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WoodCentral's Book Department

Rob's Favorites
     Robert R. Clough is a scholar, a woodworker and a longstanding friend of WoodCentral. From his own extensive woodworking library, he has compiled a reading list--along with concise reviews--of books he feels are most valuable to amateur woodworkers. Click any link below to view Rob's selections.

  • I.  Basic Shop Reference Books
  • II.  General Woodworking Books
  • III.  Jigs & Fixtures
  • IV.  Router Tables
  • V.  Routers
  • VI.  Furniture Design
  • VII.  Country Furniture and Projects
  • VIII.  Cabinetry
  • IX.  Furniture Making
  • X.  Finishing


    A few words from Rob Clough . . .
        I was born on November 24, 1930, in Boston, MA. I lived in Marblehead until 1943 when my father was transferred to Milwaukee, WI. I graduated from high school in 1949 and attended the University of Wisconsin. Because I was uninterested in studies, at least the conventional kind, I flunked out and was drafted in June, 1951. I returned to the UW in June, 1953, and had no further academic problems; the Army is an excellent wake-up call.
        My undergraduate major was History with a double minor in French and Political Science. My graduate work was all History. I married Sarah Reynolds, my undergraduate advisor’s daughter, in January, 1956. We have two children, Katharine and Royal and each has a son.
        In addition to teaching and administrative work (in, around, amongst, and after) I have restored, repaired, and sold antiques –- primarily furniture -– farmed, and worked with the Wisconsin Unemployment Insurance Department.
        I am retired, now, and spend much time in the shop. We live in Muskego, WI, in a rural area of the city, and have about 2˝ acres, much of it young woods.

        My interest in woodworking goes back many years. Before WWII we spent our summers at what had been the family farm in West Buxton, ME, until it burned in 1938. I remember watching the carpenters as they remodeled the guesthouse and actually being taught how to use a crosscut and rip saw, and how to use a hammer. During that period I tried to make a raft (it barely floated). I was given my maternal grandfather's tools at too early an age but very few were broken or lost. I still have some of them. I have had no formal training at all. I was taught the basics of refinishing by my mother. Aside from some refinishing, some repair to my parent's furniture, and some "remodeling" of a bookcase or two at my parent's request, I made nothing until much later.
        Over the years I had gathered a "mess" of hand tools, the usual stuff. My first real piece, if it may be called that, was a reasonably fancy changing table for my newborn daughter, Kate. I had only a few hand tools and no plans. It was thoroughly overbuilt! I got my first power tool, a saber saw from Sears, in 1965. I used it to make a toy box for my daughter which we still have - we use it as a hassock now. I purchased a Rockwell radial arm saw in 1966, a double turret saw, and got some other tools at the same time. What with financial ups and downs, I did not really get more tools until 1993 when I re-did my shop. In the meantime I did make furniture, refinished furniture, and refurbished antique furniture as a business (successful). This in and amongst everything else I was doing.
        Now that I am retired I still make furniture, refinish our furniture, repair the kitchen step stool, plumb, wire, and do siding. The plumbing and wiring side is interesting.
        When I was working on my doctorate we lived literally on Lake Waubesa, in Madison, WI. Our landlord was a city electrical inspector. He had 10 acres where our house was with two other houses and a workshop for him. We replumbed our house, put in a hot water furnace, rewired one other house, and ran new underground wiring to the workshop and boathouse. Well, I helped him in all of this. He taught me how to plumb and more importantly, how to do electrical work. He wanted me to take my exams and become a journeyman but I was stupid and did not. However, the knowledge has saved us thousands of dollars over the years.
        During his early years my son watched how I did things. It must have taken as he has helped me make pieces and is now an excellent carpenter as well. He is also a landscaper and runs the landscaping/deckbuilding side of the business including the design of the projects. I made his son a cherry hanging cradle and a maple toybox. I made Roy a mahogany humidor for his cigars. Since then he stopped smoking.
        I refinished my grandfather's toolbox and gave it to my daughter. She uses it as a blanket chest. I made her a maple dining table as a wedding present. I made her son a cherry library table as a desk and a toy box. I have also made us a number of items.

