Book Review: “Arts & Crafts Furniture Projects”


More than a century ago, within a few months of when Arts and Crafts furniture was initially introduced to the American public, came the first edition of a new line of books: how to make mission furniture.

It was a phenomenon unlike anything that had come before, as one of the tenets of this new, radical movement was the unheard of suggestion that people should actually make some of their own furniture. So popular was the idea that even Gustav Stickley jumped on the bandwagon, starting in 1905 by including articles on making his furniture in The Craftsman magazine.

Since I became a convert four decades ago, I have added nearly every how-to-make-Arts and Crafts-furniture book to my own library, a number of which have encouraged and enhanced my own attempts to build an occasional piece of furniture in my garage workshop. So, when my friend and Grove Park Inn Conference exhibitor Gregory Paolini’s latest book came out, one entitled Arts & Crafts Furniture Projects, I had to ask the obvious question: what’s new?

What’s new in Gregory’s book, as it turns out, is photography. Lots of it. And not just those full-page inspirational photographs that really don’t help you figure out how to cut a mortise, bevel a tenon, or assemble an ammonia-fuming box. Instead, the majority of pages have three to five color photographs illustrating Gregory’s concise, well written, easy to follow instructions dovetailed between them. The result is a book so pleasing to look at and so carefully crafted that you cannot help but keep turning the pages, watching each project slowly take shape, from a detailed materials list to a bare frame and finally to the finished piece.

Along the way Gregory adds those critical tips that only an experienced woodworker has learned, tips which he shares unselfishly with us, such as which direction to safely rotate a router (clockwise); how to use a hairdryer to heat-shrink brown paper on the back of a mirror or picture frame (mist it first); how to handle glue ooze (immediately wipe it off with a wet cloth); and how to keep your parts organized (chalk, not pencil, marks).

As you turn the pages and study the photographs, you also begin to realize that Gregory is demonstrating how to make Arts and Crafts furniture primarily utilizing a variety of affordable hand tools, only using a table saw for those initial long cuts.

And you begin to think: “I could do that.”

From dozens of options, Gregory has carefully picked nine projects for us, presenting them in order from least to most complex, beginning with a simple, yet elegant mirror and a tabouret to a keyed-tenon bookcase and spindle bed to a large sideboard and bow-arm Morris chair.

Credit for this well-crafted book has to also be shared with the editors and designers at Taunton Press, who gathered the text, drawings, lists, and photographs of Gregory’s project, and, like a fine piece of furniture, assembled them all into a pleasing, attractive, and, most important, complete instructional book for us.

Regardless whether you are about to undertake your first Arts and Crafts furniture project or already have a house full, without a doubt Gregory Paolini’s latest book is a crucial tool to add to your workshop.

– Bruce Johnson

(Arts & Crafts Furniture Projects by Gregory Paolini, Taunton Press, 2015, softcover, 172 pages, 300 photographs, suggested retail $24.95.)

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