The best woodworking books

6 authors have picked their favorite books about woodworking and why they recommend each book.

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The Anarchist's Tool Chest

By Christopher Schwarz,

Book cover of The Anarchist's Tool Chest

Chris has a very personal and very persuasive approach to woodworking. In this book, he uses the discussion of a tool chest and its contents to explain his take on the basic tools needed to work with wood by hand, as well as his philosophy of working wood this way. The book is funny, compelling, and an essential read for anyone interested in hand tools and working with them.

Who am I?

Jeff Miller is one of the country’s leading furniture designer/craftsmen. He is also a dedicated teacher and a prolific writer, with over 40 articles and 4 books (with a fifth in preparation). Jeff has exhibited furniture in shows from coast to coast, and has a piece in the permanent collection of the Chicago History Museum. Jeff’s work is heavily influenced by his former career as a professional musician, and he strives to make each of his pieces feel musical in some way. Jeff is a runner and – despite the hindrance of living in the flat mid-west – an avid skier. A substantial chunk of his time is taken up by dialysis treatments, but he tries not to let that slow him down too much.

I wrote...

The Foundations of Better Woodworking: How to Use Your Body, Tools and Materials to Do Your Best Work

By Jeff Miller,

Book cover of The Foundations of Better Woodworking: How to Use Your Body, Tools and Materials to Do Your Best Work

What is my book about?

In order to improve as a woodworker, you need to understand that your tools are mere extensions of your body. How you use your body, then, is crucial for effective tool use. Our tools connect us to the wood. So understanding how tools function, as well as the complex nature of wood as the material they work on, is also essential to doing better work. Unfortunately, many woodworking books ignore these aspects of woodworking. This book can be seen as the missing manual to woodworking; a book that covers important topics rarely discussed in other books or articles. And it works as a great way to improve the skills and knowledge you already have.

The Why & How of Woodworking

By Michael Pekovich,

Book cover of The Why & How of Woodworking: A Simple Approach to Making Meaningful Work

This is a beautiful and thoughtful book. And much like others on this list, it offers up a personal take on woodworking. Mike feels that shop time should be devoted to engagement in the work, and offers up strategies for achieving that goal. He also offers beautiful projects, from simple to fairly advanced, that foster learning a slew of techniques for accurate work. The book also includes a discussion of design and its role for the woodworker.

Who am I?

Jeff Miller is one of the country’s leading furniture designer/craftsmen. He is also a dedicated teacher and a prolific writer, with over 40 articles and 4 books (with a fifth in preparation). Jeff has exhibited furniture in shows from coast to coast, and has a piece in the permanent collection of the Chicago History Museum. Jeff’s work is heavily influenced by his former career as a professional musician, and he strives to make each of his pieces feel musical in some way. Jeff is a runner and – despite the hindrance of living in the flat mid-west – an avid skier. A substantial chunk of his time is taken up by dialysis treatments, but he tries not to let that slow him down too much.

I wrote...

The Foundations of Better Woodworking: How to Use Your Body, Tools and Materials to Do Your Best Work

By Jeff Miller,

Book cover of The Foundations of Better Woodworking: How to Use Your Body, Tools and Materials to Do Your Best Work

What is my book about?

In order to improve as a woodworker, you need to understand that your tools are mere extensions of your body. How you use your body, then, is crucial for effective tool use. Our tools connect us to the wood. So understanding how tools function, as well as the complex nature of wood as the material they work on, is also essential to doing better work. Unfortunately, many woodworking books ignore these aspects of woodworking. This book can be seen as the missing manual to woodworking; a book that covers important topics rarely discussed in other books or articles. And it works as a great way to improve the skills and knowledge you already have.

Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking

By Tage Frid,

Book cover of Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking: Three Step-By-Step Guidebooks to Essential Woodworking Techniques

This is on many people’s lists—and for good reason: an essential book, it will give you a solid foundation on which to build your knowledge and skill set, most specially if you are just starting out, though there is much to learn here for even the more experienced woodworker. Frid’s training contains the practical knowledge of centuries of woodworking passed through an apprenticeship system as it began its transition into the 21st Century, adapting power tools, new materials, and ways of working that will give you the information that will let you build almost anything. He wrote 2 more books in the set, also valuable, but if you can only afford one, get this one.


Who am I?

I have been designing and building furniture professionally since before 1976. From the beginning I’ve had an avid interest in what might be called “appropriate technologies”— when to use a hand tool or power tool — that is, for a specific use, which one gives the best results for the least time and effort? If you read the journals of 18th Century woodworkers you’ll find they were unbelievably fast —using only hand tools. I believe that by the 1970s much of that knowledge and many of the tools themselves had been lost. I set out to rediscover them.


