|Review by BikerDad||posted 07-24-2008 03:40 AM||3537 views||2 times favorited||12 comments|
I picked up this book recently after stumbling across a mention, then a review, then a bunch of raves. I chose to purchase the book directly from Lost Art Press, getting the Deluxe Edition (w/ CD). Their website didn’t want to have anything to do with my credit card, but that simply meant I had to deal directly with a real live and very courteous individual. The verdict on the purchasing experience: the folks at Lost Art Press are a pleasure to deal with.
But, you may be wondering, what about the book? Is it all its cracked up to be?
In a word, Yes.
What it isn’t is directly comparable to the other Workbench books out there (Scott Landis’s comes to mind). Schwarz’s book isn’t chock full of stunning photographs and chapter after chapter of human interest stories. What it does do quite well is delve into the fundamental nature of what a workbench is really intended to accomplish and how to evaluate various design features in light of those intentions.
How Schwarz goes about doing this is usually entertaining, especially the early chapters. The chapter on evaluating different workholding options is, frankly, a bit tedious to read. The information therein is valuable, well organized, but since its basically asking the same questions in various permutations, yawwwwnnnn. Page turner in the sense that you want to get past it to more entertaining pursuits like “where’s this gonna take me, and how do I build it when I get there?” Well, go ahead, skip over the bulk of the chapter, at least on your first read, I did.
First read, yes. Like the other Workbench books, this is something you’ll likely revisit, certainly while you’re pondering the subject of bench design. What’s somewhat unusual about this book is it accomplishes something rare in woodworking publishing, it increases the value of its competitors. Christopher brings clarity to the subject, and equips the reader to revisit Landis’s and Schleining’s (sp?) books with a much better set of analytical tools. Landis’s book is very well suited for appreciating the workmanship that goes into the benches it profiles, Schwarz gives you the chops to evaluate them on their performance, and determine whether or not a feature is something you want to add to your design.
There are some downsides to this tome. First, ‘tis printed in China. While that doesn’t affect the content, it does matter to some folks, including me. In truth, had I encountered the book in a bookstore without the benefit of prior knowledge, I likely would have sat it down simply because my past experience with books that have been printed in China is that they are “lightweights” as far as their content and depth are concerned. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book is an exception to that paradigm.
Second, the “Hotzie” bench is NOT included in the book, although it is on the CD. Since I haven’t dipped into the CD yet, I don’t know whether the treatment of the “Hotzie” is comparable to the English bench and the Robou.
Third, the section on wood selection suffered from some shortcomings. Schwarz’s geographic situation led to him giving a lot of attention to Southern Yellow Pine as a benchmaking material, which in itself is fine. Unfortunately, his coverage of Douglas Fir, the western equivalent, is less than impressive. While DF can be quite hard, it is also very soft, and any large flat surface using DF will need to account for this. Sure, grain orientation can pretty much solve the issue, but unless a person has worked a fair amount with DF doing furniture projects rather than simply construction, they’ll unlikely to be aware of its quirks.
Along with the short shrift given DF, there’s no mention of the subject of bench color. Setting aside cost, are there downsides to using a dark wood for a bench?
Last, on the subject of wood selection, there’s two charts in the book, one covering the strength of various woods, the other addressing their hardness. Unfortunately, the two charts don’t include the same woods! Oh, the usual suspects (hard maple, European beech, ash, red and white oak) are in both, but some other woods aren’t. Synchronizing info like this is the sort of thing editors are supposed to insure happens.
In one sense, the book is “evolving”, because Christopher continues to explore the subject and posts his musings in his blog. Thus, the tactic of “sleeving” a drawer or carcase over the end of the bench is covered, something that certainly would have been of value in the book. (Can’t sleeve if your bench has no overhang!).
In closing, if you’re looking for a coffee table book with wonderful pictures that may inspire you to get working, or inspire others to begin, then Landis’s book is a better tome. For those interested in the purpose, design, analysis and use of woodworking benches, this book is IMHO the best available today. Yes, it can be just as inspirational as the Landis book, but whether or not you’ll enjoy the inspiration while you’re flattening your new Robou because Schwarz enabled you to articulate what it was about your old bench that just wasn’t working, well, I’ll just leave that for you to find out.
-- I'm happier than a tornado in a trailer park! Grace & Peace.