BOOK REVIEW: Jeff Miller’s Foundations of Better Woodworking
Just about everyone has a favorite teacher, coach or mentor. At one point or another in our lives, we’ve had the opportunity to be offered instruction and guidance that really stands out. Factors like personality, charisma, passion for the topic or an innate ability to articulately convey information all help make a great instructor. Jeff Miller has fulfilled that position in my life for the last 16 years.
In his latest book, Foundations of Better Woodworking, Jeff offers some insight into why this is the case. Jeff takes a holistic look at “How to use your body, tools and materials to do your best work” in a uniquely fresh, engaging and deliberate way. By leveraging a series of analogies and mental models on how things work, each chapter breaks things down to the fundamental basics. He covers topics in roughly three key areas:
- Understanding the Basics: this includes some fascinating and easy to understand analogies of wood as a “bundle of straws”, an almost tai-chi approach to body movement, as well as some unique takes on visualizing your work, tools and sharpening.
- Getting a Better Sense of Where You’re Going: here Jeff emphasizes the importance of accuracy in woodworking including problems with rulers, the fabled 1″ mistake (where you start at 1″ to measure and then forget to subtract one), and my personal favorite, a whole chapter dedicated to “The Line”.
- Learning as You Work: starting off with “Making Mistakes” , the importance of “Feedback” and the benefits of “Experimentation and Practice” in woodworking, places everyone on a level playing field. He offers some fundamental areas to watch in order to constantly improve, as well as some practical advise on fixing a wide range of mistakes. Applying some of Jeff’s principles even for a few minutes down in your workshop will have you thinking differently about even the most fundamental aspects of your own woodworking skills.
What struck me about this book was not only the content and subject matter, but also the graphic design itself. Even though I was reading an electronic version, it still looks great. Popular Woodworking didn’t scrimp on photography and illustrations, which really help out when it comes to describing aspects of body position and movement. I think the’ve set the bar for themselves. Way to go Pop Wood and the whole staff that put in the time to get this book ready.
The book re-inforced many of the fundamental woodworking skills Jeff has taught me over a number of years. Sadly however, it was also a slap-in-the-face reminder of some basic skills and principles that I have completely neglected since leaving Chicago. Despite the word “Foundations” in the title having the connotation of something that would be more suitable for a beginning woodworker, I view this as a book everyone should read and keep on their bookshelf, regardless of skill-set.
Jeff is a well versed professional, a brilliant designer and a master of his craft. This book, unlike some of his previous work that has focused on design and projects, really brings to the forefront his ability to teach, in addition to his untiring desire to continue to learn, refine and refresh his own skills throughout his 30 year career. Jeff has recently been spending a great deal of time teaching across the country covering elements of design, fabrication and many of the principles he covers in The Foundations of Better Woodworking. He’ll even be discussing some of these topics at WIA in Cincinnati this November in one of his seminars “Working Smarter”.
You can pre-order the book now, or pick one up at WIA this fall.