Woodworker's Central
Woodworker's Gazette
Gazette Archive 1/15/01

A book review: By Jerry Vis

Title: Understanding Wood
A craftsman's guide to wood technology
R. Bruce Hoadley

Published by: The Taunton Press
63 South Main, PO Box 5506
Newton, CT 06470-5506
ISBN 1-56158-358-8
Price Hardcover: $39.95, 288 color pages

I struggled a bit with the review of this book. I had one review all done where I wrote in glowing terms just how much I had learned from reading it. Then I wrote another complete review going on in length about the how the book was written and on the fact that it was a dry read and that the reader had to make a concentrated effort to follow along. Since this took some time, I have come to realize just how much more I have learned from this book than I had first thought. More on all this later, but first, a little about the book.

This book is divided into three sections, starting with the biology of trees and the structure of wood down to the cellular level, through identifying wood by species, the strength of wood, and understanding the relationship between wood and the water it contains. The second section deals with drying, machining, bending, joining, gluing, and finishing wood. And finally, the last section is devoted to describing wood products, how they are made, and the grading and classifications of those products.

The title of this book is Understanding Wood, and wood itself is the main focus of this book. There is actually very little in the way of woodworking contained in the book, but you will be a much better woodworker for having read it. Mr. Hoadley answers the "why" questions, not the "how to" questions. You will learn what wood is, and what it is not, and why it behaves the way it does, and how to neutralize what it does. You will not learn how to make cut a particular joint, but which joint is the right joint to use in what circumstances. The reader will come away with a full understanding of the medium of wood itself, and will be able to apply that knowledge and understanding to all aspects of woodworking, from drying and milling rough lumber to finishing their project properly.

Understanding Wood is also a wonderful reference guide as well. There are tables and charts included that no one can possibly memorize dealing with such things as the strength of the various species of wood, which species are the least and the most rot resistant, how much each species expands and contracts with changes in moisture content due to changes in humidity to name a few. I find myself referring back to it constantly.

If you are an experienced woodworker, this book will add context to what you already know and may clear up some misconceptions which have been promulgated as fact. For the novice first starting out in woodworking, this book may be overwhelming in some ways, but it would pay to read it now, than read it again after you are on the road to proficiency. It is not the easiest book in the world to read, but it is well worth the effort it takes to read it. I consider this book a must read for any serious woodworker.

Jerry Vis

Editor's Note: Taunton Press has graciously donated several books for review which are passed on to our members free of charge in exchange for thoughtful, honest reviews. You can order this book from their website.

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