Jim Tolpin’s “The New Traditional Woodworker”

I don’t often read a woodworking book cover to cover. Usually it’s just one or two sections that interest me enough to add to my library. Tolpin’s new book “The New Traditional Woodworker” is an exception. Reading it felt like I was sitting down to a marvelous feast and I didn’t want to miss a bite. Half way through I had the realized Jim accomplished something very difficult to capture in print. This book is essentially an apprenticeship in hand tool woodworking. I know a bit about apprenticeships having served in an old school machinist apprenticeship 35 years ago. Like the journeymen that taught me (minus the practical jokes and abuse) Jim takes you under his wing and helps you build a succession of fundamental skills while simultaneously outfitting your workshop with a nice collection of essential workbench accessories. I still have my machinist chest packed with tools I made as an apprentice, it’s a great way to build basic skills. Each successive tool and skill raises the confidence and competence to take on richer and more challenging projects. Jim approaches skill building from three angles. The right tool set with an overview of essential hand tools and their proper use. The right mindset with solid instruction about how to make those tools work to their potential. Finally, the skill set to bring it all together at the workbench.

I have only two issues with this book. Why wasn’t it around twenty years ago when I was bushwhacking through largely uncharted hand tool territory? One other issue I had at first, but realize there may be a purpose behind it. There is no index. In this case I think Tolpin is saying, even an experienced woodworker like myself should eat the whole meal, not just hop around cherry picking a section here and there. Over the coming months I plan on building his apprentice projects. I’m sure revisiting some of the skills will benefit, not to mention finally assembling a tool set that will stay with me. Sure, a couple of sections of half inch extruded aluminum angle will get by as winding sticks. But why not treat myself to a nice hand crafted mahogany set?

If you are new to hand tool woodworking this is an excellent roadmap. Even accomplished hand tool users will find useful guidance and perhaps the inspiration to finally trick out your workshop with a set of tools any journeyman would be proud to own.

George R. Walker

About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
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5 Responses to Jim Tolpin’s “The New Traditional Woodworker”

  1. Ace Karner says:

    I received my copy two days ago and like you I am reading it page by page. It seems that just about the time a question comes up in my mind he answers it in the next sentence or paragraph.

    Great read no matter how much experience you have. I sure would have made many fewer mistakes on my journey to hand tool use if I had this book 10 years ago.

  2. JimG3 says:

    I started in the 70’s when there was no idea what hand tools were for. Prople could say things like ” Oh moldings, they were just to cover up sloppy joints”, or “With modern glues you don’t need that fancy joinery.” I was in a hardware store once buying a marking gauge when the guy behind me on line sneered “We don’t use those anymore.” Of course you could get a Stanley pre-war Bedrock Jack plane for $25. And work those winding sticks, you can’t beat Mahogany with maple inlays, and they’ll stay true for 20 years.

  3. Tico Vogt says:

    20 years ago Jim Tolpin was writing books that were very power tool oriented, so it wasn’t a possibility! I know this because I bought two of his books and have used some of the techniques in both finish carpentry and cabinet applications. I remember thinking at the time that his book on kitchen cabinetmaking demonstrated his best efforts at maximizing the production capacity of a small shop. In the end, all that plywood, all the tablesaw and router jigs… It didn’t feel like something you’d want to do forever.
    It appears he has done a serious about face and seriously reformed his approach to working wood. I always felt he was a very good writer about his procedures and am looking forward to his insights about hand tools.

  4. John Griffin-Wiesner says:

    The writing, as expected, is excellent as are the photos. What baffles me is the lack of explaining a shooting board, or a project to build one. Learning to sharpen was the first gateway skill. But close on it’s heels was the shooting board in helping me learn to work with hand tools.

    • Shannon says:

      I agree with George on reading this book from cover to cover, it was a great read. John, I can see your point about having a shooting board, but I think it is good for people to learn to dimension a board without the use of the board and then add the shooter later as a convenience. Of course Tolpin says nothing about this in his book so it may have just been available space.

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