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Review By Rob Rohde-Szudy - Madison, Wisconsin - USA

The Woodworking Shop:
100 projects to enhance your workspace
by Percy Blandford

This is one of those books I had checked out from the library so often it was getting annoying to keep going back for it. I finally figured out I should save the time and buy a copy. Fortunately, used copies are little more than $5 on Amazon. Very reasonable for such a useful reference, I’d say.

This was written in 1989, but it looks 20 years older. It is clear that the author has some real old-school know-how. The writing and illustrations are well-done but old-school. You won’t find any glossy color photos of dust-free shops in this book. You’ll find clear, concise line drawings and the crisply articulate writing typical of the best British writers. (I’m not the only one to notice this. See Alistair Wasey review of Blandford’s An Illustrated History of Small Boats.)

What this book lacks in gloss, it more than makes up in content. Most newer books seems to focus largely on power tools, and how to better use them. For example, my local public library has an entire section on how to use routers, including material by Blandford. This book devotes considerable space to power tools, but doesn’t let them overshadow hand tools. This is a big deal to us, both as home shop workers and boat builders. We are more often stuck with requirements for low noise—working after the kids are asleep, or in crowded neighborhoods where noise complaints are common. Fortunately a great many tasks are actually easier sans power, even if we are now accustomed to doing them with power.

For example, Blandford gives the reader a thorough discussion of sharpening edge tools, which nowadays is a skills that seems regrettably relegated to an elite few. Why listen to a screaming planer when a hand plane is handier, quieter, and usually easier to control? In particular, he tells you how to make a honing guide from hardwood and common hardware. Armed with such information, nobody need feel trapped into using power.

Especially important, I think, are the chapters are those on workbenches and hold-downs. This is one area where the age of power tools has made us very lazy. We can get away with marginally adequate support of the work while using power to plane or saw it at high speed. Working by hand we can’t afford to have the work move around and waste our energy. So Blandford discusses how to make inexpensive old-school hold downs like bench dogs and pinch dogs, and devotes a surprising amount of space to cheap ways to jury rig clamping arrangements for large and awkward assemblies. He also includes are plans for a truly old-school homemade parallel jaw flush vice. All you need to buy is the screw and the rest is scrap wood! (If you’re a real adventurer you could even make a hardwood screw.) While it’s true that cheap Chinese vices are now available, they only come in one configuration. Suppose you want a flush vice the entire width of the end of your bench? Now you can have one cheap.

But even with all that, Blandford devotes fully half the book to power tools. (It’s not a small book.) Much of the power tool information might be better covered in newer, glossier books. (Or for that matter in other Blandford books.) But he does include some neat tricks, like how to set your power drill up as a lathe. And in any case the first half of this book is well worth its low price for the person who wants to get things built on a budget.

Rob Rohde-Szudy
Madison, WI

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