Made by Hand: A Delightful Journey into the
World of Hand Tool Possibilities
by J. Norman Reid
Working wood by hand is becoming increasingly popular. What's the attraction? Perhaps it's the elimination of noxious dust, the satisfaction of building something beautiful entirely by hand, achieving closer tolerances than are possible with powered machines, or working quietly and achieving a deeper intimacy with the wood that's our medium of expression.
Whatever the reason for choosing to work with hand tools, Fidgen's book is a diverting introduction to working wood by hand. Written in a highly accessible style, more like a conversation with a woodworking friend than a beginner's manual, Fidgen explains the essentials for setting up a hand tool shop—basic tools, sharpening, constructing key appliances, processes for design and construction—then progresses to six innovative and beautiful projects, each building on skills developed in constructing the previous ones.
He begins with tools: layout tools, cutting tools, hand planes, special-purpose planes and tools, and chisels. He gives an introductory discussion of sharpening, urging the use of honing guides to assure consistency in the shape of the cutting edges.
Next he covers several appliances to guide and ease handwork: bench hooks, miter hooks, shooting boards, winding sticks and workhorses or, as he calls them, shop 'bents.' For each of these, Fidgen discusses and illustrates their construction—perhaps these will be your first handmade projects—but provides little information about their use.
He next progresses to processes of construction. Included are making a cut list, selecting wood, planing, sawing, cutting dovetails and making mortises and tenons. Readers will find these sections interesting and useful, though more detailed treatments are available elsewhere.
The second half of the book consists of six projects that build on each other and so are intended to be undertaken in sequence. The first is a cabinetmaker's tool chest, a small handheld case to carry hand tools to a job site or store them in the woodshop. Following that is a hanging wall cabinet featuring half-blind dovetails, sliding dovetails, a pair of inside drawers and a single-board door. Third is a side table that bears hints of the Shaker style but is clearly modern in design. This project employs six different joints and is intended to stretch your hand tool skills one step further. The next project is a charming small bookcase that features through tenons and front doors with mullions backed by Japanese paper. After that comes a cabinet with six drawers and a door on the left side. The final project is a hunt board or sideboard with sliding panel doors.
The book concludes with a gallery of some of Fidgen's other work that is intended to inspire other possibilities with handwork.
The large-format, beautifully illustrated book is accompanied by a 45-minute DVD that gives a personal overview of the tools Fidgen employs in his hand tool-only workshop. Introduced by a song, "Working Wood," written and performed admirably by Fidgen himself, the DVD contains recommendations and tips on selecting, buying and what's essential for getting started with hand tools.
In sum, I found this book a pleasure to read. For the armchair woodworker, it's a delightful journey into the world of possibilities. For the beginning hand tool worker, it provides enough information to get you started. The experienced hand tool enthusiast will already know much of what he presents but may find the review enjoyable and the projects inspirational. In short, there's a little something for everyone here.
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Made By Hand
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The author is a woodworker, writer and photographer living in Delaplane, Virginia, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, four cats and a woodshop full of power and hand tools.
He can be reached by email at