a couple of books

oak pages
oaks in Sibley's tree guide

Just a note about a couple of books I have been reading lately. First is The Sibley Guide to Trees, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009) by David Sibley. Sibley is well-known to birders in North America for his guides to birds. His books have quickly become the standard bird guides.  I have no idea how well his guide to trees will be; mostly because I don’t know enough about the subject. But I got the book out of the library, and I will buy one for my shop next time I’m ordering books.


The layout is the same as his bird guides, so will seem very familiar to anyone who has used his previous books. I jumped right to the pages about oaks, and there’s a slew of them. (46 pages) I will never see most of these trees, but there are plenty of eastern oak represented, and I learned a thing or two. Sibley’s paintings of the leaves are helpful, he paints them from above & from below, and includes various leaves from one tree. It was news to me that the leaves at the top of some oaks are deeper-lobed than those from lower down the tree.


I have been working some red oak lately I’m always told is called “yellowbark.” I gather from Sibley’s book this is Eastern Black Oak (Quercus velutina) – sometimes called yellow oak, or quercitron oak. Some green woodworkers I know have always stayed away from yellowbark because they said it didn’t rive well, but this one splits very well. The name stems from the color right under the bark, when the wood is fresh.


yellowbark red oak


The other book I’m reading lately is The Joiner and the Cabinetmaker. This book was anonymously published in 1839 in England. It is written following a young apprentice in the trade as he makes 3 pieces of casework. Joel Moskowitz and Chris Schwarz have published it, with Moskowitz’ footnotes & comment on the original text, followed by a section where Schwarz builds the pieces following the text, more or less.

joiner & cabinet maker book
The Joiner and Cabinet Maker




It’s quite interesting the number of things that applied in the 1830s that I also see in 17th-century work. The apprentice dovetails a case together, and the author says that if they need to be even stronger, you can nail them too. Here’s a nailed dovetailed drawer, c. 1660s or so.

dovetail braintree chest w drawer (2)
dovetailed drawer, c. 1660s










There is a detailed discussion of shavings in the workshop, and how you need to be careful when scooping them up to sift through for any small tools or bits of wood worth saving… I’ve never seen anything like that in print before; but I contend with it every week or so when I sweep the floor.

Also a rundown on single-iron versus double-iron planes. Nice stuff.

BUT, the best thing I’ve read lately is something I have re-read. (as is often the case..)

A few weeks ago, we heard great-horned owls hooting in the early mornings, very distant across the marsh. Then one evening, just after the time changed, I was at the shop going to my car to come home, and heard two of them hooting back & forth, about 5:30 PM.  And I went and looked up this Thoreau piece about what he called “cat owls” :

“December 9, 1856 From a little east of Wyman’s I look over the pond westward. The sun is near setting, away beyond Fair Haven. A bewitching stillness reigns through all the woodland and over the snow‑clad landscape. Indeed, the winter day in the woods or fields has commonly the stillness of twilight. The pond is perfectly smooth and full of light. I hear only the strokes of a lingering Woodchopper at a distance, and the melodious hooting of an owl,  which is as common and marked a sound as the axe or the locomotive whistle. Yet where does the ubiquitous hooter sit, and who sees him? In whose wood‑lot is he to be found? Few eyes have rested on him hooting; few on him silent on his perch even. Yet cut away the woods never so much year after year, though the Chopper has not seen him and only a grove or two is left, still his aboriginal voice is heard indefinitely far and sweet, mingled oft, in strange harmony, with the newly invented din of trade, like a sentence Allegri sounded in our streets,‑hooting from invisible perch at foes the woodchoppers, who are invading his domains. As the earth only a few inches beneath the surface is undisturbed and what is was anciently, so are heard still some primeval sounds in the air.  Some of my townsmen I never see, and of a great proportion I do not hear the voices in a year, though they live within my horizon; but every week almost I hear the loud voice of the hooting owl,  though I do not see the bird more than once in ten years.”

I’ve only seen them a few times; but I always stop when I hear them…it’s nice to know they’re around.

gr horned owl (2)
great horned owl

4 thoughts on “a couple of books

  1. Interesting book, the joiner & cabinetmaker, reading excerpts convinced me to order a copy. It’s the reason i collect early furniture, construction details, i am just fascinated by how this stuff was built.
    In England,according to this book,furniture was made by hand until 1929! Man o Man, the guild system there must have been very powerful indeed. By contrast, in America the circular saw was invented in 1813 by sister Tabitha Babbit (yeah i know, there are other claimants to the invention) and by 1850 when steam power came along,the era
    of hand made furniture in america was gone forever.

    Dead funny is his description of dovetails and his decent down that rabbit hole, i know exactly what he is getting at. For instance, i have a connecticut 1750 cherrywood base tavern table where the turnings and mortise & tendon joinery are absolutely stunning in their precision and beauty but when you pull out the drawer and look at the drawer dovetails,WOW, primative by comparison, and obviously done by an apprentice. On the other hand, a late 18th century blanket/dower chest i have (the book calls them a school box) where the dovetails are exposed on the front of the case, have wedged dovetails that leave one wondering just how the hell they did that so perfectly with just hand tools.

    All in all, my kinda book, i cant wait to read it, thanks for posting it.

  2. I took out the The Sibley Guide to Trees from the library. I have what I thought were 2 run of the mill non ornamental trees in the yard. I was not able to even come close to identify them with the book. I don’t know how useful you’ll find the book.

  3. Peter: I am preparing a power point for presentation to appraisers regarding furntiure construction and I would veryu much like permission to use the photo on this page (Nov.16, 2009 archive) showing a dovetail c. 1660. I would, of course, give the photo your credit. Thanks for the consideration. Susan Golashovsky ASA

  4. Books reading is my favorite hobby still my kids are with me but every night i read some of my favorite book and i thank you two you sharing here lots of nice and best books collection i book mark this site for up coming purchasing the boooks then must try this tree guide.

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