        I didn't have many books until the 1980s, which is when I began my library. Over the years I have purchased and discarded many books. Those I now have are used and represent what I consider a good basic bibliography. There are many other books just as good and perhaps better, but these are my own favorites.
        I have separated the list into 10 sections starting with basic shop reference books and ending with finishing. Obviously there are overlaps. I have tried to indicate the contents of each book, how the author set the book up, how well he did, and, if applicable, the level of the book.
        Please remember that this is "My List as I Did It," not as you might!


    I. Basic Shop Reference Books

    Encyclopedia of Furniture Making
    by Ernest Joyce. Revised by Alan Peters
    Technical consultant Patrick Spielman
    Sterling Publishing, 1987

    This reference work is British, originally published in 1970, and updated in 1987. It is a basic text on furniture making and discusses all aspects of wood and wood working from basic materials to tools, hand, power, and stationary, to joinery, design, restoration, and many other subjects such as marquetry and inlay. The detail is excellent; the illustrations are very well done. Although the book is several years old it is not out of date.

    Band Saw: A Workshop Bench Reference
    Mark Duginske
    Sterling Publishing, 1999

    This is an excellent reference which should be kept handy to the saw. Duginske is well known for his band saw work. He holds several patents for band saw aids including an adjustable fence. His book is in several easily used sections which include set up and adjustment, cutting techniques, patterns and templates, jigs and fixtures, and others. Duginske shows how to cut dovetails, for example. The book is very well written and easy to use. A small item for me is that I cannot remember how to fold a blade so I keep the page number handy on the cover.

    The Drill Press Book
    R. J. Christoforo
    Tab Books (McGraw Hill), 1991

    Christoforo considers the drill press the most important tool in a shop other than the saw. He describes how the drill press can not only drill standard holes, but also can also substitute as a router, shaper, mortiser, sander, and lathe using proper precautions. Each of these procedures is discussed and illustrated. Safety is emphasized.

    The Table Saw Book
    Kelly Mehler
    Taunton Press, 1993

    This is an excellent shop reference on the table saw. Mehler not only discusses types of table saws, and their setup and maintenance, but also has extensive sections on cross cutting and ripping. Mehler considers many operations such as resawing thick stock, using the saw as a shaper, making cove, etc., to be inherently unsafe and therefore does not cover them. The chapter on adjustment and maintenance is clear, concise and includes easy to make jigs to use in these processes.

    Table Saw Magic
    Jim Tolpin
    Popular Woodworking Books, 1999

    Tolpin has written a good, basic shop reference on the table saw. He covers setup, maintenance, repair, and general operations. Tolpin also has sections on how to make jigs and fixtures, as well as how to do coves, moldings, general joinery, dadoes, and grooves. An easy to use book.

    Getting The Very Best From Your Router
    Pat Warner
    Betterway Books, 1996

    A very ambitious, useful, basic bench reference. Warner discusses all aspects of routing in sufficient detail to encompass everything necessary to own and operate a router safely from fixed plate, through plunge, to table routers, as well as how to use templates, etc. He covers safety and how to use the router with other tools.



    II.   General Woodworking Books

    Each of these books, basic as they are, presupposes some knowledge on the part of the reader who also must know how to ask questions and, to some extent, what questions to ask.

    Shop Tips
    Rodale Books, 1999

    An encyclopedic compendium of woodworking tips. Questions on joinery, adhesives, dust collection, tools, and a myriad of other subjects are covered in useful detail. A good basic, quick answer book.

    The Woodworkers Problem Solver
    Tony O'Malley, ed.
    Rodale Books, 1998

    A excellent reference/solution book. Because of the well thought out chapter headings, subheadings, and cross referencing, information is easily found on most woodworking subjects. In addition, the index is amazingly comprehensive. The contributors are all well known in their fields.

    Workshop Shortcuts
    Graham McCulloch
    Sterling Publishing, 1994

    This book is for the beginner. The cover says Tips, Tricks, Jigs & Aids for Woodworkers which says it all. Almost every problem in a workshop is covered from adhesives through staining and tools, to remodeling the workshop. Well written and easy to use.

