Book Review: Made By Hand
Made By Hand: Furniture Projects From The Unplugged Shop
By Tom Fidgen
I started reading Tom Fidgen’s blog, The Unplugged Woodshop, back in 2008. For more than a year, I followed him as he progressed through the various stages of his projects, impressed with his writing style, rejoicing in the occasional philosophical thought that made me look at the mundane from a different point of view, and fully delighted with his carefully thought out words and the incredible photography accompanying each entry. So, when he announced he was in the process of writing a book, called Made By Hand, I couldn’t wait to get my own hands on it. And then, a bit later, when he said he was taking pre-orders, I was one of the first to sign up. If it was anything like his blog writing, I knew it would be well worth the money. Finally, in November of 2009, my copy of Made By Hand arrived in the mail and I immediately dove in.
Right out of the box, I was impressed with what Tom had put together. I really prefer the 8.5”x11” format in a woodworking book, which is what Tom used, and I’ll pick a hard-bound book over a soft-bound copy of the same book any day of the week. The paper is high quality and low gloss, and the simple serif font is set on an off-white background, so the pages are easy to turn and easy on the eyes. Anyone who has enjoyed one of James Krenov’s books will find the familiarity of the front cover quite pleasing – certainly Tom is influenced by Mr. Krenov in more than just his project design.
My experience with real honest-to-God artists, time and time again, has shown that their artistic talents are not limited to just one medium. Tom once again proves that theory with his book. He is not just a great woodworker; on the credits page, you will see him listed as the photographer. And the photography is indeed of the highest quality – each picture is framed just right, with an artist’s eye, to properly portray the intended message without so much clutter. So far this book was living up to every one of my expectations.
Finally, I got to the content of the book. It is broken down into two basic parts. The first part is a section of three chapters that cover the essentials of what basic tools you should have in your shop, useful workbench appliances, and detailed information on some hand tool techniques. The second section contains design ideas and a walk-through for six projects.
More excited than ever, I began reading. I spent most of an afternoon plowing my way through the book; unfortunately, this is where the brass started to lose some of its shine. Thinking that maybe it was just me, I read it again, more slowly, over a period of about two weeks. The brass was still tarnished. (Please keep in mind, as you read this part of the review, that I write and edit technical documentation for a living, so what may be obvious and troublesome to me could very well pass by most people unnoticed.)
While, for the most part, the writing was fairly clear and the sequence well-organized, it was not the same writing I was used to seeing in his blog. Oddly enough, it seemed more casual than his blog writing ever was, with incomplete and poorly structured sentences throughout. Maybe it was a result of time constraints with the writing or, more likely, the editing. Or maybe Tom was trying to be creative in order to avoid the dull and humdrum content one finds in so many books on woodworking. Whatever the case, I felt it needed a bit more work. Overall, I was fairly pleased with the end result, but, personally, I would be happier with a second (edited) edition.