Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 164, April 2019
Book Review: Shaker Inspiration
by Christian Becksvoort
Review by J. Norman Reid

Shaker Inspiration by Christian Becksvoort, conveys the wisdom of a master craftsman drawing on a long and successful career as a cabinetmaker. Charmingly written in a briefly stated, friendly tone, it easily belies the wealth of knowledge it conveys. The book is oversized and is well illustrated in color. As always from the publishers at Lost Art Press, it is beautifully bound and slip covered.

Less a treatise on Shaker furniture than an exposition of Becksvoort’s career in a one- man shop, it will be especially valuable for woodworkers who aspire to succeed in business as woodworking craftsmen. While it will be of interest to many woodworkers who want to follow the career path that Becksvoort took, it contains a great deal of wisdom about how and how not to set up shop for oneself. Becksvoort shows no hesitance to relate his mistakes as well as his success factors. His forthrightness makes the book especially valuable.

The book is divided into three parts. The first addresses the basics of woodworking craftsmanship. Becksvoort provides advice on materials and especially on wood movement, which he regards as a critical factor in craftsmanship. He also discusses the skills that are needed and offers suggestions on where and how to learn them. A large chapter addresses the construction of woodworking projects, including his method for cutting dovetails. Another section focuses on issues of craftsmanship. Becksvoort sands his projects to 400 grit, then uses steel wool to finish the surfaces, which he says reduces the amount of blotching in cherry. He does not use cut lists, but rather he measures from the parts themselves. For this reason, and to satisfy the unique requirements of his clients, no two of his pieces are ever identical. Another section explores the design process, first by listing the requirements, then by brainstorming how they can be met.

He emphasizes, however, that craftsmanship is by no means sufficient to succeed in business. Getting started certainly requires skill, but skill is only a part of it; effective business management is also critical and requires as much attention as woodworking.

Becksvoort talks about how he establishes his business plans and maintains customer lists. He also talks about setting up shop and setting goals, and he devotes much attention to his methods for marketing his products. When he began, there was no internet, but now he regards having a website as essential, as is maintaining mailing lists and giving unexpectedly great customer care.

The final section addresses inspiration. Here he shows 13 of his own, Shaker-inspired designs. Despite his reputation as a maker of Shaker reproductions, in fact his own designs have formed the bulk of his business. He also shows Shaker reproductions that he builds and concludes the book with illustrations of classic Shaker pieces that are especially worthy of note.

This is a delightful book that will make a good read for any woodworker, especially those interested in Shaker and Shaker-inspired designs. But it will be especially valuable for those woodworkers who want to make careers in woodworking craftsmanship. The advice he provides is essential and draws on a long and successful career as a craftsman. This is a very good book, and it’s a worthy addition to any woodworker’s library.

Find out more and purchase Shaker Inspiration by Christian Becksvoort

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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