Highland Woodworking
The Why and How of Woodworking
By Michael Pekovich
Review by Travis Remington

Michael Pekovich's The Why and How of Woodworking Is something of anomaly in the woodworking world of books and reference materials. More akin to Nakashima's Soul of a Tree with a mix of philosophy and how-to, it is quite different from Pekovich's follow up effort Foundations of Woodworking, which is more appropriate for woodworkers just getting a handle on the joints and dowels of woodworking.

The focus here is not on step-by-step methods for accomplishing a particular task, how to build a specific thing, or rigid focus on method and style. Rather it is one man's personal documentation of what he has found works for him after 30+ years of woodworking across a wide variety of topics. From workshop upkeep to how to deal with proud joinery, you'll find valuable nuggets of wisdom scattered throughout that may not necessarily make you a better woodworker, but will certainly make you consider and ask yourself ‘is the way I do it the best way?'

Fundamentally, I think this is the audience this book is best for; folks with some shop experience under their belt. If you are just getting started, his Foundations of Woodworking book is a better place to start. For everyone else, whether you've been at it for a couple of years, or a couple of decades, you'll find something in here for you.

For instance, working at Highland Woodworking as the Director of Education, I have the good fortune of managing our Tage Frid Seminar Room. This room is where we hold all of our classes. When it is not being used for a class, it is open for employees to use; employees that have in excess hundreds of years of woodworking experience combined. Every time, I walk into that room, there is small mess somewhere. A bandsaw that was used and not cleaned, tools randomly scattered throughout the room, a dust collector filled to overflowing, etc.

For Christmas this year, I plan on giving all of them a copy of The Why and How of Woodworking just so they can read why ‘The Little Things are the Big Thing' from Pekovich's list of items to Make Shop Time Matter in the first chapter. Clearly, even with all of their woodworking experience, they don't get why a clean shop is important. And this is why this book is pretty great. It is a testament of one woodworker's journey to make time in the shop focused, efficient and purposeful. Constantly walking into a mess just makes one want to turn around and walk out.

Beyond keeping a clean shop, there is a cornucopia of problem solving documented here. The secrets of card scraping, mortise chopping techniques, and a short missive on Kumiko. Pekovich's advice may not be the best way, but it is a good place to start with self-evaluation.

This isn't an efficiency manager from McKinsey coming in to say ‘You're doing everything wrong; do it our way.' It's a fellow woodworker sharing his experience and what has worked for him, and based on the self-deprecation throughout the book, is probably no different than most of us out there that identify with the often-insular task of breathing life back into fallen trees.

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