    The Woodworkers Solution Book
    Alan & Gail, Bridgewater
    Popular Woodworking Books, 1998

    This is a British book. Therefore some of the language usage is British English, not American. Organized as a series of frequently asked questions and several solutions to each question, the authors cover a large and very comprehensive list of topics. These include shop arrangement, tool use, furniture design and layout, finishing, and tool care. Useful jigs and resawing are also discussed. The book is very well done with excellent illustrations. The organization of topics allows for easy reference.

    The Woodworkers Visual Handbook
    Jon Arno
    Rodale Press, 1995

    An excellent basic text and how to book for the beginner. Mr. Arno guides the novice woodworker from basic dimensions, designs, and styles, to tool usage including hand, portable, and stationary. He discusses woods, joinery and cabinetry, assembling, finishing, jigs, and more. The organization is excellent. The book is well written and illustrated.

    Woodworkers Source Book
    Charles Self
    F & W Publications, 1993

    A compendium of sources for plans, tools, materials, educational institutions, etc. The book was out of date at publication as are all such compendia. However, it is well-organized and easy to use.

    The Woodworking Handbook
    Tom Begnal
    Betterway Books, 1997

    As its name implies, this book is a handy reference and guide of necessary woodworking information. It covers tables of woodworking math, types of fasteners, drill bit speeds, etc. The book is well-designed and easy to use by beginner and advanced woodworkers.

    The Wood Sanding Book
    Sandor Nagyszalanczy
    Taunton Press, 1997

    A broad based book, Nagyszalanczy discusses much more than how to sand wood. He examines modern abrasives in depth and discusses which product to use for particular jobs, techniques for basic shaping and smoothing by machine and hand, and how to avoid common problems. He also talks about jigs and dust collection. There are abundant charts and lists in this well written and informative book.

    Controlling Dust in the Workshop
    Rick Peters
    Sterling Publications, NY, 2000

    Dust control is a vitally important aspect of woodworking. All aspects of dust and chip collecting are examined and discussed in an informative and well-written book. Peters shows how to avoid pitfalls when purchasing and installing a system, as well as how to build a shop made system. He covers individual tool pickups, jigs and fixtures, as well as maintenance and troubleshooting. The only negative aspect is Peters' acceptance of grounding the system as necessary to avoid explosions. Dr. Rod Cole has shown that there is no need to fear dust explosions because of the air/dust mix and that a need for grounding is fallacious.

    Woodworking Wisdom
    Rosario Capostosto
    Popular Science Books, 1983

    Aimed at a general woodworking audience, Capostosto hit his mark. He covers making and using jigs and fixtures for stationary and portable tools, and tips and techniques for sawing, shaping and assembling. Next he has a series of projects using what he has just discussed. Capostosto is an excellent photographer and did most of the pictures himself. The book is well laid out, easy to use, and is an excellent reference and textbook. Although an older book, nearly 20 years old, and although many of the jigs discussed are now available retail, it may still be less expensive to make them, and perhaps more fun.

    The Complete Book of Woodworking
    Rosario Capostosto
    Popular Science Books, 1975

    Written in 1975, this book was still being printed in 1986 (17th printing). Capostosto has made a general text for woodworkers. One could almost, but not quite, build a house using this book alone. Delving into all aspects of woodworking, the 6 sections cover properties of wood, tools, techniques, construction, joinery, finishing and other details. Capostosto has excellent illustrations, both photographic and drawn.

    Fine Woodworking on Boxes, Carcases and Drawers
    Fine Woodworking
    Taunton Press, 1985

    This is not a book for beginners. It demands advanced knowledge and techniques. However, that said, the joinery and cutting techniques are well taught. These include plywood furniture as well as standard carcases. Both hand and portable machine methods are discussed. The contributors are all well-known masters and include Tage Frid, the late Jim Cummins, Ian Kirby, and Mark Duginsky among others.



    III.  Jigs and Fixtures

    Make Your Own Jigs & Woodshop Furniture
    Jeff Greef
    Betterway Books, 1994

    Greef states that he aimed this book at both the beginner and to the intermediate hobbyist woodworker. He also states that it is useful for all levels of woodworkers. He also wished to show how to keep the cost of furnishing a woodshop at an affordable figure and therefore the jigs. Section One includes basic jigs and how to make them: tapering, finger joint, tenon (both table saw and router), router templates, and others. In Section Two, Greef shows how to use each jig to make a project which, when completed, will furnish the shop. The book is well-written and easy to use with useful jigs. I have made and still use several of the jigs.

