Jim Tolpin’s Working Wood (ISBN: 978-0871923011) was the first reference book I ever bought for my shop – and I really haven’t needed any more since.
This book has nearly everything that the aspiring woodworker would want to know. Two extensive chapters go in to great detail about hand and power tools – complete with clear illustrations showing the major features of each tool – a HUGE plus. From the lowly sheet of sandpaper to the largest cabinet saw, Jim shows what the tool looks like, tells its purpose, offers safety suggestions and gives tips on how to get the most of the tool.
The wood section goes into great detail on each type’s properties (nailing, gluing, finishing, cutting, etc.), wood movement factors, crush strength, bending characteristics, etc. All of this information is provided in easy-to-read table formats, which allow for head-to-head comparisons of wood species (i.e. – what’s the difference between red oak and white oak? How much softer than hard maple is soft maple?)
Want to know how to cut the most commonly used joints? Jim offers a primer on how to hand cut dovetails, build a finger joint jig, use biscuits to make a strong connection in sheet goods, etc. For example, the section on cutting dovetail joints, it shows step by step how to lay out the depth line, the best way to lay out the angle to get maximum strength in the joint, how to cross-hatch the waste so you don’t accidentally remove the wrong part (a very common mistake among beginners) and how to remove the waste with a coping saw and chisel.
How do you build a door or drawer? Jim answers these questions and offers a host of options and how to build each one (Frame and panel doors, batten doors, slab doors, etc.) The drawer joinery options spelled out were very informative, and ran the gamut from simple rabbet drawer joints all the way to half blind dovetails. Very thorough.
Where should you put your jointer or band saw? Shop layout gets a section, and it goes in to great detail about the rationale for placing which tool where (for instance, grouping the planer, jointer and table saw to true a board and cut it to the proper length and width without hiking all over your shop).
Then, there is a whole chapter of tables which tell how tall to build a bar stool, how wide to build a desktop, where to put drawers and doors on kitchen cabinets, etc. There are also illustrations that clearly demonstrate the relationship of furniture parts to people parts (where will an average male’s knees fall in relation to a bar stool and the bar top). Very useful information when you get into the design phase.
What’s the best finish to use? Tolpin brings out all the stops to explain the difference between penetrating finishes and surface building ones. Stains and dyes get a strong mention and a description of which one is best to use in different situations. Ever wanted to learn how to mix your own milk paint? Tolpin gives his recipe so you can whip up a batch of your own home brew and give rustic pine pieces the old schoolhouse look.
Even more chapters on adhesives, fasteners, how boards are cut, and others round out a very full tome that fits into a very small footprint. Tolpin took the time to illustrate what the individual types of fasteners look like. Rather than explain what an oval head screw looks like – the book illustrates it! Just bring the guide to the local hardware shop and point at the drawing. It’s that useful!
The design of the book is even well thought out – it’s spiral bound so it will lay flat on your bench while you refer back to it. Beats having to find something heavy to lay across a saddle stitched or perfect bound book that wants to close itself. Little touches like this further increase the utility of this very important ‘power tool’ in any shop.