Download an excerpt from this book here.
By Christian Becksvoort
A little knowledge about trees goes a long way toward improving your woodworking.
You don’t need a degree in dendrology to build a desk. But you do need intimate knowledge of how our raw material grows and – more importantly – how it responds to its environment after it has been cut and dried.
This knowledge allows you to tame the wood into the shapes that you have envisioned in your head. And it ensures that your furniture will endure the seasons and age with grace and aplomb.
That is why we are particularly pleased to offer the third revised edition of “With the Grain: A Craftsman’s Guide to Understanding Wood” by Christian Becksvoort. This is the book about wood that we wished we’d had when we started woodworking.
It is, above all, succinct, easy to understand and perfectly suited for the furniture-maker. As important as what is in its 160 pages is what is not. It’s not a detailed analysis of cell growth. It is not a heap of tables and equations for figuring truss loads in residential construction. It is decidedly not a scientist’s approach to the material.
Instead, “With the Grain” contains the facts you need to know at the lumberyard, in the woodlot and in the shop. It gives you enough science so you understand how trees grow. It explains the handful of formulas you have to know as a furniture-maker. And it gives you a hearty dose of specific information about North American species that will inspire you. Becksvoort encourages you to use the trees in your neighborhood and makes the case that just because you cannot find catalpa at the lumberyard doesn’t mean it’s not a good furniture wood.
You’ll learn to identify the trees around you from their silhouette, leaves and shoots. And you’ll learn about how these species work in the shop – both their advantages and pitfalls.
Becksvoort then takes you into a detailed discussion of how wood reacts to it environment – the heart of the book. You’ll learn how to calculate and accommodate wood movement with confidence and precision. And you’ll learn how to design furniture assemblies – casework, drawers, doors and moulding – so they will move with the seasons without cracking.
There’s also a chapter on how to manage a small forest or copse of trees – how to care for them, encourage them to thrive and harvest them. You’ll learn the basics of cutting, stacking and drying the wood, if you should ever have the privilege of harvesting your own lumber.
Like all Lost Art Press books, “With the Grain” is printed and bound in the United States on acid-free paper. The binding on this 8-1/2" x 11" book is sewn. It is hardbound with a green cotton cover. For the third revised edition, Becksvoort added details on 10 North American trees that were not in previous editions. The species added are tamarack, white spruce, Douglas fir, true poplar, black willow, pecan, American hornbeam, live oak, mulberry and red maple.
The book is also available as a pdf download, free from DRM restrictions. If you need a tutorial on adding our digital books to your iPad, click here.
About the Author
Christian Becksvoort was born in Wolfsburg, Germany. His father, who had spent seven years as a German apprentice, worked as a cabinetmaker. When Chris was 6, his parents decided to move to Toronto. But shortly before relocating to Canada, the Toronto church sponsorship fell through and Washington, D.C. became a last-minute alternative. In time, the family settled in Wheaton, Maryland – better school, better neighborhood.
As a child, Chris remembers building small wooden boats, model ships and historic schooners – “little things like that,” he says. “I always enjoyed making things and being outdoors.”
Chris’s high school had a nice shop, and he took four years of shop class. There he learned how to use power tools, tool safety, joinery methods and finishing techniques. Wood technology, however, was glossed over. He built a mahogany plant table “that was put together pretty well,” he says, but it cracked. When he asked his shop teacher why, his teacher simply said, “You didn’t let the wood move.”
Chris says at the time, he didn’t have the faintest idea of how wood movement worked or how to allow for it. (He later took one semester of wood technology in college.) His furniture now sells to clients all over the country, in many different climates.
“Sending it back to me is not an option,” he says, citing, in particular, substantial delivery costs. “Once I get paid I never see it again.”
And that’s how he likes it – his furniture is built to last generations, and this lesson he learned in high school has influenced the design of every piece he has made since. On his website, under “The Becksvoort Difference,” he writes, “I take wood movement seriously, over-building and compensating to ensure that your investment lasts.” He includes two examples: dovetailing all his mouldings and constructing telescoping web frames between his drawers.
Read more about Chris in our full profile.