Learning (Again) with The Missing Shop Manual Collection

Geek Culture

I love woodworking. I’m not great at it — I figure it’ll take me another 15+ years to hit that magic 10,000 hour mark in the shop to reach an expert’s level of craftsmanship. But in the meantime, I try to always have something going on in the shop that either allows me to learn a new skill or get a bit more practice with an older one. Right now, I’m enjoying learning how to properly use my router table. I know how to use a router as a stand-alone device, but the table is going to allow me to branch out and really do some interesting stuff. But mounting the router underneath the table brought with it some questions that required me to dig out the router manual… a big white heap of pages that answered my question but not with a lot of enjoyment.

I’ve done this in the past, breaking out my stack of manuals to remind myself how to tune my table saw or replace the blade correctly in my band saw. The operator manuals that come with tools are definitely useful, but they have one glaringly obvious drawback — the manual will tell you how to properly and safely operate a tool, but it won’t tell you how to really use it. You won’t get the advice that a pro can offer when you’re first getting your feet wet with a new tool (well, unless you have access to a few pros). This is exactly the situation I found myself in when I first purchased my circular saw, my table saw, my band saw, and my router.

I tell you all this so you’ll understand (and not poke too much fun at me) why I grabbed the box from the UPS guy and beat a path to my man cave to tear into the care package sent to me from Fox Chapel Publishing. They’ve got books on a lot of different subjects from Mennonite Cookbooks to Sewing to Winemaking to Woodburning. But it’s their woodworking titles that make me drool, with subjects ranging from furniture making to pinewood derby cars. Tucked in the box were ten little books I’ve been itching to read and review, and I’ve just completed the entire set after just a little over a week. If that sounds like a lot of reading in a short time, rest assured that these ten little books are short, easy to read, and sure to be of interest to anyone who has stared at a power tool and wondered how to operate it, how to maintain it, and ultimately how best to use it.

The series is called The Missing Shop Manual, and while I certainly hope the library continues to grow, you’ll likely find at least one of the books that matches a tool in your shop… maybe more. The series claims you’ll wish this was the manual that originally came with your insert-tool-name-here.

I can’t speak for all ten books as I’ve not yet got a jointer, shaper, or lathe (my wife is grimacing right now as she realizes I don’t yet have all the tools I really want), but I can tell you that the claim holds true for my band saw (2-page manual, I kid you not), my router (a bit better manual, but no actual usage examples), and my drill press (a little better with a 3-page manual but half of it was warnings and troubleshooting steps).

I’ll go ahead and say it — I wasn’t really certain how much these little books (most of them averaging less than 150 pages) were going to really help me when I started reading. But after completing the Router and Table Saw books, I couldn’t stop smiling. I had already picked up on some of the advice in these books, but there was new stuff in there (to me). Stuff I know I would likely never have figured out without someone with experience telling me. But since I typically work alone and am of the I’ll-figure-it-out-on-my-own mentality, I tend to make mistakes often. That’s how I learn, I guess.

But let’s take the Band Saw book, for example. I thought using a band saw was pretty straight forward. I knew how to operate it, how to tighten the blade, and how to do a few tricky cuts. But I never thought to check the blade wheel alignment. I guess the manufacturer just figured it would be perfect from the factory. (Wrong.) This little book even showed me how to test for (and fix) an out-of-round blade wheel. There was zero mention of this in the manufacturer’s manual… fortunately my blade wheels were round but the alignment was a bit off. I fixed it per the book’s instructions and did a test cut on a piece of hardwood that had been giving me trouble. Immediate improvement that I could tell just by feel.

I can go on with more examples. The Circular Saws and Jig Saws book (two tools in one book) gave me a much better understanding of two of the tools I use most in my shop. Again, I thought I knew all there was to using these tools, but the little manual proved otherwise by offering me some tips on how to make specific types of cuts with these (at times) not so accurate cutting tools, especially the jig saw.

The Table Saw book I read twice. I honestly could not believe how little I knew about the maintenance and operation of one of the most expensive tools in my shop. I mean, seriously — how hard would it be for tool manufacturers to provide some DVDs and mini-projects to help us learn how to use our new tools better? Thankfully, it’s never too late to learn and I can point to the Table Saw book as a prime example of where The Missing Shop Manual is a worthy investment.

I started reading the Glue and Clamps book as I was waiting for my wife to get ready to go shopping — she gave me the funniest look when I put a bookmark in and took it with me. Yes, I actually enjoyed reading about gluing and clamping techniques while sitting and waiting for her to finish her shopping. I even had one guy pass by me, give me a strange look, and then ask me if the book was any good! I’ve never done any drawer assembly, but now I know what to buy (and why) should I ever try to put together a box.

All of the books contain a mixture of color photographs and color line drawings to demonstrate techniques or concepts. They’re also, as I said earlier, short and sweet. You can typically read an entire book in less than 45 minutes… or, in the case of the Jointer book’s 77 pages, about 20 minutes. The books range in price from $9.95 to $12.95, with the exception being the Bench Planes book that comes with a 55-minute DVD showing techniques and proper usage.

After reading all ten books, I’m thinking I’d really like a lathe. The Lathe book was fun to read, even though I don’t own one. I know what’s involved (to a point), so it was interesting to read a detailed overview of how the tool works, how the various cutting tools are used, and some of the interesting things I can do with it.

The Missing Shop Manual series is well done. Most of us who enjoy woodworking are not professional woodworkers, so it’s nice to have little books like this available to help refresh our memory on operation, cleaning, tuning, and proper usage. I know I’m guilty of getting lazy here and there and operating a tool improperly, so I think I’m going to make myself a promise to review these books once a year to keep me on my toes and keep my tools in proper working order. Take a look at your own tools and find the one that gives you the most trouble or the one that you tend to take for granted that you know everything there is to know about it. Pick up a copy of the matching Missing Shop Manual and give it a read — I’ll be curious to know what you think.

The ten books in the series include:




Glue and Clamps

Band Saw

Circular Saws and Jig Saws


Table Saw

Drills and Drill Presses

Bench Planes

I’d like to thank Traci at Fox Chapel Publishing for providing the review copies. She sent along a handful of other books that I’m hoping to review for you in the future, including a very interesting book on pinewood derby racers that my son has been thumbing through with eyes wide.

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