Monday, May 24, 2010

Rebuilding a Library

Two summers ago our downtown completely flooded. It was on the news all over the world. I got emails from France. It was a surreal week. The most memorable part was putting all our furniture up on conference tables and packing essentials for a stay at a friend's house. Just as we were locking up the Iowa National Guard pulled up in a Humvee and told us to get out. We were spared, but our public library wasn't. The entire adult collection was lost (the kid's books were on a second story).

I felt like I had lost personal property. See, I spent years reading all the woodworking books at our library, so I felt like they belonged to me in a way. Not as a personal possession, but more like a connection that one feels with a favorite teacher. My woodworking teacher, I'll call him Mr. Taunton, was gone. I had cut my woodworking teeth on old back issues of Fine Woodworking, hardbound in 9 volumes and dubbed the "Techniques" series. I couldn't check those out again. They were covered in muddy foetid sludge, mildew ridden, soggy. They were literally garbage.

As our city plans to rebuild and replenish the Library, I felt a bit information-starved, even though I don't check books out too often anymore. Don't get me wrong, the Internet can be a wonderful place for information, but wading through the muck and sludge to get to good information can sometimes take a lot out of a person. Much like trudging through a flooded library in search of a spared volume. After helping some friends clean up after the flood, I can say that its not much fun.

So it was with particular interest one day earlier this spring that I found a local Craig's List ad for a complete set of Fine Woodworking back issues, all the way through to April 2010. The owner said he was only missing perhaps 10 issues. Asking price? $100.

I jumped on the phone. And here's how the conversation went:



"Good morning, I saw your ad on Craig's List and was wondering if you still have the magazines"
(it was about 4pm, so I figured someone had already snagged them)

"Well, I just placed the ad this morning, you're the first person to call"

"Oh, really? Great! Where can I see them?"

"I'm cleaning out some old things in my office right now and have the magazines out, stop by now if you'd like"

"Okay, I just off work, I'll head over now. What's the address?"
(at this point I could have sworn I recognized the man's voice)

--He gives me the address--

"Say, what's your name?"




"Jim! It's Jameel."

And we both had a good laugh. It turns out that Jim mows the neighbor's lawn and Jim has snuck a peek into my shop over the years. Finally, last year he stopped by with one of these:

It's a Shepherd smoothing plane kit that Jim had built at a Galootapalooza event a few years ago. We had a fun afternoon talking tools and getting the kit finished. Jim had never prepared the iron.

So I headed over to Jim's straightway and picked up the magazines. And here's the touching part. Jim has subscribed to Fine Woodworking since issue 1. So I feel especially honored to be "inheriting" this collection from Jim.

So until our library gets rebuilt (they have already begun), my own personal library will be more than adequate to suffice.

Oh, one more bonus came with Jim's collection. Several years of American Woodworker (the good ones when Ellis Walentine, Andy Rae, Ian Kirby and others were in charge) and several recent years (and a few older ones--anybody need plans for an "Alien On A Swing"?)of Popular Woodworking magazine, which is now chock full of great content (my back issues are stacked right alongside my FWW issues). Some may lament the recent loss of Popular Woodworking's ad-free spin-off Woodworking Magazine, but when there are no ads, you miss out on great content like this way back from the pre-Internet days:


  1. So how DID that fresh-faced lad on the right develop a bench fixation and get all furry-faced?

  2. I do not want to point out where you might reside, but my wife is from a certain Iowa town with lots of cereal factories that recently lost its entire wonderful library in a flood. She is still wistful thinking about that wonderful collection that was lost. I wonder if we are discussing the same town. I really appreciate your blog-it inspired me to build my own Roubo type workbench recently. Thanks for all you do. Would love to get to see your instruments at some point. Cheers

  3. When I downsized and moved a couple of years ago I sold off many books in my personal library. A lot of my woodworking books were donated to my local public library. They kept some to fill out their collection and sold others to raise funds to buy other books on their wish list.

    It would be interesting to publish a list of woodworking books that could form an essential foundation for a library collection. That would really help the library get donations of funding pledges for specific books.

    A must have book for the new library's collection is Jim Tolpin's "Tablesaw Magic". IMHO it is the best book ever on using tablesaws and it is indeed published by Taunton.


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