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The Minimalist Woodworker
By Vic Tesolin

Book Review by J. Norman Reid

The Minimalist Woodworker by Canadian woodworker Vic Tesolin is both a good introduction to setting up a hand tool woodshop and a fun read. Its central message is to not let anything—a lack of space or a limited set of tools—stop you from pursuing a passion for crafting things from wood. Tesolin shows how a shop can be set up even in extremely limited space and what tools are essential (and which are not) to start woodworking. His focus is on hand tool woodworking, which needs neither to be unduly expensive nor to require an extensive array of equipment.

Well–illustrated with numerous color photographs and drawings, the book is written in a personable style that makes it readily approachable to woodworkers at all levels. Though it contains much valuable advice and instruction, it's nonetheless a quick read and one that will be well–appreciated by those who are more eager to get started than to wade through long introductory treatises.

The opening chapter urges using the space you've got, rather than longing for a perfect (i.e., larger) space. You can, he asserts, work anywhere, and he documents a number of examples, including his present garage workshop, a previous shop under his staircase, a utility room shop and even a woodshop in a living room like the one operated by my friend Mike. Whatever space you decide to use, good overhead and task lighting are essential, as are heating, cooling, humidity control and ventilation. Wood flooring is ideal if you can manage it, but anti–fatigue mats are also useful to sustain long work sessions.

The following chapter considers tools. Tesolin recommends a much smaller tool set for starting out than many other authors do and he offers sound guidance on which tools are essential. These include planes, saws, measuring and marking tools, boring and fastening tools, chisels, and other tools, including some tools he considers optional. He offers advice on setting up and adjusting handplanes, a simple process that new plane users often find troubling.

Chapter 3 is devoted to measuring and marking, a basic requirement for accurate work. Tesolin advocates measuring off the workpiece rather than the ruler as a way to minimize errors. A marking knife, he says, will give you more accurate results than a pencil. At the same time, knife lines can be used to chisel out saw guides to enhance cutting accuracy with a saw. He explains how to use a combination square properly to check a board for squareness and how and why to use carpenter's triangles to mark individual project parts and reference faces.

The next chapter examines sharpening. Tesolin describes how to polish and hone chisel and plane blades, the angles he uses and the equipment he recommends, including a sharpening bucket he designed that will ease sharpening and aid in shops that lack running water (like mine).

In chapter 5 Tesolin describes the construction of a saw bench and saw bent—a sawhorse that matches the level of the saw bench to support long boards while they are being cut. These are shop–made tools he considers essential to support subsequent work in the shop. He bores dog holes in his sawbench top and adds a fence on one side—an unusual feature—so the bench can be used for a variety of operations besides crosscutting and ripping boards.

He then shows how to build a shooting board hook, a device that combines two appliances—a shooting board and a bench hook—into one by setting the shooting board fence into a dado so it can be easily removed and replaced. It's a creative idea for working with less gear in a small and efficient shop.

Tesolin demonstrates how to make a wooden mallet with leather covering one end, another useful shop tool. More important, though, is the Nicholson–style workbench he builds using home center lumber, which he regards as quite adequate in strength and durability. He describes the methods and appliances he uses to hold wood in position for planing, chiseling and other operations, and he shows how this can be done without the need for a vise.

The final project is a small shelf to house his set of essential shop tools. He chooses oak for the shelf to make use of its strength in bearing the weight of sometimes heavy tools. One innovative idea is using wine bottle corks as pegs from which to hang saws by their handles. The soft cork prevents damage to the handles that might otherwise occur through scratching.

The book's principal strength is its advice on setting up a workable, if small, workshop and in its exhortation to let no lack of resources stand in your way. In addition, the projects outlined in the book will help beginning hand tool woodworkers to build their skills through experience.

This book is especially appropriate for woodworkers who are just getting into the craft and those who are converting from a power tool–oriented style of work to one centered on greater use of hand tools. Besides that, The Minimalist Woodworker is a fun book to read and one that I especially enjoyed devouring.

Find out more and purchase
The Minimalist Woodworker

J. Norman Reid is a woodworker, writer, and woodworking instructor living in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, a woodshop full of power and hand tools and four cats who think they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He is the author of Choosing and Using Handplanes . He can be reached by email at nreid@fcc.net .

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