Why I Wrote Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture

I never set out to be a writer. I’m a cabinetmaker first and foremost and have been since the early 1970s. In those days resources were few and I was continually on the prowl for new information about woodworking and furniture. My favorite books at the time were more visual than wordy-reproductions of Stickley furniture catalogs and measured drawing books of Shaker furniture. I was drawn to the Shaker and Craftsman styles for their excellent proportions, honest structure, and simple nature. I found myself wishing for a measured drawing book of Stickley furniture, and expected that someone would realize the need and fill the void.

Over the years several books appeared that seemed to fill the bill, but proved disappointing. I didn’t want to see a book that wasted the first 30 or 40 pages with “these are the tools you need to build furniture”. And I didn’t want to see a book that dumbed down the style, tried to make it easy to build, screwed up the proportions or messed around with history. I started to get irate at magazine articles that threw spindles and corbels in the wrong places and called it “authentic mission style”. Somewhere in the mid-1990s (my early forties) my back and knees started showing the signs of 20-plus years on the shop floor, and I started to look for ways to earn a living sitting down, at least some of the time. I moved into design and planning more than building, and it occurred to me that maybe the book I wanted to see wasn’t appearing because I was the one who should write it.

That realization was followed by five years or so of bouncing between feeling completely unqualified, and making good starts and frequent stops on the research and drawings. Progress was slow, but I reached a point where I had most of a book together. I figured that some actual writing experience would help to sell the idea, so I put together a couple of magazine articles and sent them off. With a few published articles under my belt, I pitched the book idea. The first publisher I approached took a year and a half to tell me “thanks, but no thanks”, and the second publisher took six months to say, “let’s try it”. A year and a half later, and I had a published book on my hands and no idea of what would happen next.

I was pretty happy with it, and in the 10 years since Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture was first published, enough people liked it and the other things I’ve written that followed to keep me off my feet and out of the shop more often than I’ve been in the shop. But being at the bench is my first love, to take some nice wood and a good design and see how good a job I can do putting the pieces together. If I have anything to say that’s worth listening to, it doesn’t come from me. It comes from a lot of time with a lot of wood, trying not to make the same mistakes too many times in a row.

–Bob Lang

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