October 15, 2015

The Provident Prepper and Tools for Survival - Book Reviews


If you mention "prepping" to most people, my hunch is that they'll immediately conjure up an image of a family in a concrete bunker surrounded by shelves and shelves of canned goods (and, for a laugh, no can opener). Or maybe they'll think of Ted Nugent eating a deer head. Either way, people seem to see prepping as something that strange, reclusive "what's he building in there" kind of people do. Honestly, I think this is unfortunate. Maybe it's because I grew up at the end of a long dirt road in Vermont, and it wasn't uncommon for us to be snowed in with no power for three or four days at a stretch, but I think that having non-perishible food on hand, a load of batteries, flashlights, and first aid supplies (just to name a few things), and a plan (even if it's a pretty vague one) makes for a whole lot of common sense.

So recently I was sent two books along this line of thinking. The Provident Prepper: A Common-Sense Guide to Preparing for Emergencies, by Kylene and Jonathan Jones and Tools for Survival, by James Wesley Rawles.

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August 19, 2013

The Grainger Catalog


If you're reading this and you don't get the Grainger catalog at least once every couple years, there's a disconnect going on. You've got to get on that one. It's even free.

It might even be the most massive catalog in the history of catalogs. Coming in at over 3-inches thick and having 4674 pages, the thing is truly a beast. And what's in the Grainger catalog, you ask? It would actually be easier to list the things that aren't in the Grainger catalog. It pretty much has everything associated with building stuff. It's hard to sum up in a few sentences.

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August 8, 2012

The Art of Fixing Things - Review


Some time this past winter, we were sent a press release about The Art of Fixing Things by Lawrence E. Pierce. We were asked if we'd like a copy to review and we said, "sure, sounds like it could be cool." We figured that since we spend about 80% of our waking hours fixing things (are you listening, Tool Snob Jr.?), we ought to give it a look see. So it was sent it on for us to look at. Like we said, this was back in winter, in the midst of the worst part of the renovation (phase one), so this review is long, long overdue. Apologies to the author.

First off, we dig the Frank Miller vibe that the cover has. We opened the book and quickly discovered that it consists of a series of tips. It doesn't have chapters, but it's broken down into categories: The Basics, Automotive, Appliance/Household/Garden, and General. The 154 numbered items each come with a title and, in most cases, a paragraph or two of description. All but a few have accompanying photos. We went through the book a few times and came to learn that it's a collection of all of those small nuggets of information and tid-bits that one accumulates over a lifetime of working with their hands.

On the whole, it's an interesting, wide-ranging, and sometime baffling selection of tips ranging from "Tip 115: Vice Grips: A Must Have Tool" to "Tip 128: Making Gaskets."

We thought the book was entertaining and we enjoyed paging through it. With 10+ years in construction, there were only a few items that were new to us (all in the automotive section), so the book won't be much use to someone with a lot of experience, but someone just starting out might be able to save some time and hardship by paying attention to these items.

Oh yeah and...

Tip 67: Oil That Sewing Machine.

Yup, with 154 tips, there are bound to be a couple duds.

$11 at Amazon

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July 7, 2010

Made by Hand - Review

made_by_hand.jpgThere's a certain type of book that we really dislike. And we must be in the minority because we're constantly seeing examples of it on the new release shelf at the bookstore. It's those tedious books centered around someone's 'voyage of personal discovery.' They're all sort of the same: Some dude (or dudette) decides that their life is lame and lacking so they get involved in some new hobby/lifestyle/passion, etc, and 250 agonizing pages later, we find out that they're a better person because of it and, golly, look at all the quirky people they met along the way!

So anyway, a couple weeks ago Penguin Publishing sent us a copy of Mark Frauenfelder's book, Made by Hand. Frauenfelder is one of the founders of the mega-blog Boing Boing, as well as the Editor in Chief of Make Magazine (he also looks like he has a closet full of Weezer bootlegs). Anyway, once we got started on the book, we started to get that sinking, 'personal discovery' feeling, but we kept reading anyway...

In Made by Hand, Frauenfelder, recounts his journey over to the DIY side of life. Being an Editor of Make Magazine, it appears that he knew that the lifestyle was out there, he just hadn't fully embraced it. Frauenfelder uses the DIY idea in the macro sense, putting under its umbrella more than just house fix-it type stuff. He uses the term to include everything from food preparation to spoon making to chicken raising. With him it's more of a self-sufficiency thing than a 'I just fixed the squeaky hinge' thing.

Each chapter in the book is dedicated to one of his forays into this new found world of technology, carpentry, animal husbandry, food preparation, and just general homesteading, some successful and some not. Because he understands that failure is a pretty good teacher, he almost seems to relish in revealing his mistakes along the way, which gives the book a nice wide-open honesty.

Although the book is mostly an account of his actions and the people he meets, it does delve into ideas from time to time, but things never get all that deep, which is fine. The book stays nice, light, and humorous throughout, which is really its strongest point. The grand theory of the book, which is repeated about once a chapter, is that if you start making things by hand you'll gain satisfaction and knowledge and you'll have a finer appreciation of your surroundings. It's a simple idea, and one that's impossible to refute.

And the bottom line is that Made by Hand is a fun book to read. The style is engaging and the author doesn't really take himself all that seriously, which is good and places the reader right with him as he tries, tries, and tries again. It all makes for a 'voyage of personal discovery' that is not only tolerable, but enjoyable.


Subscribe to Make here or here (great magazine)

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April 5, 2010

Measuring, Marking, & Layout: A Builder's Guide - Review

measuring_jpgRecently, Taunton Press sent us a few books to check out. One, Insulate and Weatherize, we reviewed here and now we've gotten to the second book, Measuring, Marking, & Layout: A Builder's Guide by John Carroll.

