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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Book Review:
Woodworking Basics, Mastering the Essentials of Craftsmanship
an integrated approach with hand and power tools

by Peter Korn

The Taunton Press, 2003
186 pages
ISBN-13: 1-978-1-56158-620-2
ISBN-10: 1-56158-620-X


I recently reviewed and highly recommend "The Woodworker's Guide to HAND TOOLS" by Peter Korn on Woodworking Talk here:


"The Woodworker's Guide to HAND TOOLS" is one of my favorite woodworking books. After posting my very positive review, several people suggested that I read "Woodworking Basics" by the same author, Peter Korn. I ordered the book and recently finished reading it.


I wish I could say that I like "Woodworking Basics" as much as Peter Korn's hand tools book, but I can't.

Unfortunately, "Woodworking Basics" is not organized or presented in the same way as "Hand Tools". The first part of the book introduces you to wood and its characteristics, then joinery, then power tools, and finally hand tools. Through careful writing, the author crams a lot of detail in those chapters. Unfortunately, he attempts to cover too many subjects. Key concepts and important details were lost in the process. This is where having an instructor to accompany "Woodworking Basics" could help a lot.

After that, the book gives you 5 projects, one per chapter. Each project teaches various woodworking techniques, starting with squaring wood, and proceeding to cutting a mortise and tenon, then cutting dovetails, than a small bench, and finally a side table. Each project builds on skills learned up to that point. Some projects assume you have power tools (such as a table saw and router), one project is done strictly with hand tools (the dovetail project), and some projects show you both power tool and hand tool approaches (such as squaring a board). In my opinion, it would be confusing for a beginner.

"Woodworking Basics" reads like a textbook for an introductory woodworking course, which is not surprising. The author states that a beginning woodworking class was the basis for "Woodworking Basics." That's okay when there is an instructor to watch over the students and fill in the details that they missed. It is less helpful as a standalone guide for a lone beginner woodworker, who is relying on it to learn woodworking on their own. This book tries to cover far too much material in too few pages and leaves the student confused about which tools they need and which skills they should learn to get started.

On a more personal level, I do not like books that teach by making the reader build specific projects. It is hard for me to feel "ownership" of a project that I did not choose for myself, and I assume that others may feel the same way. Show me how and where each concept is applied, and give me the tricks that are needed to build it, but provide it in a form where I can find it again, refer back to it, and determine my own creative ways to apply it. That doesn't work as well when the idea or concept is merely one step in an otherwise unrelated project.

Who would benefit from this book? Experienced woodworkers will find it too basic. Beginner woodworkers will be confused by the multiple approaches to doing the same tasks with hand tools and power tools. It is a jumble. It would make a good textbook for an instructor-led class.

I like Peter Korn's writing style, and the illustrations are very well done. Still, "Woodworking Basics" misses the mark because it tries to teach multiple woodworking techniques to multiple woodworker types in far too few pages. With some reluctance, I do NOT recommend "Woodworking Basics" by Peter Korn.

where's my table saw?
28,992 Posts
woodworking is "hands on"......

It's difficult to teach a hands on activity by book learnin'. There's a lot of "feel" to woodworking by hand tools and even power tools that you can't experience from reading, but only by doing. The "basics" should cover types of tools, what they do and can't, types of joinery, when they should be used, common wood types and their applications, the use of measuring instruments, work spaces, work benches and holding methods etc.

YouTube videos come as close to being there as I can think of. Reading and looking at illustrations and photos for me are more "reference material" than instructional stuff. I like great photos of cool shops and workspaces if only to envy them. :| Photos of wood grain and cut ends in color help to identify wood species and make a good reference book.

4,232 Posts
Forgive me for spinning this off on your hand tool review, but I’ve mentioned this old book before:
De Christforo’s Complete Book of Power Tools. Both stationary and portable.
This old book explains how to get the most from each of your power tools. Pictures are in black and white.
Original copyright in 1972.
Certainly worth checking out if you can find it for any novice through semi-advanced woodworker.
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