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Book Review: Chisel, Mallet, Plane and Saw

August 17, 2012

Chisel, Mallet, Plane and Saw

I first heard about Tony Konovaloff through Chris Schwarz. He mentioned Tony and his new book in a recent blog entry, and indicated he was helping Tony sell it through Lost Arts Press. So I hopped over to Tony’s website and digitally thumbed through it to see what he was about. I liked what I saw, took a chance, and bought his book.

It arrived a few days later and I sat down with it over my next lunch break to give it the initial once-over. For starters, it is a paperback book, a good size (7” x 9”), and it has a high quality stitched binding. I did not worry at all about breaking the spine when I used my iPad to hold it open while I ate lunch and read. The photography and art work, including the front cover, is all black and white.

The quality of the photographs is… not bad. I wish some of the shots had more detail, less background, or better lighting. But this does not bother me, because I know Tony wrote and published this book himself. He took most of the photographs, as well. I’m willing to forgo a little bit of quality for the determination someone displays in publishing their own book.

The text reads fairly smoothly. There are a number of minor grammatical errors throughout the book, but none so bad as to make the content illegible or easily misunderstood. As a technical writer/editor by trade, it is my job to review any text with an editor’s eye. It is not a function I can easily turn off. So while many of these errors may pop out at me, it is likely true most people will not even notice them. In the end, the content is clear and understandable, and that is really what counts.

The book opens and closes with the author’s say so on certain topics. He speaks his mind, no holds barred. I love it when an author does this. He is not wasting his time writing about things for which I do not care and I am not wasting my time reading those things. He tells us how he does it. He readily admits there are other ways, maybe even better ways for someone else, but these are the ways he likes to do it and so these are the ways he does it. And he speaks with 25+ years of real life furniture-making experience, which carries a lot of weight with me.

As an added bonus, there is plenty of dry wit and humor (think: Frank Klausz) sprinkled throughout the pages to help keep the book from being too dry and preachy. He comments at one point in his opening say so that he wants to tell us how he does things, “without leading you by the handtool.” It took me a bit more reading to determine if he was being witty or if someone had edited with an over-zealous Find/Replace function. Turns out it was the former.

If you’re looking for a book with step-by-step projects and tear-out plans for some of the furniture he discusses in the later chapters, then you’ll have to look elsewhere. Tony does not include plans or cut lists because he does not use them in his own work (I dare say he does not think you should use them, either.) Besides, that is not the purpose of this book. I found it to be a book on the philosophy of using hand tools, more than anything.

He does discuss hand tool techniques in various locations throughout, but I would not list that as a selling point of this book. The techniques he tries to break down would be better handled with more descriptive text and additional photography or drawings. In his defense, I do not think he was trying to write a book on how to cut dovetails or provide us the step-by-step process for making a four-square board.

Instead, I think Tony’s purpose in writing the book is to open more people to the idea of having a quieter, more peaceful shop environment, where you do not have to worry about speeds any faster than the rate of the minute hand on the clock. He is pushing you to imagine what it would be like to work, not with industrial-sized ear protection pinching your head, but with pliable ear buds trickling your favorite music off of your iPod. He is daring you to work in your basement at 11:00 at night without fear of waking a two year old child.

My best project yet…

Which brings up one more point… As a new father, I try to think to the near future, when my son might want to start joining me in the workshop, either just to be with me as I work or maybe to pick up a hand saw or chisel and test his own creative senses. It was encouraging to read about Tony’s boys and how they spent time in his shop when they were little and how they spend time in his shop now that they are older.

But, maybe most importantly, I think Tony wants us to start caring about the woodworking we produce. If we do not put a bit of heart and soul into our projects, then the people who receive our finished piece won’t be able to find it in there, either. We cannot be a disposable society forever; people need to care about how things are made again!  In order to do that, we need to care about how we make things.

If I was not already convinced to try and use more hand tools and fewer power tools in my shop, he makes several compelling arguments. And it is a joy to read the words of someone who is so free with his opinions. I imagine Tony is not one to beat around the bush or walk on eggshells in any aspect of his life. I understand; I try to approach most things in life that way, as well.

Thank you, Tony, for providing us the insight into your woodworking life.  It was a pleasant read and I have added your book to my Woodworking Philosophy bookshelf, to be taken down often for future reading.  Let me know if you ever want to publish a second edition to get some of those grammatical errors fixed; I’d be happy to lend you a handtool.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 20, 2012 1:28 pm

    Thanks for sharing this review, Ethan. It sounds like a good addition to the Woodworking Philosophy shelf. I hope your son takes an interest in woodworking as mine has. If so, you have a lot of joy ahead of you. Cheers from Kansas City!


    • September 20, 2012 1:55 pm

      Thanks, Alex! One nice benefit of being the editor of the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild newsletter is that I HAVE to write a book review every month, so that means I a) have the motivation to read all kinds of woodworking books and b) end up with at least one blog entry a month. 🙂

      It’s amazing how many things Finley finds interesting or fun or exciting that you wouldn’t think most two year old kids would care about. He has an incredible sense of humor, to boot! My wife refers to him as “Ethan 2.0”.

      Hopefully a love of doing things with wood will follow right in line.


      • September 20, 2012 3:39 pm

        Oh, man you’re taking me back! Two was a great age for David. He’s nine now, and really coming into his own. About a year ago, I made the commitment to go hand tool only. My kids never liked the sound of my machinery, and David really got excited that the hand tool journey was one he could take with me.

        Kudos on the newsletter – it looks great! It inspires me to get involved with the Kansas City Woodworkers Guild.


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