a former seminarian, about the meaning of a particular passage in the New Testament. At one point in the discussion John said something to the effect of, “You can only get so far in this without reading Greek.” What does that have to do with woodfinishing (other than the possible implicit divinity of the craft)? Well, in the very same exchange John reminded me of my exhortation to students that, “In woodfinishing you can only get so far without learning some chemistry.” That said, “A Period Finisher’s Manual” is not a chemistry textbook. Rather than bombarding you with such exquisite knowledge, even though it would no doubt thrill a small cohort of readers, APFM integrates chemistry and its parent, materials science, as I believe necessary for the finisher to understand why things happen as they do on the surface of the wood. Solvent theory, molecular weight, adhesion, rheology, film formation, gloss, diffractive index, surface tension and many other components of successful finishing are essentially manifestations of molecular properties.
So too is color, even though I spend almost no time or words on the subject. APFM is not a color technology book, at least in the context of historic dyes and stains on bare wood. I find little use for ancient recipes for chemical wood stains in my own work so the topic is not addressed in any meaningful depth here beyond japanning and interlaminar glazing.
The need for understanding materials science in the finishing room is a constant theme running through the art form. One vignette from my own past is a fairly omnipresent reminder to me. Forty-five years ago, while working as a “scratch and dent man” for a furniture store, I was charged with touching up a set of bilious French Pretentious bedroom furniture. (Pop Quiz – Q. What’s the difference between a furniture repairman’s “touching up” and a conservator’s “inpainting?” A. About $75/hour.) Though I have a pretty good eye for color and layered finishes it was a struggle to get to an acceptable appearance, in the end involving the forcible integration of powder pigments with a concoction of spirit varnish, oil paint and latex. With these three totally incompatible materials I got it to work through the sheer application of energy, in this case the forced agitation with a brush. I was so pleased with the result that I bragged about it to my friends. Hey, I was 19.
Knowing what I now know about material properties, I have to wonder if at some point later the touched-up areas simply exploded off the surface. As my late friend and colleague Mel Wachowiak used to say, “With enough force you can pull the tail off a living cow.” I guess the same is true for incompatible woodfinishing materials. I got them to work together under the whiplash of vigorous mixing, but some understanding of the chemistry involved sure would have helped me then and it will help you in your future projects.
Which leads directly into another descriptor of what APFM is not – a stuffy academic book. I won’t say that Chris put his foot down, but he did suggest in a most emphatic manner that any book with hundreds of footnotes was unlikely to be appearing in the LAP catalog. Any technical citations will simply be folded into the folksy banter of the text. If you have read my other books or follow my blog you will know what to expect – big words when necessary, good humor always.
“A Period Finisher’s Manual” is not a book of “how-to” tricks. Pets and circus animals do tricks, craftsmen have skills and techniques. (I’ve literally warned editors if the word “tricks” ever appeared in concert with one of my articles our working relationship was terminated.)
Instead, APFM is my attempt to describe a systematic approach to woodfinishing, complete with several dozen detailed verbal and visual descriptions – basically the How? culminating the What? and Why? considerations I mentioned above. By walking through a variety of finishing projects, complete with conceptual rationales and step-by-step visual representations, I hope to instill you with the confidence to embrace finishing as something to be anticipated with a delight rather than be feared and loathed, and ultimately, shortchanged. I have seen far too many examples of wonderfully designed and skillfully crafted woodworking projects that were betrayed by their makers’ puking some polyurinate on the surface with little understanding and less care.
Decades of woodfinishing (and teaching same) confirm that despite its vagaries it can be a predictable step-by-step process built on a foundation of technical and artistic understanding. So, I’m organizing the book’s contents the same way I organize the concepts and practices for my own woodfinishing, resulting in predictably good results.
Perhaps I should have titled it “A Predictable Finisher’s Manual,” or even “A Contented Finisher’s Manual.”
Because in the end, it is also not unpredictable and definitely not intimidating. It is in essence the very reason we make stuff.