    Woodshop Jigs & Fixtures
    Sandor Nagyszlanczy
    Taunton Press, 1994

    Although useful to the beginner, Nagyszlanczy includes many advanced jigs, such as clamps, as well as simpler jigs such as auxiliary fences. The eight major headings, such as "Fences That Guide", "Tables That Support", etc., together with the sub-headings make the book very easy to use. The explanations and illustrations are excellent.


    These next two books are by no means standard and are aimed at the advanced woodworker, especially one who thoroughly enjoys building or modifying stationary tools, or making advanced jigs (and perhaps at one who has an engineering degree).

    Making and Modifying Machines
    Editors of Fine Woodworking
    Taunton Press, 1986

    Because not everyone is satisfied with commercially made machines, the editors of Fine Woodworking have put together a book on building and/or modifying woodworking machines. If you wish to make a table saw or a jointer from wood, the plans are here. There are also plans to computerize or roboticize a radial arm saw, build an abrasive planer (drum sander), and make a treadle lathe. The plans are well done with excellent photographs. I have built nothing from here but I simply enjoy looking at the plans.

    Shop Accessories You Can Build
    Best of Fine Woodworking
    Taunton Press, 1996

    Generally speaking this book is much less demanding than the previous work. With that said, there are certain of the accessories that appear to require a degree in engineering to build. However, most of them only require a good working knowledge of woodworking, good drafting ability, and some minimal metalworking knowledge, plus the patience of Job. The only reason I have this book is to look at the machines.



    IV.  Router Tables

    I based my own router table on information from these books plus information from my JoinTech manual.

    The Router Table Book
    Ernie Conover
    Taunton Press, 1994

    Conover discusses table design and construction, bits, and techniques. The chapter on routers is standard and straightforward. Regarding tables, Conover covers both purchased and shop built. As his primary interest is in the shop built tables, much of the material is on design and making of a table including applying plastic laminate and which grade to use. Router installation in the table is discussed as are fences, featherboards, and guards. The sections on bits and techniques are basically to indicate how to use the table. Well written and illustrated, the book is easy to use.

    Build Your Own Router Tables
    John McPherson
    Betterway Books, 1997

    Although not specifically stated, this book is for the intermediate to advanced woodworker. Router bits and safety are covered quickly but thoroughly. However, as the title states, the emphasis is on building tables. As the router table top is the sole reason for the table, tops, how to cut and fit inserts and special application plates, and router orientation are discussed in detail with excellent illustrations. Fences and jigs are given their own chapters and include shop made as well as commercial designs. The last three chapters show how to build three specific types of tables. Well done.



    V,  Routers and Their Use

    Routing and Shaping
    Nick Engler
    Rodale Press, 1992

    This is a good basic text on routers. Engler includes what a router is and what it can do, basic techniques, joinery, and decorative edge molding. As an aid to learning and to help the woodworker practice techniques, Engler includes several projects such as a chest, a router table, and jigs. The discussion is excellent, to the point, and the illustrations are directly related to the text. I consider this a necessary book.

    Woodworking with the Router
    Bill Hylton & Fred Matlack
    Rodale Press, 1993

    Hylton and Matlack designed this book as a basic router manual which would discuss the "hows" and "why"s of using a router. Although routers and bits are covered, the major portion of the book talks about tables and benches, joinery, laminates, rabbeting, surfacing and all other woodworking processes which can be done with a router. There are many sidebars and "try this" asides as well as extremely well done illustrations. This is in the most useful category.

    The Router Joinery Handbook
    Pat Warner
    Popular Woodworking Books, 1998

    Warner obviously thoroughly enjoys using the router and telling others how much fun it is to use it. This book is less of a handbook and more of a series of essays on mortising, making sliding dovetails, cutting tongue and groove joints, and so on. He discusses all of these and more in an easy to use and fun to read book.



