Book Review: The Woodwright's Guide

A great book, the product of a lifetime of study and experience.


The Woodwright's Guide: Working Wood With Wedge & Edge

Roy Underhill probably needs no introduction to PBS viewers given that his show, The Woodwright’s Shop, is nearing it’s fourth decade of production. He’s the fellow that builds everything from Windsor chairs to houses to boats, shunning power tools and synthetic materials and relying solely on the methods and materials available to colonial American craftsmen. This, his seventh book, would make an excellent primer to his TV series.
Underhill takes the reader from the felling of trees in the woods, to hand milling the logs into useable boards, through to their ultimate destination as framing timber for houses, wood for the cabinetmaker and stock for the wood turner. He provides descriptions of the tools and the techniques that workers use to work with the wood. For the carpenter, it‘s measuring tools like the square and scribe, framing chisels and slicks, the sawhorse, borers, etc., along with the large-scale joinery required to hold timbers together for a house. For the turner, it’s lathes, gouges and chisels and how they are used to accomplish offset turnings, turn wooden screws, chair and table legs, bowls and the like. For the cabinetmaker it‘s the workbench, planes, saws, chisels, and other hand tools, with the joinery such as the dovetail and mortise-tenon needed to assemble tables and chairs, cabinets, and other furniture. One of the most appealing features of the book are the gorgeous line drawings done by his daughter Eleanor Underhill; in keeping with the theme of the book, not a single photo is used.
For the truly ambitious, Underhill appends the plans to make a spring-pole or treadle powered lathe, wooden screws and workbenches.
Underhill has always struck me as a teacher as much as a woodworker and that impression is carried throughout the book. I don’t really think he expects that there will be many of us who will go out and cut down some trees and build a cabin or fashion a wooden spoon with which to stir the soup. I do suspect that his main intention is to have the reader come away with the same deep appreciation for the skills, imaginations, resourcefulness, and innovativeness of his pioneer ancestors as he has. He does this admirably.



  • Introduction
  • Faller
  • Cleaver and Countryman
  • Hewer
  • Log Builder
  • Sawyer
  • Frame Carpenter
  • Joiner
  • Cabinetmaker
  • Appendix
  • Plan A. Making Wooden Screws
  • Plan B The Carpenter’s Tap
  • Plan C. A Roubo Bench
  • Plan D. Hasluck’s Bench
  • Plan E. A Spring-Pole Lathe
  • Plan F. A Treadle Lathe
  • Bibliography
  • Acknowledgements
  • Index
AVAILABLE FROM:Your local bookseller or online
FORMAT:Softcover, 192 pages
AUTHOR:Roy Underhill
 Reviewed by Gerry Tsuji, August 2009
Discover more great woodworking reviews!
Subscribe Now and get instance online access to our library filled with exciting woodworking information.
Continue to stay connected to the latest tool reviews with our bi-monthly woodworking magazines!