Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 143, July 2017
Making Things Work - Tales From a Cabinetmaker's Life
by Nancy Hiller

Book Review by J. Norman Reid

As the title of this slim volume hints, Making Things Work - Tales From a Cabinetmaker's Life is a set of short essays about making things, in this instance from our favored medium: wood. But it's a good deal more than that. In its pages, accomplished cabinetmaker and author Nancy Hiller describes not only the pieces she's built but more than that, the business of operating a mostly one-woman woodshop.

Her brief, often humorous stories have a larger point: that making things work, so they come together in a satisfactory whole, is possible but can be and often is a struggle. It was so for Hiller, who never seems to have had it easy nor, perhaps, ever wanted it that way. The history she tells is one of working under adverse conditions with but the slimmest margin for ease. It is told with a touch of wry humor that nonetheless manages to evoke pathos from the reader. Perhaps that is what makes her stories so appealing. Or perhaps it's the grit with which she battled her anxiety about not just making things work but making them work perfectly, satisfying both her clients and her own sense of professionalism.

The essays commence with Hiller's discovery of cabinetmaking as a vocation and about learning the needed skills in an all-male English woodshop where she struggled to gain acceptance. They chronicle her life on a meager budget, working in unheated woodshops with only bushes for toilet facilities. They relate sometimes troubling encounters with persnickety clients, experiences in which she never fails to find some measure of humor. Wrestling with difficult installations under the pressure of too little time is yet another frequent theme.

Hiller's book will appeal broadly to any reader ready to empathize with the trials of a self-employed tradesperson, woodworker or not. Beginning woodworkers as well as the most advanced will find these charming stories, each of which conveys a subtly-stated meaning, to be entertaining. Certainly, it is must reading for anyone considering throwing off a paying career to go full-time as a cabinetmaker. Anyone who wishes to peek behind the doors of a functioning professional cabinet shop to see how it manages to survive will find this book both fun and informative.

Find out more and purchase Making Things Work - Tales From a Cabinetmakers Life

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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