Various Books I Have Enjoyed and Recommend

© John A. Swensen 1998. All rights reserved.

The Bandsaw Handbook by Mark Duginske is the best book on tuning a bandsaw that I have read. Anyone using a bandsaw should read this book.

The Making of Tools , by Alexander Weygers. This wonderful book is an introduction to blacksmithing and toolmaking in general, and is highly recommended.

Adventures in Wood Finishing , by George Frank. This book describes some of the adventures of this master of wood finishing, including rescuing his employer using ammonia, using premium horse manure for aging wood, texturing wood with a blowtorch, and stripping panels in a swimming pool. Also included is his "secret" formula for a water-based wax.

Wood Finishing with George Frank , by George Frank. Here you learn how to make many unique finishes and stains, some of which are described in "Adventures in Wood Finishing", including liquid nightmare, made with vinegar and old nails (I have tried it; it works great on oak). If you ever want to go beyond what is available from Home Depot, you should read this book.

Understand Wood , by Bruce Hoadley. A must for carpenters, cabinetmakers, and owners of wood furniture. Bruce Hoadley clearly describes how and why wood moves, how to counteract the movement, when not to try to fight the movement, as well as how best to sharpen tools for various cutting operations.

The Workbench Book , by Scott Landis. Although also available in paperback, this book is so yummy that I can't imagine owning it in other than hard-cover. Scott Landis describes a bit of the history of the workbench, including examples and plans of most types of workbenches. The workbench of Frank Klaus was so inspiring that I built it a few years ago. The companion book, The Workshop Book , by Scott Landis, describes various ways to organize a workshop, with photographs and drawings from many shops that he visited. A related book, The Toolbox Book , by Jim Tolpin, describes and illustrates a huge variety of tool boxes, from a simple tote, to a machinist's chest, to the tool boxes sent up in the Space Shuttle. This book should come with a bib to protect it from the drooling reader.

The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking , by James Krenov. The artistic side of woodworking is elegantly demonstrated by this master of wood. A lovely complement to the mechanical, technical books available on woodworking, this book shows such things as how important the selection and arrangement of wood grain can be for a pair of frame-and panel doors.

The Woodwright's Companion , and The Woodwright's Shop , by Roy Underhill. There are viable alternatives to power tools, as eloquently described in these books. A scholar and a historian, as well as a talented woodworker, Roy Underhill conveys an almost Druidic relationship with the trees that he must kill in order to obtain their wood. Particularly useful is a discussion of reading the bark of trees to help predict the grain characteristics before felling the tree.

The New Science of Strong Materials , by J. E. Gordon. This book describes why different materials are strong, weak, brittle, or tough, without resorting to higher mathematics. Instead, he explains many subtle physical properties of materials in a lucid, intuitive manner. You will learn why a bat's stretched skin will not pop like a rubber balloon, and why small things are effectively stronger than bigger things of the same material. This book is a must for anyone interested in building things.

Roark's Formulas for Stress and Strain , by Warren C. Young. After searching, in vain, for Roark's "Formulas for Stress and Strain" (which has been out of print for years), I stumbled on the book in its new form. The universal reference for structural formulas for just about everything, this book has some explanatory text, but is full of mathematics; it is just the thing to put numbers to the insight gained after reading Gordon.

Engineer to Win : The Essential Guide to Racing Car Materials Technology or How to Build Winners Which Don't Break , by Carroll Smith, explains about materials science in the context of machines that can kill if they break. Carroll Smith minces no words in this entertaining, very down-to-earth treatise on a traditionally dry subject. Particularly interesting is his practical guide to understanding and avoiding stress concentration; every machinist should be required to read this section. His other books, Prepare to Win and Tune to Win , are more specifically oriented towards race cars, but are full of excellent ideas about machinery in general.

The Day the Universe Changed , by James Burke. A companion volume to the fascinating series of the same name on PBS, Burke outlines the history of civilization, as driven by technology. We learn what glass-making had to do with modern steel, how the Black Plague's causes were discovered and eliminated, and how whiskey lead to the development of steam power, among many other things.

The Gossamer Odyssey , by Morton Grosser. Human-powered flight is achieved through low-tech application of high technology. Read how the first official human powered airplane was built and flown around a figure-8 course in an aircraft so docile that a non-pilot grandmother was able to fly it. Then read how a far more dedicated effort resulted in a human-powered flight across the English Channel. Uplifting, this book inspires the reader to strive to achieve that which has not yet been done by anyone.

Horns, Strings, and Harmony , by Arthur H. Benade. Understanding how musical instruments work, without the math. This book has a lucid explanation of why only certain tuning systems sound good to the ear.

Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics , by Arthur H. Benade. An accomplished physicist and acoustician, as well as a very serious amateur musician, Dr. Benade has written an extremely lucid text describing how and why musical instruments (including the voice) sound the way they do.

Rather than resorting to mathematical equations, Dr. Benade uses, instead, carefully crafted examples and experiments to illustrate each point he is making. Although his avoidance of mathematics is, at times, frustrating to the mathematically-trained reader, the insight provided by the examples and experiments proves more useful than would hundreds of formulae. Besides describing the physics of sound production, he discusses the perception of sound enough to explain why the inharmonic frequencies produced by a struck bell sound, nevertheless, like a musical note, and later goes on to explain why the stiffness of piano strings requires that octaves on the piano be "stretched" in order to sound in tune.

Of particular interest to instrument builders are his descriptions of modifications he has made to production instruments to alter their tone quality or improve their response. For example, he describes how he made subtle alterations to the bore of a mediocre bassoon to make it respond uniformly throughout its range. His evaluations of the improvements have been confirmed by first-chair musicians from such world-class orchestras as the Vienna Philharmonic. Before drilling out your trumpet mouthpiece, shaving the bridge on your violin, or designing an electronic piano, learn, first, what others have learned about the subtleties of musical sound production.

James Beard's Beard on Bread is the best bread baking book I have seen. Although he is very passionate about food, Beard has written this cookbook to appeal to the most left-brain-dominant readers as well as the artists and poets. For example, the first recipe is a simple white bread, and following the recipe is a detailed analysis of many possible flaws in this first loaf, as well as how to fix them. Just about every bread I made from this book was a winner, although I personally prefer to use half to two thirds of the salt called for in his recipes. My current favorite is a bread made with cornmeal and unbleached wheat flour.

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Book-Recommendation/ / revised 1999 January 18