I wrote...

Woodworker's Guide to Handplanes: How to Choose, Set Up, and Master the Most Useful Planes for Today Workshop

By Scott Wynn,

Book cover of Woodworker's Guide to Handplanes: How to Choose, Set Up, and Master the Most Useful Planes for Today Workshop

What is my book about?

An essential and thorough reference that teaches woodworkers how to choose, set up, use, maintain, make and modify handplanes. It compares and evaluates handplanes from all of the world's great woodworking traditions — traditional wood planes, Stanley, German, Japanese, Norris-style, and Chinese planes — with in-depth information that will help woodworkers choose the handplanes that best suit their needs. It analyzes the six elements they all have in common, such as blade angle and mouth opening, and explains how these critical characteristics interact and can be varied to make any plane do its job more efficiently. Best of all, this book features more than 300 original drawings and 200 photos that are as technically rich and instructive as they are beautiful.

The Art of Fine Tools

By Sandor Nagyszalanczy,

Book cover of The Art of Fine Tools

When the day’s work is done, sit down with a mug of something pleasant and crack open this sumptuous coffee table book. Inside you will find incredibly beautiful photos of some of the finest, and most typical, hand tools ever made. From simple plumb bobs to complex rose engine lathes, from plain worker’s tools to some of the most intricately ornamented ones, take a journey through both time and craft to drool over some of the most amazing hand tools ever crafted. 


Who am I?

Michael Dresdner is a nationally known finishing and woodworking expert and guitar maker/designer, author of five books and several videos on wood finishing and guitar making. He’s been a Contributing Editor to Fine Woodworking Magazine, American Woodworker Magazine, and Woodworker’s Journal, wrote the Just Finishing byline column for American Woodworker Magazine for over 7 years, and the Finishing Thoughts byline column for Woodworker’s Journal for almost 20 years. While a consultant to one of the country’s largest coatings conglomerates, he wrote answers to over 8,000 questions for the www.woodanswers.com website blog and edited the Woodworker’s Journal eZine, an award-winning online woodworking magazine with over a quarter of a million subscribers.


I wrote...

The New Wood Finishing Book

By Michael Dresdner,

Book cover of The New Wood Finishing Book

What is my book about?

The New Wood Finishing Book is a comprehensive textbook on everything you need to know about wood finishing. From choosing the right finish (and the right finishing tools), through sanding, sealing, application, coloring, repair and refinishing, and right on to final rub out, this is the complete course you need to become a better finisher. 

Hand Tools

By Aldren A. Watson,

Book cover of Hand Tools: Their Ways and Workings

Watson is both a talented artist and woodworker. He combines those skills in a number of books, but our favorite is Hand Tools. Everyone needs at least some hand tools in their shop, and they should know how to use them properly. Watson’s book contains 450 beautiful hand-drawn illustrations, in pencil, that beg to be framed and hung on the wall. The writing is close behind. 


Who are we?

As the authors of 27 hand-illustrated books, we are acutely aware of the time and skill required for good rendering. We are old-schoolers ourselves, having cut our teeth on “how-to” books before computers came into vogue. Our readers often tell us that a computer drawing does not have the same appeal and clarity as hand drawing. We are able to ‘talk’ a reader through the process of building something with our drawings. We have also found that the best illustrated books often have the best content!


We wrote...

Cabin: A Guide to Building the Perfect Getaway

By Matthew D. Kirchhoff, Jeanie Stiles, David Stiles

Book cover of Cabin: A Guide to Building the Perfect Getaway

What is our book about?

David’s illustrations are both clarifying and enchanting. If a picture is worth a thousand words, he saves the reader hours of reading. Included are over 30 short stories, most less than a page, relating anecdotes and lessons learned over our years of cabin-building and cabin–living experience. You’ll read about Eagles that give and Ravens that take, bears that break in and canaries that break out, and any building project can go wrong – very wrong.

Cabin advances this shared philosophy: The value of a getaway is less about the cabin as a building, and more about the cabin as a portal to the outdoors—a way to slow the pace of life, live simply, enjoy nature, and build meaningful memories in the company of family and friends. In the end, that’s something most people desire.

How to Use Woodworking Tools

By R.L. Bridgman,

Book cover of How to Use Woodworking Tools

Published in 1881 this is an absolutely fundamental book for the beginner. Amply illustrated, you will learn important details such as how to hold tools and what to expect from them as well as how basic joints are formed and made. Focused on wooden tools this is information not commonly reproduced in more contemporary books.

