A Review of ‘Hands Employed Aright’

A Review of ‘Hands Employed Aright’

- in Art

Ray Deftereos, a self-described “hand tool evangelist from South Africa,” began learning about and working with hand tools only two years ago. This, in part, makes him an ideal person to host “Hand Tool Book Review,” a “podcast for woodworms.”

When starting out, Ray says he found it difficult to find good books about working with hand tools. So he read about 100 of them, and is reviewing them regularly. His reviews (so far he’s completed 18) are a joy to listen to –– carefully and professionally crafted, they’re thoughtful and concise, and as an avid learner himself, Ray understands what elements a book must have to further his skill. His pleasing voice is an added bonus.

Ray’s 17th book review was of Joshua Klein’s “Hands Employed Aright: The Furniture Making of Jonathan Fisher (1768-1847).” Ray calls it “a reference book that will continue to provide benefit for years to come.”

Regarding the book’s physical qualities, Ray says, “I wish a podcast could let you feel the texture of a book. But I guess we’ll have to settle for words.” And later: “The end product is a rich book that has to be physically seen to be truly appreciated. There’s a wonderful texture, layout and composition to the book that makes it suitable as a prized coffee table book. To get your non-hand-tool friends on the right path of course, just leave them waiting for a few minutes with the book front and center, and let the book do the talking.”

But Ray is quick to note that “Hands Employed Aright” is much more than a beautiful coffee table book. Using the phrase “investigative archaeology” more than once, Ray points out the usefulness of the book to both the beginner and experienced craftsperson. While the beginning of the book is a fascinating look at Jonathan Fisher’s life, Ray says the “back section is perfect for mulling over when starting a new project” and that inspiration can be found for a “range of projects” with folk who have a “range of experience.”

Ray also enjoyed Joshua’s careful cataloguing of Jonathan Fisher’s tools. For those still building their tool kits, it can be difficult to decide what is necessary. “I suggest that in time this book will become one of the classics alongside Benjamin Seaton’s tool chest in terms of being an incredible insight into what a typical tool kit might have contained,” Ray says.

Beyond tool and project inspiration, Ray says Jonathan Fisher’s daily journal writing “leaves an incredible record that is probably the most complete of any pre-industrial woodworking that will ever be uncovered. That said, it’s probably going to be a source of new revelations for a long time to come as the historical record is translated and compiled. And yet … perhaps the honesty of the record is what makes this book a moving read.”

Jonathan Fisher is deeply humble and human, something Joshua clearly portrays through the book. These attributes are also present in Jonathan Fisher’s woodworking. “Paging through the pieces I felt a part of sweet connection with the past,” Ray says.

Joshua “interrogates the details so thoroughly,” Ray adds. “I think that often hand tool use is romanticized as being slow or old-fashioned. The author does a lot to dispel these perceptions by showing how building furniture in this manner can be very efficient, if done with a pre-industrial mindset.”

Ray adds that this is one of the first books he’s read that celebrated the idea that tear-out on the inside of a piece is acceptable. “Like the concept of reference faces, this is a concept that becomes mundane the more you practice it,” Ray says. “But it seemed radical, the first time I encountered it. … In your hand-tool journey, I suggest that this book will help you learn from those who came before us, people who had no access to band saws or electric planers or shop assistants as they’re romantically called today. And from their experience, there is a wealth of knowledge to be gained.” 

In the beginning of this particular episode, Ray says future podcasts will discuss books on workbenches, tools, wood and finishing.

You can listen to this podcast and Ray’s others, here. You can purchase “Hands Employed Aright,” and download a free preview, here.

Thank you, Ray, for taking the time to read and review Joshua’s book –– and for sharing your hand-tool journey with so many.

— Kara Gebhart Uhl

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