Read and Feed the Woodworker in You

There are books I come across from time to time that become rereads you keep because they add an enriching warmth to your life and unquestionably they become just yours. Aldren Watson’s book, Hand tools: Their ways and their workings, is a good example, and then there are encyclopaedic manuals too, like R A Salaman’s Dictionary of Woodworking  Tools. Not a reading book so much as one of the most wonderful woodworking reference books ever pulled together. DSC_0066

Well, here are two books for Christmas holiday reading and then on into the new year too. If you are like me you will want these in your library of woodworking books, no matter where you live. The New Sylva renews the necessity for a vibrant resurgence in our present age to parallel the work of former generations even digging most deeply into the past work accomplished by sylvaculturalists and diarists recording the details of nature in their age. A book written in 1664 by John Evelyn and published by the Royal Society in 1664 was the world’s first ever comprehensive study of trees to be published.  Silvologist, Gabriel Hemery and artist Sarah Simblet coauthored (if that’s the right word) a new work as The New Sylva to bridge the gap of 350 years with their carful words and art and the result is just stunning.   DSC_0067 As I read through the pages over the last two months I was fascinated by several elements I found of great value. I enjoyed the sympathetic interactions between the authors, the woodlands and forests and their describing the legacy left in the trees of our present age. They believe in a world leading to responsible, well-managed woodland through ever-improving raised awareness and stewardship. This is future change and provision.

DSC_0068 As I read through the opening pages, a hundred or so, the evidence of skilled and planned management for woodlands through intentional reforestation and the economy of life dependency becomes evermore understandable as the work plumbs the depths of history to show our present age that change is for todays generations whether they be DSC_0072 woodland owners, school children or we users of woodlands.

As a lifelong woodworker I found the historical references fascinating and then too the accent on developing a respect toward a sustaining culture whereby future generations will know that this generation cared for them and the woodlands and forests they would yet come to know and live in and live with and live by. the symbiosis might at one time have been lost had there not been a new and emerging culture influencing change for the better in woodland management.

A key contribution beyond the text are the 200 illustrations. I have examined cones, leaves and bark, the shapes of trees and the colours inside buds and flowers throughout my life. The giant redwoods (Sequoiadendron giganteum (giant sequoia, giant redwood, Sierra redwood, Sierran redwood, or Wellingtonia) I have sheltered under and sat in and climbed on are detailed in the book and when I saw how Sarah Simblet captured the essence in every detail through her artwork I wondered if the beautiful illustration might one day be available as a limited edition print. DSC_0069 Every illustration would make a wonderful notelet and when I looked at the detail captured in her work I was in awe of the limits she set herself in using only mono-colour. Not a thing was lost in this decision as she sympathetically presented the essence of every tree by capturing intimate accuracy that only comes from someone who cares about the subject. DSC_0071 I think that if you really care about trees, no matter the continent, you will love reading and owning this book. It’s not lightweight in any way and a hardbound of this size is hard to snuggle down with, but it’s wonderful for a library or a coffee table and it is one a family should enjoy as they learn about the real value trees play in sustaining life.

The Artisan of Ipswich by Robert Tarule

DSC_0073 Some books should not be lost and I first read this book when it came out ten years ago and really enjoyed the way the author investigated his findings about an English immigrant furniture-making joiner. It may no longer be on current book lists but books like this don’t date and you should buy it new or secondhand to read and reread as you like. The book takes you back to the late1600s and to the USA forests and woodlands in a different way then The New Sylva book in that the author traces the history of a crafting artisan furniture maker, Thomas Dennis, who emigrated from England to settle in Ipswich, Massachusetts  and earned his living  there as a family man working with his hands. He references the discovery of the artisan in records kept in city hall and court records and ties them to a chest discovered as a signature piece made by the artisan of the Ipswich village. He dismantles the past and the path of Thomas Dennis who made it and represents it as a historic how-to for our world to understand the hardships of the time in settling the colonies of the USA, which is the Ipswich in the book and not the Ipswich of England. DSC_0075 DSC_0074

Do the book justice and snuggle down with it on the couch in front of a log or coal fire and a mug of cocoa. It will help you to disengage from work in a techie world for a few days and then disentangle your mind to play in the snow and build that snowman you should have built 50 years ago but didn’t find the time for. Enjoy!


  1. Dear Paul as I read this post about trees and the art and writings of these people. I was reminded of my past as I grew up in the woods as we might say, and have been very blessed by having done so. Our forefathers dependence on trees for there living has had a large impact on my life.

  2. The Artisan of Ipswich is available at Amazon.
    I may by this because Ipswich is not too far from my home and it sounds interesting.

  3. So many wonderful books available to explore. I missed an opportunity to meet Aldren Watson before he passed away in 2013 at 95. I do however own and recommend his book ‘Country Furniture’.

    For those interested in antique tools pick up any of artist Eric Sloane’s antiquarian books such as ‘A Museum of Early American Tools’. For a good ‘tuck in by the fire book’ find ‘The Wheelright’s Shop’ by George Sturt. A family history of wagon making over two centuries.

    Thomas Parkenham’s ‘Meetings with Remarkable Trees’ is one of my very favorite coffee table Books. Many more one can recommend.

    1. I read all of these when I lived in the USA and of course they were great Christmas gifts for our boys who loved them too. I haven’t read the last one there though. Actually, I just ordered it and bought it from Amazon for one penny plus £2.81 shipping.

  4. As someone from Ipswich Massachusetts, I’ll gladly buy the second as soon as possible. I wish I’d heard of it sooner, even. Thank you for the wonderful recommendations. There are so many interesting aspects to the history of New England, that somehow woodworking hadn’t even occurred to me as being a defining part of it- but indeed, it must have been.

  5. Great recommendations. Might I recommend, Oak: The Frame of Civilization by William Bryant Logan.

  6. I’ll second Eric Sloan, especially his, “A Reverence for Wood.” My copy is a bundle of loose pages at this point, held together in a bundle with an elastic band. I read this first while visiting friends in rural New Hampshire. They were reroofing their barn at the time which meshed with the story in “A Reverence for Wood.” Funny timing. Also, it was so strange to see chestnut planking, often over two feet in width….and it was used as roof sheathing!

  7. Thank you again for the recommends. I just finished “The Artisan of Ipswich”, a Christmas present from my lovely wife. I especially liked the author’s insight into the culture and stewardship of their woodlands. Also interesting how all the different trades of artisans were linked together by the oak. Cheers!

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