Two Beautiful Books on Hand Tools

Hand Tools: Their Ways and Workings’, New York: W.W. Norton, 1982 and ‘Mastering Hand Tool Techniques’ by Alan and Gill Bridgewater, Skyhorse Publishing, London, 2011.

Aldren A. Watson was an illustrator who passed away this May just five days short of his 96th birthday. He has left behind thousands of illustrations as well as several books authored by him. One of these is a classic titled “Hand Tools: Their Ways and Workings” published originally by WW Norton, New York, in 1982. The book has been through several reprints and despite the advent of power tools, refuses to fade into oblivion. 

The reason for this is plain: this is one of the best illustrated books on hand tools and one that provides a great amount of useful information through easy to understand drawings and tips. Hand tools continue to fascinate thousands of woodworkers and hobbyists around the world and for some of them this book has become a terrific reference.

In this illustration the author explains how to find the centre of a round piece using a combination square with a centring head

I found the book compelling with its numerous black and white illustrations that detailed a variety of hand tools from chisels to skew planes, scrapers, braces and much more. The hand tools covered is pretty exhaustive and includes hard to find (in India) tools such as rabbet planes, router planes, swan neck chisels and spokeshaves. Not only is each tool clearly drawn in a lovely old fashioned way but its purpose and usage is also explained through short notes and captions.  These simple instructions on the proper use of each tool are perhaps the best part of the book. Equally useful is a section at the end of the book on sharpening various tools including chisels and saws. Clearly, this is one book I am going to keep close at hand.

Books like this are rare and this one is entirely the result of an artist such as Aldren A. Watson, who recognized the fact that the human mind can grasp concepts best through visual aids. A picture, as they say, paints a thousand words. And Watson did just that all his life.  Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1917, he rose to become a celebrated illustrator, with a total output of over 175 books for children and adults. He is also the author-illustrator of seven books. Watson has written and illustrated three books on woodworking including ‘Country Furniture’, New York, Thomas Y. Crowell, 1974, ‘Hand Tools: Their Ways and Workings’, New York, W.W. Norton, 1982, and ‘Furniture Making Plain and Simple’ (with Theodora Poulos), New York, W.W. Norton, 1984. To know more about him see the website:

The other book I vastly enjoyed was one by Alan and Gill Bridgewater titled ‘Mastering Hand Tool Techniques’, which is a newer one published only a couple of years ago. According to one reviewer, “Gill and Alan Bridgewater have gained an international reputation as producers of highly successful gardening and DIY books on a range of subjects, including garden design, ponds and patios, stone and brickwork, decks and decking, and household woodworking.” 

This book is a woodworker’s delight. It is full of all colour illustrations and photographs of hand tools, some of them so beautifully crafted that they are a pleasure to behold. The book, as the blurb claims, contains “everything you need to know about hand tools from buying and using them to caring for and storing them.” 

A page from their book showing spokeshaves

I found these books both a delight and extremely informative, especially since there are no stores where a woodworking enthusiast can go to browse tools in Delhi and the National Capital region (NCR). Moreover, many tools described in this book do not seem to be used or made in India at all. Most of my knowledge of hand tools has been gleaned from online stores, Internet forums and blogs. Nothing can match getting first rate advice and information from well rated books.

The only problem I foresee with both these books is that as I read and re-read them, I am increasingly going to be tempted to acquire some if not all the tools they cover. 

Indranil Banerjie
14 July 2013


  1. hi Indranil, Rabbet planes was as common as bench planes! Rabbet planes were used in making of every door and window!

  2. Praveen: I had no idea! Haven't seen a Rabbet plane in my life.

  3. power tools can really save you from a lot of headache, specially when the job is very hard-


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