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
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 email@example.com.
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