This book is not currently available.


Who am I?

Born in London, I apprenticed under cabinetmaker Hugh Harris before moving to New York to study at Juilliard. Subsequently pursuing a career as a professional musician, recording and playing with groups including Van Morrison, Razmataz, and Full Tilt Boogie, I built a house in Woodstock, NY. In addition to operating my own custom-design furniture-making shop, and lecturing and teaching extensively from coast to coast, I’ve written and illustrated many more books on woodworking. I’ve served as Contributing Editor to Fine Woodworking (1985–1999), and Popular Woodworking (1987–1996), and as Editor-in-Chief of Woodwork Magazine (1991–1994) before becoming a featured speaker and presenter at the National Woodworking Shows.


I wrote...

Traditional Woodworking Handtools: A Manual for the Woodworker

By Graham Blackburn,

Book cover of Traditional Woodworking Handtools: A Manual for the Woodworker

What is my book about?

Traditional Woodworking Handtools describes all the major hand tools that were used by cabinet-makers, furniture-makers, carpenters, and numerous other woodworking trades in the centuries before the introduction of power tools and machinery. Every aspect of choosing, rehabilitating, and getting the most out of traditional handtools for woodworking is covered and puts the tools in the context of the complete woodworking process.

In our present age of machines, handtools remain the best and often the only way of creating beautiful details, perfect fit, and an enduring finish. Handtools liberate the furnituremaker, builder, and general woodworker from the limited artistic vocabulary of machinery.

Practical Woodwork

By Charles H. Hayward,

Book cover of Practical Woodwork

The most prolific woodworking writer of the twentieth century, Charles Hayward spans the era that started with hand tools and saw the introduction of the first electric tools thus making clear the advantages of the traditional methods. Profusely illustrated with drawings of joints, tools, and actual techniques, this is truly one of the most complete books on the basics of traditional woodworking.


Who am I?

Born in London, I apprenticed under cabinetmaker Hugh Harris before moving to New York to study at Juilliard. Subsequently pursuing a career as a professional musician, recording and playing with groups including Van Morrison, Razmataz, and Full Tilt Boogie, I built a house in Woodstock, NY. In addition to operating my own custom-design furniture-making shop, and lecturing and teaching extensively from coast to coast, I’ve written and illustrated many more books on woodworking. I’ve served as Contributing Editor to Fine Woodworking (1985–1999), and Popular Woodworking (1987–1996), and as Editor-in-Chief of Woodwork Magazine (1991–1994) before becoming a featured speaker and presenter at the National Woodworking Shows.


I wrote...

Traditional Woodworking Handtools: A Manual for the Woodworker

By Graham Blackburn,

Book cover of Traditional Woodworking Handtools: A Manual for the Woodworker

What is my book about?

Traditional Woodworking Handtools describes all the major hand tools that were used by cabinet-makers, furniture-makers, carpenters, and numerous other woodworking trades in the centuries before the introduction of power tools and machinery. Every aspect of choosing, rehabilitating, and getting the most out of traditional handtools for woodworking is covered and puts the tools in the context of the complete woodworking process.

In our present age of machines, handtools remain the best and often the only way of creating beautiful details, perfect fit, and an enduring finish. Handtools liberate the furnituremaker, builder, and general woodworker from the limited artistic vocabulary of machinery.

The Practical Book of Period Furniture - Treating of Furniture of the English, American Colonial and Post-Colonial, and Principal, French Periods

By Harold Donaldson Eberlein, Abbot McClure,

Book cover of The Practical Book of Period Furniture - Treating of Furniture of the English, American Colonial and Post-Colonial, and Principal, French Periods

Photographs and detailed line drawings cover virtually the entire history of European furniture construction. Not merely a catalogue this book goes into minute detail about construction of the finest furniture that was ever made by hand from clockcases to bedsteads. It explains stylistic details as well as actual methods.


Who am I?

Born in London, I apprenticed under cabinetmaker Hugh Harris before moving to New York to study at Juilliard. Subsequently pursuing a career as a professional musician, recording and playing with groups including Van Morrison, Razmataz, and Full Tilt Boogie, I built a house in Woodstock, NY. In addition to operating my own custom-design furniture-making shop, and lecturing and teaching extensively from coast to coast, I’ve written and illustrated many more books on woodworking. I’ve served as Contributing Editor to Fine Woodworking (1985–1999), and Popular Woodworking (1987–1996), and as Editor-in-Chief of Woodwork Magazine (1991–1994) before becoming a featured speaker and presenter at the National Woodworking Shows.