    VI.  Furniture Design

    These two books are specifically on design. Other books may have chapters touching on design but that is secondary to the main purpose.

    The Woodworkers Guide to Furniture Design
    Garth Graves
    Betterway Books, 1997

    Graves' book is definitely "Furniture Design 101". Although not necessarily written as a text, it could easily serve as one. Design, not build, is the operative word here. Graves covers everything from developing the concept to converting to parts. Although the book often demands rather close reading and is not always the easiest to understand, I found it to be an excellent and useful book.

    Measure Twice and Cut Once
    Jim Tolpin
    Betterway Books, 1996

    This is a book on design, not just measurement. As Tolpin states in the introduction ". . .if it's going to come out dog ugly and not be functionally fit for the people who will use it . . .", why build it? He talks about concepts, drawing techniques and working drawings, through layout, to preventing and fixing mistakes. Obviously measurement is an important part of this. Tolpin writes lucidly, has an engaging style, and uses illustrations well.



    VII.  Country Furniture and Projects

    Projects for Woodworkers Vol. I & II
    Woodworker's Journal
    Madrigal Press, 1987

    These two volumes are full of useful projects such as a cabinetmaker's bench, library stool, bud vase, stepped back hutch, and many more, including small projects. All of them are relatively easy to build and do not require advanced skills. The plans are well-done and easy to use. I have made several.

    Country Woodcrafts You Can Make
    Wood Magazine
    Meredith Books, 1992

    These woodcrafts range from a simple scoop to Shaker chairs and a buffet. The plans are well-presented and easy to use. The drawings, both flat and exploded, are excellent. There are a great variety of plans that may be used without difficulty.

    Country Pine: Furniture You Can Make With Table Saw and Router
    Bill Hylton
    Rodale Press, 1995

    As Hylton states in the Introduction, "Simple is Best." This is an excellent collection of approximately 26 projects that range in difficulty from easy to slightly more difficult. Included are display shelves, benches, footstools, desks, chests, etc., all popular. All have cutting lists and excellent illustrations. In addition, there are what Hylton calls "Shop Smarts". These are sidebars - some extensive - with full explanations of how to complete various procedures. Hylton's instructions of Milk Paint and painting in general are excellent. The projects are "simple", fun, useful, and not beyond the beginner. I have used the book extensively.

    Handcrafted Cabinetry
    Robert Yoder
    Readers Digest Assoc., 1999

    This book is a series of projects designed by 11 well known woodworkers such as Lonnie Bird, Jim Michaud, and Glenn Bartock. The plans are well laid out, the instructions clear, and the illustrations complete. Despite the clarity of everything, I would not recommend any of the projects to a beginner.

    Illustrated Cabinetmaking
    Bill Hylton
    Rodale Press, 1998

    Hylton has made more than a plan book although there are many interesting projects to be built here. His idea, which he successfully implements, is to instruct the reader on how to use his/her own skills. Hylton includes design here as a necessary precursor to actually cutting pieces out and assembling them. His instructions include using combinations of joints, subassemblies, etc., as well as how to alter appearances from plans. The illustrations are excellent and the text easy to follow.



    VIII.  Cabinetry

    Display Cabinets You Can Customize
    Jeff Greef
    Betterway Books, 1995

    This is an excellent work for the intermediate to advanced woodworker. What Greef means here is to use plans and change them to suit particular needs and circumstances. He uses projects to illustrate types of furniture and to illustrate tips and techniques on how to achieve results.

    Making Flawless Cabinets and Built Ins
    Nick Engler
    Rodale Press, 1998

    Engler has an excellent "how to" text here. Not only does he show how to design and build cabinets and other furniture, but his shop tips and sidebars show how to do things quickly, easily, and well. To me, this is a must for beginners.

    Build Your Own Kitchen Cabinets
    Danny Proulx
    Popular Woodworking Books, 1997

    Fast & Easy Techniques for Building Modern Cabinetry
    Danny Proulx
    Popular Woodworking Books, 1999

    These books are basically two of a kind. Proulx is noted for his hands on approach and for his excellent explanations. These two books discuss using modern materials such as MDF and melamine coated particle board for kitchen or other cabinets including free standing. Proulx also shows how to use quick connect and other modern hardware. Because the instructions and explanations are complete, any level of woodworker will have no trouble completing projects.



