WoodCentral's Book Reviews
Rare Trades

Rare Trades
by Mark Thomson

Harper-Collins: 2002
Paperback, 256 pp., $24.95
ISBN 0-73226-904-0

[EDITOR'S NOTE: We know this book is available in Australia and the U.K., but we do not know of a current source in the U.S. We'll post a link to a mail-order source as soon as we find one. If you find one before we do, let us know.]

    This book was sent to me by my daughter last Christmas. She is always meticulous about the presents she buys, carefully choosing just the right gift.
     This book is no exception. I'm not a bibliophile but could not put the book down. Author/photographer Mark Thomson delves into the history of rare trades - and the lives of the tradesmen who preserve them - to uncover a wealth of special tools, unique traditions and secrets.
     There are items of interest to all who read these pages, great stories about people who love the work they choose to do - working with their hands. Rare Trades pays tribute to the kind of skilled manual work - requiring the artistry of a real master - that nowadays has become so rare. Featuring great photography and stories of tradesmen from the haystack maker to the wheelwright, the cooper, the tinsmith and many more, this book recognizes the type of skills that are fast being lost from our society.
     You will read about the world of Colen Clenton who makes the only wood working hand tools with a genuine lifetime guarantee, telling how his tools communicate with him long after they are sold. There is a story that will tickle those of you who have been sent "to get a long weight", and for those that have experienced "you can't come here because we don't have a ladies toilet."
     The photos are magical, they are all candid and show the wrinkled lines of knowledge and skill on the contented faces of people who really enjoy their work.
     I thought I was a pretty good tradesman until I saw the picture of John Yard with his work. I couldn't make that! Or maybe this is an inspiration to try. Since reading the book I discovered that John has retired, and you have to get past his loving better half to persuade him to do some work for you.
     I didn't know there were people who still made pennyfarthings, horse collars, Organ pipes, chairs and glass eyes. Those trades I did know, like violin making, French polishing, wood carving, all came to life with insights into the lives of the people who practice those trades with great joy, pride, and a craftsman's sense of humor.
     The book is a "must read" for those with a respect for craftsmanship, a sense of humor or just a fascination for the human spirit.
     For the Aussi readers Marks book is currently featured in an exhibition at the Scienceworks Museum in Melbourne and will be opening at the National Museum Canberra in June.

. . . Glenn Cramond