I wrote...

Traditional Woodworking Handtools: A Manual for the Woodworker

By Graham Blackburn,

Book cover of Traditional Woodworking Handtools: A Manual for the Woodworker

What is my book about?

Traditional Woodworking Handtools describes all the major hand tools that were used by cabinet-makers, furniture-makers, carpenters, and numerous other woodworking trades in the centuries before the introduction of power tools and machinery. Every aspect of choosing, rehabilitating, and getting the most out of traditional handtools for woodworking is covered and puts the tools in the context of the complete woodworking process.

In our present age of machines, handtools remain the best and often the only way of creating beautiful details, perfect fit, and an enduring finish. Handtools liberate the furnituremaker, builder, and general woodworker from the limited artistic vocabulary of machinery.

Antique Woodworking Tools

By Michael Dunbar,

Book cover of Antique Woodworking Tools: A Guide to the Purchase, Restoration and Use of Old Tools for Today's Shop

Known primarily as one of America’s foremost Windsor chairmakers Michael Dunbar’s book is a great guide to the purchase, restoration, and use of old traditional wooden tools for today’s shop. This book explains and illustrates how and why so many apparently ‘antique’ tools still do the job they were designed to do, often much better and faster than many contemporary tools.


Who am I?

Born in London, I apprenticed under cabinetmaker Hugh Harris before moving to New York to study at Juilliard. Subsequently pursuing a career as a professional musician, recording and playing with groups including Van Morrison, Razmataz, and Full Tilt Boogie, I built a house in Woodstock, NY. In addition to operating my own custom-design furniture-making shop, and lecturing and teaching extensively from coast to coast, I’ve written and illustrated many more books on woodworking. I’ve served as Contributing Editor to Fine Woodworking (1985–1999), and Popular Woodworking (1987–1996), and as Editor-in-Chief of Woodwork Magazine (1991–1994) before becoming a featured speaker and presenter at the National Woodworking Shows.


I wrote...

Traditional Woodworking Handtools: A Manual for the Woodworker

By Graham Blackburn,

Book cover of Traditional Woodworking Handtools: A Manual for the Woodworker

What is my book about?

Traditional Woodworking Handtools describes all the major hand tools that were used by cabinet-makers, furniture-makers, carpenters, and numerous other woodworking trades in the centuries before the introduction of power tools and machinery. Every aspect of choosing, rehabilitating, and getting the most out of traditional handtools for woodworking is covered and puts the tools in the context of the complete woodworking process.

In our present age of machines, handtools remain the best and often the only way of creating beautiful details, perfect fit, and an enduring finish. Handtools liberate the furnituremaker, builder, and general woodworker from the limited artistic vocabulary of machinery.

Dictionary of Woodworking Tools

By R.A. Salaman,

Book cover of Dictionary of Woodworking Tools

R. A. Salaman has cataloged virtually every woodworking handtool and holding device used in the trades up into the 20th Century. What’s better is he understands the use of the tools and describes their use in practical detail with accurate drawings and text. You can find solutions to problems here that have been around for centuries but may have been overlooked by the modern woodworker. The information here will help you make and modify tools and will add to your overall understanding and use of hand tools.


Who am I?

I have been designing and building furniture professionally since before 1976. From the beginning I’ve had an avid interest in what might be called “appropriate technologies”— when to use a hand tool or power tool — that is, for a specific use, which one gives the best results for the least time and effort? If you read the journals of 18th Century woodworkers you’ll find they were unbelievably fast —using only hand tools. I believe that by the 1970s much of that knowledge and many of the tools themselves had been lost. I set out to rediscover them.


I wrote...

Woodworker's Guide to Handplanes: How to Choose, Set Up, and Master the Most Useful Planes for Today Workshop

By Scott Wynn,

Book cover of Woodworker's Guide to Handplanes: How to Choose, Set Up, and Master the Most Useful Planes for Today Workshop

What is my book about?

An essential and thorough reference that teaches woodworkers how to choose, set up, use, maintain, make and modify handplanes. It compares and evaluates handplanes from all of the world's great woodworking traditions — traditional wood planes, Stanley, German, Japanese, Norris-style, and Chinese planes — with in-depth information that will help woodworkers choose the handplanes that best suit their needs. It analyzes the six elements they all have in common, such as blade angle and mouth opening, and explains how these critical characteristics interact and can be varied to make any plane do its job more efficiently. Best of all, this book features more than 300 original drawings and 200 photos that are as technically rich and instructive as they are beautiful.

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