When the first copy of “Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction and Use” arrived on my desk from China via airmail, I couldn’t stand to even look at it. I stuck it in my satchel (which my wife fondly calls the “manpurse”) and took it home.
Before dinner that evening, I took the book out and showed it to the kids. Maddy, 11, took the book and started paging through it.
“Wow. This is great dad,” she said. “Will you autograph it?”
My heart swelled a bit. I had impressed my daughter that I was an author. But something didn’t quite seem right in her tone of voice.
“Why do you want me to sign it?” I asked.
“So I can sell it on eBay,” she said. “Someone might pay me extra if you sign it.”
Ah, Maddy, my little bourgeois capitalist. Since then a few other people have weighed in on the new book. A few people have said the book is a bit of a rehash of principles I’ve discussed on my blog and in print. That’s fair to a degree. My blog has been a place where I explore ideas in rough-draft form. The book is the summation of more than a decade of ideas and experiences, polished and complete. Well, that was the plan.
This week I got my first review on Amazon, which sells the book at a very competitive price, I might add. I don’t know the reviewer personally, but he read the entire book and grasped the message I was trying to transmit. Below is that review in its entirety, reprinted with the permission of the author.
By the way, we now have plenty of the books in stock (after struggling to keep up with demand). If you’d like to order one that is signed and comes with a deluxe CD, you can visit our store.
— Christopher Schwarz
5.0 out of 5 stars
A truly remarkable woodworking book
November 17, 2007
By Landscape W. Shipwreck (Island J, Brigstocke Township, N. Ontario)
As an avid reader of Christopher Schwarz’s various articles and columns in woodworking magazines, I’ve been awaiting the publication of this book with anticipation. Now that I’ve read it I have to say that it’s better than I expected, and my expectations were very high.
I’ve read a number of books and articles on workbenches (notably the ones by Lon Schleining and Scott Landis, which are valuable for what they are: surveys of various styles of workbenches, with info on how to build a few of them). This book is different. Not just a little different. Radically different.
Schwarz is not just a good writer. He is an extremely good writer, vastly better than the majority of writers about woodworking; better than most writers, period. He is not merely capable of explaining things clearly, or of organizing his text coherently. His writing is actually enjoyable to read. He has the ability to combine highly technical information with a kind of narrative structure, within which personal experience, historical research and theoretical conceptualization come together almost seamlessly. One could describe the book as almost an essay in the classical, Montaignesque sense: a personal, spiraling account of a particular subject, whose compelling structure takes the reader along on a wide-ranging voyage of discovery, and makes the reader a companion of the author as he works out his own thinking. However, this should not be understood as saying that the book is in any way vague, for it isn’t. I mean to underline its powerfully engaging quality. I believe somebody who wasn’t a woodworker, who had no plans whatsoever to construct a workbench, would enjoy reading it.
Schwarz is also a gifted scholar and theoretician, a trait not typical of woodworkers, of writers about woodworking. The evidence of his thorough research and profound thought on his subject abounds in the book. His conceptualization of the workbench as a tool for holding lumber so that its 3 different surfaces (edges, faces, and ends) can be worked is a recognition that you won’t find anywhere else, and one that animates the entire book. It may sound simple, even obvious, but so does the second law of thermodynamics.
The book provides designs and construction overviews of 2 very different benches, which may seem a paltry number of options. It is not. Schwarz has distilled years of research and bench-building into these 2 designs, and offers plenty of options along the way as to how one might alter them to suit one’s own purposes. The illustrations are abundant, clear and useful. Numerous sidebars provide detailed and helpful insight into a variety of sub- or side-topics (eg. Find a source for yellow pine; Pattern-maker’s vises: friend or foe?; The Stanley No. 203 – better than a peg). The index is extensive.
Anybody familiar with Schwarz from his hand-tool courses and DVDs knows that he is a formidable woodworker and teacher. Those qualities resound through this book, as does his engaging ability to be personal, as does his earnestness, as does his good humor. I’ve always learned easily from him, and this book continues that trend.
The first bench I ever built was from an article of Schwarz’s called “The $175 Workbench,” published in Popular Woodworking in 2000. I still have it, and use it every day. I will be building another one soon, using an adaptation of one of the designs outlined in this book; this book which will accompany me along the way, like a friend. Perhaps this sounds a bit loopy, but read the book and tell me you don’t share the feeling.