Modern Practical Joinery by George Ellis

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Review by JohnnyW posted 04-19-2010 09:58 PM 7430 views 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Modern Practical Joinery by George Ellis Modern Practical Joinery by George Ellis Modern Practical Joinery by George Ellis Click the pictures to enlarge them

George Ellis was a joiner working in England at the end of the 19th Century, and realising that he wouldn’t be around to mentor my woodworking journey in person, he decided to set down his instruction in this convenient text.

First, he tells me, a joiner must become familiar with the many hand tools that he will encounter, and understand how to use them. He pays special attention to teaching me how to create efficient mortice and tenon and dovetail joints. He also tells me, with a rather stern tone, how not to work. He shows me how to build a bench and fabricate some useful accessories, then, as a treat for my attentive learning, he introduces me to the new fangled woodworking machinery of the day. I’m not sure that they will catch on though, they look incredibly dangerous.

But then the hard work starts. He instructs me, in precise terms, how to produce a full joiner’s repertoire; doors, windows and stairs were to be expected, but this was just the beginning. He goes on to teach me how to build everything from a warehouse window shutter, to church pews, from lavatory fittings to air tight museum cases.

Finally, he rounds the work off with a typically thorough word on the types of wood that I will encounter, to aid my understanding of how they will behave and their appropriate use.

As you can probably tell, this book has had quite an effect on me. I can’t comprehend how one man could have accumulated such knowledge, then alone produce the 27 chapters, near 500 pages and 600 drawings in one lifetime.

It’s very instructional and quite formal, so not the sort of book that you would sit to to read at leisure. But if you have any interest in joinery, particularly of the period, then this will be a reference book that you’ll use for the rest of your journey.

-- John

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83 posts in 3831 days

8 comments so far

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4541 posts in 3875 days

#1 posted 04-19-2010 10:27 PM

The book sounds interesting either as a instructional manual or as a nostalgic look at how it was done then. I really like the way you presented this review with an implied personal connection to the author.

Do you see this book as being primarily a practical “this is how you do” book or do you see it as being primarily an interesting historical look at how things were done? My guess is that the answer would be “both” but I hope you can expand on that and opine on to what degree it is a practical guide and to what degree it is historical.

Thank you for a well written and interesting review.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View JohnnyW's profile


83 posts in 3831 days

#2 posted 04-19-2010 11:38 PM


Great question!

The main focus of the book, at around 250 pages, is on the details of the construction, giving detailed finished drawings and setting out what joints and finishes should be used, and why. In describing the work, Ellis assumes that the reader has already mastered the key techniques needed. It’s main value now is as an historical reference.

The instructional content is around 80 pages and focuses mainly on hand tool techniques.As a real novice, I’ve learned a great deal, but again, it’s main worth is as an insight into how joiners of this period worked, and how some of the tools of the day were used for maximum efficiency.

Hope this helps, and thanks for the nice comments.

-- John

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10880 posts in 3916 days

#3 posted 04-20-2010 01:51 AM

great rewiew thank´s for sharing
but who sells the book ? and whats the prize?


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404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 3770 days

#4 posted 04-20-2010 02:20 AM

George Ellis, woodworking legend. If you want to know how something would have been done in the days before powertools, read this. Be astounded by the drawings done only with a compass, ruler and pen – by candlelight (probably). This isn’t just driving screws into veneered panels, or mass production techniques, this is the Gospel according to George.

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83 posts in 3831 days

#5 posted 04-20-2010 11:14 AM


Amazon: sell it, from $20ish used or around $50 new, but it’s cheaper from Cambium. I’ve never used Cambium, but it’s nice to see a store dedicated to woodworking books, they seem to have a really good selection.

Nice to meet another Ellis fan. I’m going to learn to make doors the Ellis way, to the letter. It’ll take a while as I’m only a weekend warrior, but I’ll post my progress here in a blog.

-- John

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10880 posts in 3916 days

#6 posted 04-20-2010 02:40 PM

thank´s John
and I look forward to hear and see your progrees
in the journey of making doors
good luck with it


View rwyoung's profile


412 posts in 4273 days

#7 posted 04-20-2010 11:16 PM

FYI, the Cambium link just throws you back at Amazon where the best you can do is $19.50.

-- Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.

View PeteMoss's profile


214 posts in 4271 days

#8 posted 04-21-2010 01:41 AM

It is apparently old enough to be in the public domain. You can see it online at Link listed below. Then there is a PDF download link on the right hand side of that page if you want to save it.

-- "Never measure......cut as many times as necessary." - PeteMoss

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