Book review: A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook

I recently finished James Krenov’s book “A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook.” It was nothing like I expected. I had read that it was not a “how to” book and it certainly wasn’t, the content was much better, and what I read will stay with me a long time.

If woodworking is in your blood, and you like to read, this is a book for you. I basically finished it in two sittings and it really spoke to me. I knew who Krenov was; I had seen his work and his tools, and I had seen him interviewed as an old man, and I had heard could be really cranky, so I had reservations about reading it. But when a book makes it to the top of many “must read book lists,” I figured there must be something there, and I was right.

James Krenov

“A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook” certainly isn’t a how to book or a set of instructions, it’s more like a “how come” book.  The book is mainly about his love of wood. Really! To paraphrase, he says let the wood dictate form and line. Listen to the wood, design from the point of the wood, from the inside out.

My faithful readers know that I like to talk about the importance of Arts and Crafts, the spirit of artists, how we should stop consumerism and materialism, and how I am a “Modern Traditionalist.” (I use a mix of hand tools and power tools that is right for the job). Published in 1976, Krenov expresses in much better form the same things I have been blogging about. Thirty-six years ago his concerns are mine concerns. Cool and saddening at the same time.

It’s rare that I want to write in a book. I was a book seller for seven years and to make a mark in a book is pretty much taboo for me, but I wanted to underline and dog ear several pages. It is also rare that I want to read a book twice, but this book will be worth reading again one day. I highly recommend this book for your library.

If you have read the book, what are your thoughts?

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About yaakov

Husband, Abba, Furniture Maker, Turner, Bookseller, and all around working stiff.
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6 Responses to Book review: A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook

  1. Bob says:

    It sounds like something i would like to read.

  2. I have checked it out of the local library a few times over the last couple of years, it’s a pleasure to read. I’ve also tracked down a few of his other books through the inter-library loan system, and many of them have similar elements (as makes sense), but are still enjoyable to read.

  3. Rob says:

    I have Krenov’s ‘The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking’, which does have some of the ‘how to’ in it but always in a highly engaging style, and always giving emphasis to the wood.
    ‘A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook’ is next on my list – it sounds excellent.

  4. I read all three of the early “trilogy” about 20 years ago. In fact, they changed the way I looked at woodworking, and I haven’t looked back. Any master that talks about being “frozen with fear” that he will ruin a beautiful board is someone I can relate to. I can’t recommend them more highly.

  5. Tico Vogt says:

    I am where I am right now because of having read his books at an impressionable age and absorbing the romance of the independent craftsman. Many was the winter morning in the early Eighties that found me with a cup of coffee by a large south facing window with one of his books in my lap, relishing the sensitive lines and grain compositions of his work. I met him in Boston around 1983 when he gave a slide show at Woodcraft and could sense that he was already a prickly old pear, but it was offset by a deep love and commitment to his art. It took me awhile to figure out that his pieces, in real life, were much more diminutive than I had imagined. That took away, temporarily, some of their interest, as I was building things that people needed in their homes and his work began to appear a bit “precious.” Nobody really wanted such objects to live with, as opposed to the more readily attractive chairs and cabinets by Maloof and Nakashima.
    So, he provided something to push against, as well as to be drawn to, and that makes his influence all the more meaningful.

    It is a rare work week when I don’t find myself thinking, fantasizing really, about the next opportunity to build a piece with the Krenov vibe.

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