The Woodwright's Guide: Working Wood With Wedge & Edge

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Review by Texasgaloot posted 10-26-2008 06:02 PM 5311 views 1 time favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch
The Woodwright's Guide: Working Wood With Wedge & Edge No-picture-s No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.

“It’s just a piece of wood, but let’s see what your axe handle has to say.” (p.4) From the opening sentence of St. Roy’s latest tome exudes the essence of Underhill, both myth and man. As a young boy, my grandfather had me chopping wood for my breakfast, and the only thing I remember my axe handle saying were words not fit to use here, but when Roy visits an axe handle, it suddenly springs to lively discussion, relishing it’s job in the Feller’s hands. And therein is the first thing I learned from this book; he (historically speaking) who is a “Feller” is not necessarily the good old boy on the next bar stool at some back-road greasy spoon diner, but is in fact he who fells trees. Aha!

Underhill’s most recent work is self-admittedly a re-visitation of his prior books (of which I have all, somewhere in a box…) It is organized in such a way that we follow woodworking from the forest all the way through the joiner’s work with stops along the way to learn the tools of the craft and to take surveys of the bodger’s art, timber framing, ship building, and wood turning. Written in Underhill’s inimitable and inevitably right-brained style, it is laced with the imagery and humor we’ve come to be addicted to. Adding to the charm of an already enchanting text are the illustrations of Eleanor, Roy’s daughter, using a model that somehow faintly recalls the author in younger days. The reader finds himself mired in nostalgia, picturing himself in colonial breeches and turning the spiral auger to drawbore a mortise and tenon joint in huge oak beams, while the author himself is chipping away at a nearby beam with an adze and explaining, “Of the 23 known woodworking puns, a fair share involve the adze.” (p. 19.)

We work wood because we love wood and we love making things with it. Underhill has given proper acknowledgment to the fact that most of what is covered in this book is not hobby, but mankind’s way of life not so long ago. For Underhill, the Wooden Age hasn’t quite come to an end, and as I read this latest Woodwright’s episode, I begin to feel that perhaps it hasn’t ended for me, either. For any of us who find any joy at all in transforming wood, this is mandatory reading. I defy you not to let your imagination wander! Besides that, you don’t need anything more than the dedication itself: “For the Galoots.”

-- There's no tool like an old tool...

View Texasgaloot's profile


465 posts in 4507 days

11 comments so far

View Mike Lingenfelter's profile

Mike Lingenfelter

503 posts in 4920 days

#1 posted 10-26-2008 06:42 PM

I have my copy, but haven’t had time to crack it open yet :(. Maybe tonight I’ll have some free time.

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 4551 days

#2 posted 10-26-2008 07:22 PM

I haven’t read any of Underhill’s books, but I subscribe to his ideals. This is one of those things, that is our heritage, that’s easy to keep alive. There are plenty of old (and new) hand tools out there, and plenty of books, or maybe even some old timer living next door, that can show you how to use them. I have learned, that everything I do with power tools, I need to know how to do with the original hand tools. I believe that if you know the procedure to do something with hand tools, you’ll be better at doing it with a power tool. And when I’m not in a hurry, I will use a hand tool, rather than the powered version. The non-electrified version is more like therapy for me. You can hear yourself think. And you’re keeping a little part of the past alive. Also, don’t pass up the chance to share it with the younger folk. Thanks for the post. I’ll have to check out some of Roy’s books.

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4934 days

#3 posted 10-26-2008 09:02 PM

A great book review and very well written!

Roy will be in Berea, Kentucky next month for a series of woodworking workshops sponsored by Popular Woodworking magazine.

Your writing reminds me of my favorite passage from Galootians 1:4;
“Thou shalt take up hand tools to master the art of woodworking. Verily I say unto you, I have written these woods two thousand years before the discovery of electricity”. <grin>

-- 温故知新

View Woodwrecker's profile


4239 posts in 4382 days

#4 posted 10-27-2008 04:39 PM

I recently read all his previous books which I got from our Library.
I intend to purchase this one and buy the rest when I can find them reasonably priced.
Saint Roy is nothing short of a wonder.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
You put it quite well.

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 4590 days

#5 posted 10-27-2008 04:45 PM

Thanks for this review! I’ve yet to read any of his books. They all look great, though! Where should I begin?

-- Eric at

View Don Newton's profile

Don Newton

731 posts in 4425 days

#6 posted 10-27-2008 06:31 PM


By all means start at the beginning. I found all of his books to be very worthwhile but found the “workbook” one (his third book) to be lacking. I ordered his new one this past weekend and can’t wait to get it.

-- Don, Pittsburgh

View Michael Hacker's profile

Michael Hacker

48 posts in 4519 days

#7 posted 10-28-2008 08:26 AM

i have been telling my wife daily about all the reviews i have been reading of this book, i just hope she gets the drift and surprises me for my birthday (its 3 weeks away) !!

Roy consumes 100% of my alloted space on our Tivo, and i must defend each and every episode as worthy of saving. I have only deleted a couple episodes over the years, and only after watching at least a few times!

i enjoy learning from Roy and look forward to reading this book at least a few times… i just hope i can get a copy soon!

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5294 posts in 4767 days

#8 posted 10-29-2008 12:48 AM

I was fortunate to attend Underhill’s presentation at Highland in Atlanta a few years back. He kindly signed the 3 books of his that I owned. Really nice guy.
I think that it behooves us all to “taste” the mindset of the woodworking era that Roy represents. IT is the spirit of our trade/hobby, etc., and brings to light the need for understanding our chosen medium.

-- [email protected]

View Texasgaloot's profile


465 posts in 4507 days

#9 posted 10-29-2008 01:55 AM

Michael—you have a true treasure on your Tivo there, my friend! Oh how I wish… we unhooked the dish to 1. save moolah, and 2. protest the fact that I haven’t been able to get Roy since I moved out of the city some 8 years ago. Too bad there’s not a way to put the Tivo content on CD. I’d love to have that!!

Bill—great idea! I’m fixing to head up to Berea in a few weeks—I’ll have to take along the books I can find!

Randy—I’m a seminary grad. I’ll need to look up that passage in the original Greek and exegete it, just to prove it’s veracity! LOL!

Thanks for the great discussion you all!

-- There's no tool like an old tool...

View brianinpa's profile


1812 posts in 4529 days

#10 posted 10-29-2008 03:49 AM

Looks like I need to get another to go with the others in my collection. I wasn’t aware he had this title out: thanks for posting.

-- Brian, Lebanon PA, If you aren’t having fun doing it, find something else to do.

View Daren Nelson's profile

Daren Nelson

767 posts in 4712 days

#11 posted 12-05-2008 03:21 PM

I will pick it today (well order it online) I have read all the previous books written by Mr. Underhill and thoroughly enjoyed them. Thanks for the reminder to keep an eye out for anything new he comes out with.

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