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