Inspiring Aspirations

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Review by lysdexic posted 07-17-2011 11:45 PM 2867 views 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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I just finished “A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook” by James Krenov. This was his first book and published 35 years ago in 1976. I chose to read it because many of the reviews consider it a classic, he is well known personality in woodworking, and I like his understated but elegant style. Other than seeing Krenov style hand planes and his quotes as lumberjock signatures, I really didn’t know much about him.

Well, his tome was quite enjoyable but it is a departure from the other books that I’ve read in my nascent woodworking journey. Previously, the books that I’ve read include the basics of, how to, or catalog basic woodworkings skills and tools. The authors include Garrett Hack, Peter Korn, Lonnie Bird and Chris Schwarz among others. These all very informative but Krenov stands apart. Schwarz writing style is as good as any author have read including the classics. In his books he has shared invaluable information on the history, design considerations and construction on classic workbenches that I aspire to build. But I would not consider any of these books insightful nor is that their goal.

Yet, Krenov shares his personal sensibilities of wood and philosophies of life. His message is not original and is as old as humanity itself. The friendly prose meanders though his perspective on working wood. He speaks to why and not the how, the mystique and not the technique. He examines himself as a woodworker just as much as he struggles to explain its essence. He conveys the importance of letting the wood speak similar to Nakashima. It is not the fact that you have a Sawstop but what the wood is telling you when it pinches the riving knife. Nor is it about the fact that you found a smooth sole type 11 Bedrock 4 1/2 at a yard sale for $2. Although THAT would be as close to Nirvana that I have been. I imagine Krenov would say that the more important message is in the defiant tear out of the curly grain when you plane it.

This heady book may not appeal to all. However, it’s abstract message will resonate with many regardless of their level of experience.

For some reason that I do not know, Krenov made me wonder what the difference was between the words inspire and aspire. Weird but it fits. tells me that to inspire denotes transmission from one subject to another and aspire is a stationary quality. I have aspirations of building fine furniture. Krenov has inspired my to see if I can discover what it really means to work wood. I am now motivated to flip thru my meager collection of lumber and wonder if I can see the wood and hope that I will have the sensibility to hear what it suggests.

-- "It's only wood. Use it." - Smitty || Instagram - nobodhi_here

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#1 posted 07-18-2011 01:12 AM

I need to break down and buy this book for myself. I have put considerable wear into my local libraries copy. You will not beat Krenov when it comes to inspirational writing. Every time I finish one of his books (again), I think to myself “yes, this is why I work the way I do, I am glad someone else put into words what I cannot myself describe.”

I love the chapter about his cats, mine are the same way.

Thanks for putting up this review, and I will throw in my two cents about Schwarz, no Krenov, but I think after a book like The Anarchist Tool Chest, we might expect him to hit a similar stride.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

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#2 posted 07-20-2011 03:12 AM

essential reading.

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#3 posted 09-06-2011 01:28 AM

I’ve heard too much, this is my next read. I have little knowledge of James Krenov, but like what i do know. I just finished ‘A Reverence for Wood’ Eric Sloane, a fantastic read, but your review has me stoked to get my hands on this book and dive in.

My local library is sorely lacking in books about woodworking and woodworkers.

-- Anthony

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