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Book Review: The New Traditional Woodworker

January 15, 2013

The New Traditional Woodworker

The New Traditional Woodworker

Book Review: The New Traditional Woodworker – From Tool Set to Skill Set to Mind Set
by Jim Tolpin

Is the hand tool focused shop just a fad? If we look ten years to the future, will we see SawStop table saws in the garage of every person who calls themselves a hobbyist woodworker? Will a deluge of antique and modern hand tools sit unsold on eBay and Craig’s List? Will corporations once again find themselves employing the hundreds of craftsmen who have left their cubical-shaped work week to try and hack it out in the trenches of the fickle hand tool world?

Or… is there something more to it? Is this really a crescendo of practically-minded people who look forward to the serenity of a quiet shop, who yearn to rub the aching muscles that result from an hour of dimensioning lumber, and who want to breathe in the scent of freshly planed wood instead of fine particles of sawdust?

I vote the latter, if for no reason other than the simple fact I cannot imagine the former! I feel the momentum of something bigger building up, and I look forward to the resulting revolution – people casting aside the daemons of technology that suck their souls out through smartphone-strained eyes. For us woodworker types, there is an obvious place to start that change in our own lives.

You might be wondering where Jim Tolpin’s book comes into play in this thought process. I’ll tell you. It is a blueprint, a path, a way for you to create a shop you can go work in at two o’clock in the morning without fear of waking your spouse or children. It isn’t a “follow these exact steps and you will find Woodworking Nirvana” kind of book. It is a guide for anyone who wants to turn their woodworking hobby into both more and less at the same time. More pleasure. Less danger. More quality time with your iPod trickling your favorite Grateful Dead concert into your ears. Less ear pain from expensive, skull-crushing hearing protection. More of an understanding of the wood with which you work. Less time worrying about measuring exact dimensions.

Section One:

After a thoughtful and mood-setting foreword, Mr. Tolpin walks his readers through the differences between a hand tool shop and a power tool shop (and the benefits of the former, if woodworking is your hobby and not your job). He covers size, layout, workbenches, saw benches, and a (relatively) brief, but comprehensive, overview of hand tools.

Section Two:

The second section of the book is devoted to shop projects. But it isn’t your typical candlebox/cutting board/cabinet list of projects. Instead, it is a series of projects that supplements your cordless environment with accessories essential to making a hand tool shop work. As you tackle each of these projects – beginning with a straightedge, a try square, winding sticks, and a planing stop – you will develop your hand tool skills and, more importantly, your confidence. By the time you’ve finished with these important shop jigs (i.e. the implements of a hand tool cheater!), that candlebox will be a breeze.

Whether you are just starting out, interested in incorporating more hand tools into your power tool shop, or want to get rid of most of your power tools completely, I think this is a great place to start.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 15, 2013 1:33 pm

    I have to say that I wasn’t as impressed with Tolpin’s book as others were. The meat of the book, the section on tools, just doesn’t get into enough detail for me. There were far too few descriptions of actually using the tools. Sure, the book was a great introduction to different types of chisels, planes, etc..But you can just as easily find that info in a good tool catalog. The project section was good, however.
    For me, PW’s Handtool Essentials was a much better introduction to hand tools and their use than Tolpin’s book. Anyway, just an opinion. Thanks for yours.


  2. January 15, 2013 2:24 pm


    I don’t think I’m ever looking for THAT ONE BOOK which will give me everything I need to know. Frankly, I doubt it exists. And that’s OK.

    I tend to approach my woodworking reading material the same way one should approach a meeting for a 12-Step Program. Take what you like and leave the rest. In that way, I use books to supplement other books.

    I agree with you; any author who plans on fully covering the vast topic of hand tools needs to be prepared to write a book of several hundred pages. Or several books of several hundred pages. Something tells me that wasn’t his main goal.

    For me, I felt the meat of Mr. Tolpin’s book (or, rather, the important part) to be the latter half – the practical development of hand tool skills that results in shop jigs and implements you really should have anyway!

    Therein lies his guiding beacon. Here are the skills you need. Here is how you can get into the workshop and start applying those skills to wood!

    Thanks for taking the time to comment! Always love hearing others’ thoughts on the subject (whatever subject that may be).



    • January 16, 2013 7:22 am

      I liked Toplin’s book for the projects section, which I thought was very well done, and at the risk of sounding like a child, it had nice photographs The projects, if all made by hand or nearly by hand, are a nice intro into hand work. Maybe I’m a little biased because I’m still not completely sold on an all hand tool shop, at least for somebody like me who gets to woodwork only a few weekends a month. Of course, I try to “woodwork” in other ways when I’m not able to be in the shop, mainly reading about woodworking, watching the occasional video, and of course blogging about it all.
      I’m probably being a little hard on the book itself. After all, I am only one woodworker who is just a hobbyist at that. I know that some others hold the book in high regard. It just didn’t do it for me the way other hand tool books have. Thanks again. I’m glad guys like you review books. I’ve tried to before but I have a little trouble with it. Especially because some books I have contain sections that I think are great with other sections I completely disagree with. Even the Anarchists Toolchest, which is probably the handtool lovers current bible, has some parts that I don’t see eye to eye with. I think what it really comes down to is every “pro” woodworker has a way that he or she does things that has worked well for them. So they decide to write about it. And then there are guys like me, amateurs who are okay at woodworking who don’t always woodwork like the pros do for one reason or the other. Woodworking isn’t like taking out an appendix, there are more than a few ways to woodwork “correctly”. I should probably just be happy that people are willing to write woodworking books, but I’m not built that way.
      Thanks again.


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