One of my favorite old woodworking books

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Review by StumpyNubs posted 07-11-2014 06:58 PM 5890 views 2 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
One of my favorite old woodworking books No-picture-s No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

Some of the most popular videos we make at the Stumpy Nubs Workshop are the “Old-Timey Woodworking” series. People love to see how things were done in days past. I always get this feeling of nostalgia when I see an old tool or a piece of furniture baring the marks of a craftsman who knew nothing of this modern wonder we call electricity. I even find myself wishing I lived in their simpler time, when a woodworker could enjoy the sweet satisfaction that only comes from hours spent re-sawing white oak into boards by blistered hand. My mind drifts to some imaginary shop where dim candles illuminates my rough sawn lumber as I spend a day flattening one board with a jack plane and a set of winding sticks…

Ok, so maybe the old days weren’t always as ideal as we think. My great-great grandpa Stumpy would have loved to use my power jointer. And my indoor bathroom. But I can’t help thinking about how nice it would have been to live in his world, even if I had to worry about a spider biting me on the butt every time I went to use the outhouse. That’s why I love Eric Sloane’s books.

For those who don’t know of him, Eric Sloane was a lover of cultural history and folklore. He wrote a number of wonderful books dealing with the fading knowledge of the past. His 1965 book titled “A Reverence for Wood” is one of my favorites. It’s not a long book, you can read it in a few hours. But you’ll spend days more looking at the illustrations. Sloane was a renowned artist, creator of over 15,000 works in his lifetime, and his pen & ink drawings fill the pages. With an amazing eye for detail he brings to life the times and tools of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. He begins with a narrative, the story of an ancient barn being disassembled by a pair of men who take time to admire every detail of its pre-industrial era construction. We learn about the way shingles were made, how the posts were set, what old tools were found tucked into the dark corners, all accompanied by fantastic drawings. Sloane didn’t want to share a few meager details, he sought to preserve the history behind the wooden objects. He often illustrates the evolution of a common woodcraft over time. Something as simple as a wooden door becomes fascinating as he shows the designs made by the first American colonists and how the shapes, sizes, hinges and materials changed over the next two centuries.

“A Reverence for Wood” reminds us that our ancestors looked at trees differently. Today we see shade, leaves to rake, maybe more if we’re a woodworker. But great-great grandpa Stumpy would have seen so much more. Many of the things familiar to him were made from wood. The cabin and barn of the homestead, the containers and eating utensils of the kitchen, the rakes and plows of the farm, the crates and baskets of the marketplace, the tools and toys of everyday life; all of it came from trees. Our ancestors knew how to make countless things from wood. But all of that knowledge has become obsolete. No longer passed from father to son or taught in the schools, perhaps it would have been lost forever were it not for people like Eric Sloan. “A Reverence for Wood” resurrects the past with the turn of every page, and it will always be one of my favorite books.

You can find the book used on Amazon and various other places. It’s well worth seven or eight bucks!

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12 comments so far

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#1 posted 07-12-2014 04:01 AM

Great post. I love history, which were my favorite classes in my school days. And that book will soon be in my home.

-- Chris ** If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace. — Tom Paine **

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#2 posted 07-12-2014 10:13 AM

Mr. Sloane was quite an individual!
Great Book Stumpy, I’ve been recommending his writings to anyone who’ll listen for many, many years!

-- Mike in Concord, NH---Unpleasant tasks are simply worthy challenges to improve skills.

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#3 posted 07-12-2014 12:53 PM

thanks Stumpy great review going to be looking for this one

-- Jesus Is Alright with me

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#4 posted 07-12-2014 01:03 PM

I love all his books. I’ll probably review more down the road.

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#5 posted 07-12-2014 06:27 PM

Stumpy you know I loved this Thanks for posting! Nice work my friend.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

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#6 posted 07-12-2014 09:34 PM

I’m half way through his book. Wonderful writing style, full of old knowledge and ways of life long gone.

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Arlin Eastman

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#7 posted 07-12-2014 09:47 PM

Old wood working books would be great friends, full of wisdom and knowledge that I wish I could learn and full of history.

Thanks for sharing

-- It is always the right time, to do the right thing.

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Mainiac Matt

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#8 posted 07-13-2014 12:37 AM

Love Eric Sloan’s art and writing…

My woodworking foundation was largely laid by reading his books.

Diary of an Early American Boy (packed with wood lore) and The Spirits of 76 (more about ethics) are also favorites.

I have one of his huge barn paintings (print on textured back I suspect) in my office, which my wife scored at a garage sale for $10. I love to stare at it and ponder America of the early 19th century.

-- Matt -- I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam

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#9 posted 07-13-2014 12:28 PM

Sloane’s books are truly magnificent. He captures the essence and spirit of these earlier times so well. And he really understands the deep appreciation for excellence and the pride of craftsmanship that has been so lost in modern times. I love his books.

Another author I recommend is Aldren Watson: his drawings and woodworking books are equally great, IMO….

-- Traditional Woodworking & Carving classes at my shop in Coastal Maine:

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#10 posted 07-14-2014 04:32 AM

I love this book, beautiful illustrations.

-- Power to the people.

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#11 posted 07-14-2014 11:21 PM

Thanks for the recommendation! I just picked up a hardcover copy from 1965 for $0.99 cents on – I got lucky, it was the last one. But they have others, and paperbacks. Tons of copies out there guys. I read a few pages on amazon preview, and i had to buy it straight away.

-- Joseph, Irvine CA, @palas_woodcraft on Instagram

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Dennis Zongker

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#12 posted 07-28-2014 01:26 PM

Yes, Thank you Stumpy,

I purchased his book after reading your review. This was very enjoyable to read, it really took me back into the day before cell phones and computers. Thank you for another great review!

-- Dennis Zongker

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