WoodCentral's Book Reviews
Shepherd's Compleat Early Nineteenth Century Woodworker

Shepherd's Compleat Early Nineteenth Century Woodworker
by Stephen Shepherd

Green River Forge, Ltd.: 2003
paperback, 192 pp., $24.95
ISBN 0-939964-00-7

     Furniture maker, author and historian Stephen Shepherd says in his new introduction, "My problem with books is too much white space; this book was man against white space," and I think he won. In this reprint after the 1981 original hardback, the author has filled his pages with hand drawings and a rich text of historical fact to chronicle many facets of the woodworking trades in nineteenth century North America.
     Chapter headings include Wood, Tools and Techniques, Materials, Finishes and Hardware, Related Trades, and Terms, Tips, Tirades and Tangents. The latter discusses interpretations, laws, furniture influences, receipts and formulae, among other tidbits. Reading this book reveals a fairly complete picture of what life was like as a tradesman of the early nineteenth century.
     There are descriptions of furniture repairs with double dovetail keys, squared up patches on broken mortises, and replaced cross banding on a tabletop. The author explains the versatility required of early craftsmen. Of the local boxmaker's duties, Shepherd lists production of everything from shipping crates to eyeglass holders: "Cheese boxes, hat boxes, berries-of-all-kinds boxes; spice boxes, yarn boxes, storing-in-the-barn boxes; thread boxes, shirt boxes, bury-Uncle-Ned boxes..." and the list goes on.
     Stephen Shepherd has produced in this book a tradesman's journal - a record of a period in history when craft was often dependent upon stringent simplicity. "This publication has created controversy," he states. "It tells history as it happened, and is intolerant of deviations in preserving the past. Ours is not to improve upon history but to document it as accurately as possible."
     Shepherd's book is a treat to browse through. Its value is in genuine insight and shared knowledge about early craftsmanship in America, for as his Preface contributor J. Thomas Kramer writes, "A people with no regard for its past, has no future." Stephen Shepherd has dedicated much of his life to preserving an accurate historical record of nineteenth century woodworking. His bibliography of reference materials is three and a half pages long, with little white space.
     The book is self-published, and available directly from the author at: 801-455-8659. There is an additional $5 shipping charge above the purchase price.

. . . Barb Siddiqui