Highland Woodworking
Foundations of Woodworking
By Michael Pekovich
Review by J. Norman Reid

Over the years, I've encountered many good books that introduce woodworking to newcomers to the craft and offer foundational information on its many techniques and aspects. While each of these have made useful contributions to our understanding of techniques and methods, none is perfect. Except, perhaps, Pekovich's new book, Foundations of Woodworking. Published by the Taunton Press, this may well be the best of the lot. Certainly, it stands out as an approachable and practical guide to all the basics of woodworking.

What makes this book special are its style, its wise treatment of potentially difficult or daunting new tasks, its sound error-avoiding advice, and its logical progression from preparation through construction and finishing. It's written in a gentle style, as though a close friend were guiding your hand and eye to best practices. It is, in addition, a handsome book, richly illustrated in color throughout, hard bound, and printed on paper that will last for decades to come.

Pekovich begins with instruction about important before-the-build steps. He advises on choosing lumber for your projects, giving special attention to orienting the boards to get the desired grain effects. He then gives an overview of milling lumber into foursquare parts. He stresses the importance of marking parts to keep them clearly identified and shows how he does it. He advises that greater accuracy is achievable by minimizing the use of rulers and by taking measurements, instead, from the parts themselves. His final step before construction begins is to map out the plan for the build, which he does by drawing the approximate locations of joinery onto the parts themselves.

The bulk of the book is devoted to joinery, progressing from the basic to the more involved. He starts with rabbets, dados, and grooves, simple methods that underlie much woodworking construction. In addition to offering instruction and advice, he includes four projects that employ these techniques, a router table, desktop organizer, mirrored wall cabinet, and chimney cupboard.

From there, Pekovich progresses to mortises and tenons. He starts by describing variations in the joints, then reviews alternative ways to construct them, whether by hand or assisted by various powered means. Here, too, he includes several projects that employ mortises and tenons and provide fodder for skill building: a jig for hinge mortises, a Craftsman-style cabinet, and a small and stylish case that will fit into a small place.

Dovetails follow. Pekovich illustrates the varieties of dovetails before describing a method for hand cutting them. Included is coverage of half-blind and sliding dovetails, as well as an adjustable sliding dovetail. He explores drawer construction. A demonstrated project is the construction of a simple workstation for cutting dovetails.

Miter joints come next, with sound advice on cutting perfect miters and fine tuning them with a handplane. Projects include picture frames, a table saw sled for cutting mitered boxes, and an L-frame for mitered casework.

The succeeding chapter offers guidance on shaping wood to incorporate curves that relieve the regularity of squared surfaces. Pekovich encourages using a block plane to relieve edges and shape them into roundovers and bullnose edges. But he delves far deeper into shaping by considering sawn curves, shapes created by laminating strips into bent shapes, and steam-bent curves. His discussion provides both inspiration and enough instruction to undertake the techniques.

The final chapter brings together all of the techniques into a series of projects: a bookshelf that features dovetails and tenons, a tansu-style cupboard, an arched entry table that is graced by both curves and tapers, a chair, and a classically styled rocking chair.

Pekovich's treatment of these techniques is at one level less thorough than can be found in other, highly specialized volumes on, say, joinery. But what it lacks in depth is amply made up for with practical advice and patient encouragement. Throughout the book, he offers designs for jigs and appliances to facilitate high quality work. Along with that comes the wisdom of a seasoned woodworker with a keen interest in helping the reader avoid errors he's surely learned through his own trials and errors.

A special strength of the book is its ecumenical approach to methods. Though no stranger to machine-made joints, he's equally at home advocating for and explaining the benefits of hand tool work. Unlike many foundational books for woodworkers, this one contains no chapter on tools. Instead, their applications are introduced in the context of the work they perform at the point where they're needed, and always with alternative ways of accomplishing a task. As a result, both machine-oriented workers and hand tool afficionados will find this book both relevant and instructive.

This beautifully produced book is full-page sized and handbound with a colorful cover that won't get torn through shop use. That makes this book an attractive and inviting addition to any woodworker's collection. But the book's real value comes in the wisdom it contains. Certainly, beginning woodworkers will be well-benefited by studying a copy and keeping it bench side as they try out new methods. But intermediate woodworkers will also find much of value in the tips, appliances, and projects. Advanced woodworkers, too, may find inspiration in the attractive and innovative Craftsman-style projects Pekovich illustrates through building.

As for me, I'll be buying a copy for my nephew, who's just starting out on a lifelong hobby crafting in wood. And while I'm at it, I'll purchase one for myself. It's that good.

Find out more and purchase Foundations of Woodworking
at Highland Woodworking

J. Norman Reid is a woodworker, writer, photographer and woodworking instructor living in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, a woodshop full of power and hand tools and two cats who think they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He is the author of Choosing and Using Handplanes: All You Need to Know to Get Started Planing by Hand, and co-owner of Shenandoah Tool Works. He can be reached by email at jnreid45@gmail.com.

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