    IX.  Furniture Making

    This section is about specific styles of furniture: Arts & Crafts, Shaker, and Country Style.

    Building Arts and Crafts Furniture
    Paul Kemmer and Peggy Zdila
    Sterling Publishing, 1997

    Kemmer and Zdila both really enjoy Arts & Crafts furniture and wrote a book to celebrate that enjoyment. This book is the result and is aimed squarely at the amateur woodworker. There is a well-written and illustrated chapter on the history of the movement, an excellent gallery, and an interesting section on "Art and Philosophy of Wood Selection." The section on instruction is somewhat limited in scope for a book of this type, unless the amateurs are well advanced. Although I have built Arts & Crafts, and with assistance from this book, I found the book useful primarily for the pictures from which I could modify my projects. The authors assume too much knowledge.

    American Country Furniture: Projects from the Workshops of David T. Smith
    Nick Engler and Mary Jane Favourite
    Rodale Press, 1990

    This book is two things. First it is a celebration of the work done by Mr. Smith, et al, in his well-known shop near Warren. Ohio. There is a short biography and a brief section on design. It is obvious that Engler and Favourite thoroughly enjoyed their time at the shops, which actually make up a small village. Second, the country pieces featured, all authentic and all excellent reproductions including wear marks, are fully illustrated with photographs and exploded drawings. All of the procedural plans are detailed. There is a small gallery of furniture and a good chapter on "Tools, Materials, and Techniques". I have not yet built anything from this book but I yearn to.


    These next few books were purchased solely for their drawings and plans. Although they were picked up over a period of time, they are essentially a unit. I thoroughly enjoy Shaker style and the Shaker sites still extant.

    Making Shaker Furniture
    Barry Jackson
    Guild of Master Craftsmen Publications

    This is not a very useful book for me. Although the pieces chosen are well illustrated and the drawings detailed, everything is in metrics as the author is British. Being used to inches and feet, I find it a nuisance to convert millimeters to "standard" measurements. Nevertheless, the pieces are good and I have used the book to make projects.

    In The Shaker Style
    Editors of Fine Woodworking
    Taunton Press, 2001

    As one would expect from FWW, this compendium of projects done by well-known woodworkers is readable, highly workable, and very useful. The techniques, projects, and styles are handsomely illustrated and thoroughly explained. I purchased this primarily for the techniques and illustrations.

    Making Authentic Shaker Furniture with Measured Drawings
    John G. Shea
    Dover Publications, 1992

    Shea's book was purchased primarily for the drawings that include almost every type of furniture, boxes and built ins, made by the Shakers. The drawings are extremely well done and easy to use. Shea's section on the construction and design of Shaker furniture is excellent. The almost obligatory history section is also very well done.

    Shop Drawings of Shaker Furniture and Woodenware, Vol. 1, 2, 3
    Ejnar Handberg
    Berkshire Traveler Press, 1991

    As Handberg states in his preface, ". . . this is a collection of measured drawings made to scale and with dimensions and details accurately copied. . " These three small volumes have 80 pieces which covers almost everything the Shakers built. The plans are simply done, line drawings, not photographs. However, a beginner might find them somewhat difficult because there are no photographs and one has to imaginatively visualize the piece. On the plus side, changes may be made easily to suit ones tastes. I use these volumes extensively.



    X.  Finishing

    Applying Finishes
    Bob Flexner
    Rodale Press, 1997

    Great Wood Finishes
    Jeff Jewitt
    Taunton Press, 2000

    The New Wood Finishing Book
    Michael Dresdner
    Taunton Press, 1999

    Each of the above books is equally good. They are all well set up, well written, and provide more than enough material for one to do an excellent finish. Each takes the reader from bare wood to finished product. Various finishes are discussed as to durability and ease of application. Stains and dyes are thoroughly explained as to how and when to use them. Types of application are thoroughly covered and include spraying as well as more traditional methods. Brushes and bristle types are gone over in detail. And of course clean up chores and brush storage are discussed. I use all three interchangeably.