Gazette Archive 7/12/02
A Book Review by James M. Piotrowski
Title: Rustic Furniture Workshop
Rustic furniture presents the stereotypical case in which any person, woodworker or not, is apt to say "I can do that." And the fact of the matter is, just about anyone could. Throw in Dan Mack's Rustic Furniture Workshop and most people will have both the know-how and the inspiration to go ahead and build something.
The book's 111 pages are loaded with full-color photos of rustic furniture items and their makers. The opening chapter is called the "Gallery" and as expected, shows dozens of pieces of rustic furniture. The "Gallery" is a little heavy on chairs, in my opinion. Don't get me wrong, like many woodworkers I truly appreciate the beauty of an attractive and functional chair. But too many other pieces are, unfortunately, NOT represented here. Fortunately, many of them find their way into the rest of the book.
Beyond the gallery, Mack approaches rustic furniture making the same way many woodworkers would approach any kind of furniture making. That is to say, by considering materials, techniques and tools. Materials, of course, are generally wood in it's as-found condition. But Mack goes a good bit further, explaining what a rustic maker may want, and may not want; why it is best to clean up the wood in the forest; peeling and drying wood; storing your wood; and, dealing with bugs (get rid of the wood).
The techniques covered are versions of traditional wood-joinery, but also a few not-so-traditional. From "joinery" as simple as nailing two pieces together, to familiar mortise and tenon, to using pressure (as in basket weave fences) simply to hold it all together, Mack provides a basic description of each technique, but leaves it to the reader to decide when and where to apply the techniques. It's unlikely that a modern woodworker, even a hobbyist, will be impressed with Mack's section on tools. Having purchased more than a few power tools after going through detailed product reviews and comparing horsepower, blade size, chuck size, motor types, and arbor designs, a simple discussion of the merits of one brand of folding camp saw over another brand of folding camp saw was less than titillating. But, to his credit, Mack is true to his beliefs. He believes rustic furniture can and should be made with simplest of tools that will perform the job, and so he mostly avoids any temptation to overpower the building process or focus on tools rather than work.
The bulk of Mack's book is devoted to projects, mostly simple ones for the beginner, and all based on a simple form that Mack calls a "panel." Once you can build his panel (an easy enough task) panels can be combined to form...well, panels, as in room divider panels, but also bookcases, chairs, benches and tables. In fact, Mack includes a whole chapter just on tables, making up for the failure to include many tables in the opening "Gallery" at the beginning of the book.
With basic techniques covered, final inspiration is provided in profiles of eight rustic furniture makers and their work, and another "Gallery" of contemporary rustic pieces.
Mack's two basic premises are obvious throughout the book. The first of these is that rustic furniture is not difficult and that with enough time and the right approach, any of us can build it. The second of these may irk some readers, though. This second premise seems to be that making rustic furniture will force us to alter our pace, or get in touch with nature, or something along those lines that just tends to sound vaguely of natural mysticism. Ignore that part of the message if you don't like it, it's easy enough to do. Mack's book would be worthwhile to anyone with an interest in rustic furniture just for the hundreds of full color photographs which provide a sense of what is possible with the simplest of materials.
James M. Piotrowski ("JamesPio")
Editor's Note: Sterling Publishing has graciously donated several books for review which are passed on to our members free of charge in exchange for thoughtful, honest reviews. Thank You! And you can usually find their titles at a discount from Barnes And Noble