I recently had a student ask me what he could read to begin preparing for his furnituremaking journey. My first thought was what a great question! I have had the fortunate experience of learning woodworking both ways — the stumbling-around-in-the-dark self-learning method, and taking classes and being mentored by those who know what they’re doing. the latter at North Bennet Street School, where I learned the traditional basics of furnituremaking —sharpening and hand tool skills. It was a humbling experience to discover which techniques and processes I had figured out correctly, and which ones I had managed to develop the most inefficient way of doing.
If you’ve ever seen the scene in Oliver where he’s asking for more food, well that’s what it’s like to ask for sandpaper at NBSS. And there is a good reason for that approach — one that I believe in. That is before you learn to use machines and other such time saving devices (i.e.: sand paper) you need to become knowledgable and proficient in a couple areas — the properties of wood, woodworking techniques and joinery, sharpening, chisels and hand plane skills. That is why, in no particular order, I recommend these reading sources, when you’re starting out:
Anything by David Charlesworth; I particularly like his sharpening philosophy. Be sure to investigate his ruler-trick! Many of his articles are found in the UK woodworking magazine Furniture & Cabinetmaking, but he has also written extensively for several American magazines too. A great collection of his best articles is available in David Charlesworth’s Furniture-Making Techniques Volume One & Two, published by the Guild of Master Craftsman Publications in 1999 and 2003.
R. Bruce Hoadley’s Understanding Wood is the gold-standard on trees, wood, and how tools interact with grain. It should be the first book in your woodworking library.
Tage Frid was one of the first great woodworking instructors. His tome on woodworking is also indispensable. pick up a copy of Tage Frid Teaches Woodworkings. There are three books published by the Taunton Press.
Another favorite of mine is Garrett Hack’s The Handplane Book. It covers everything on handplanes. It was published in 1997 by the Taunton Press.
On the magazine front I’m a fan of Fine Woodworking and Woodsmith. There’s a reason why in the digital-age of the 21st century you still find complete sets of Fine Woodworking selling for close to $500. Content is king, and they have covered every woodworking subject — most of them multiple times. Finally, Woodsmith is great with developing simple ways for doing complex woodworking tasks, and quite simply, that’s good for beginners.
So what are you waiting for? Grab a book and start reading!