The book is sort of like having some old and experienced carpenter at your disposal (minus the coffee breath). It takes you through foundation work to floor, ceiling, and wall framing, to roofs and stairs, and then finally masonry. At each stop there is a thorough explanation of all of the layout considerations as well as extremely helpful drawings and diagrams. The book has a lot of math, particularly the roofing chapter, but in many cases, Carroll gives alternate (and more simple) methods on how to solve particular problems, which is nice if your math skills, like ours stopped developing sometime shortly after the third grade. All in all, it's a nice split between the principals of layout and the nitty-gritty hand's on stuff.

Luckily for the reader, Carroll gives "measuring, marking, and layout" a wide definition, so there is a lot of general building information included as well (things like how to straighten floor joists).

The book is successful and if you're a serious DIYer who wants to take it to the next level, this is a good place to start. For an established contractor, it's not only a good reference to have around, but there's so much information packed into the book, that there's bound to be something in here you haven't thought of.


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January 27, 2010

DIY Books Recalled

sunset_complete_home_wiring.jpgThe publishing company Oxmoor House is recalling a number of electrical how-to books due to the fact that they contain, "errors in the technical diagrams and wiring instructions that could lead consumers to incorrectly install or repair electrical wiring, posing an electrical shock or fire hazard to consumers." There's no more information available as to exactly which drawings contain the bad advice, which is too bad because some of these books have been on the shelves since 1975. Thankfully though, there have been no injuries resulting from the errors.

One of the books, Complete Home Wiring, is sitting on our desk right now. We even reviewed it way back in the first month of this site's existence. In that review, we applauded the book for its, "helpful pictures and charts." Apparently what we should have written was, 'deadly pictures and charts."

If you have one of the books, listed below, you are to visit for instructions on how to return it for a full refund.

An article on the recall is here, the recall press release is here, and, again, if you have one of the books, go here to return it.
The books are:

  • AmeriSpec Home Repair Handbook
  • Lowe's Complete Home Improvement and Repair
  • Lowe's Complete Home Wiring
  • Sunset Basic Home Repairs
  • Sunset Complete Home Wiring
  • Sunset Complete Patio Book
  • Sunset Home Repair Handbook
  • Sunset Water Gardens
  • Sunset You Can Build -- Wiring

A big thanks to reader Dar for bringing this to our attention.

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January 25, 2010

Insulate and Weatherize - Review

taunton_insulate.jpgIf you read the site with any regularity, you know that our 1915 farmhouse has some insulation issues. And when we say 'insulation issues,' what we really mean is that large portions of it simply aren't insulated at all. Over the past few months we've been trying to tighten things up, but our efforts have been a bit random and unfocused. Thankfully, though, Taunton recently sent us a copy of Insulate and Weatherize which we immediately read cover to cover. The bad news is that our situation is way worse than we thought, but the good news is that we now have an informed and comprehensive plan of attack.

It's tough to characterize what's in this book, but it goes way beyond insulating and weatherizing. The best way we can explain it is that it's a complete guide to efficiently conditioning the air and water within the four walls of your house. The book takes you through all of the major areas of your house (attic, basement, living space) as well as all of the major systems (water, heating, cooling) and describes every possible way that heat can be lost as well as how to contain that heat. The whole time it's a great split between hands-on tutorials and big-picture thinking. If you want to know the best way to insulate the ceiling of your basement, it's in there, but if you're just looking to understand how heat transfers from one material to another, it's also in there.

So when you read the title of this book, don't think that it's all 'R-values' and 'rigid vs fiberglass.' It's not. It's much, much more and anyone looking for a deeper knowledge of the way that their house works would be well served to read it.

And if you're one of those people, like us, who loves leaky, drafty old houses, this book will become an essential part of your library.


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September 17, 2009

James Krenov RIP


James Krenov died a week ago yesterday. His Cabinetmaker's Notebook, sort of a Zen and the Art of Cabinet Making, was a book that really hit home with us when we first read it, and still to this day, it provides inspiration and clarity.

Around originality there is no doubt a law of diminishing returns; nowadays there has to be. Though maybe we are drowning not so much in the original as in the imitation, in just things. For many of us originality is a pressure; we are being pushed around by people wanting something new, different. Then there's the other pressure of doing the new without borrowing too much from the old, or at least without getting caught at it. Students are forever running to libraries to get various books - on peasant art, Scandinavian modern, Shaker, Colonial, Indian - one this and one that. They fill their heads with all these images, and then frantically try to come up with something of their own. As though you put these ingredients in a kettle, add water, stir, and cook for two hours. What do you get? Pottage. Pea soup.

There's a nice rundown of his life over at Fine Woodworking (here).

Cabinetmaker's Notebook at

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August 21, 2009

Northern Tool 2009 Fall/Winter Master Catalog

Northern_tool_09.jpgFinally, a tool catalog so badass it has to be delivered in a cardboard box. And it's freakin' hardcover! To us, the Northern Tool catalog marks the seasons more reliably than the solstice. Even though it's still about 97 degrees where we live, the fact that the Fall/Winter catalog just hit means that it's time to start thinking about the first stages of buckling down for the winter. Should we pick up a generator this year (after being without power for six days last December)? Is it time to get one of those tent vehicle enclosures? Should we stop wearing white, now that the Fall/Winter catalog is here? These are some of the thoughts prompted by the arrival of one of the best tool catalogs out there.

And it's not just tools. In fact, power tools only take up 27 of the 591 pages here. The rest is packed with automotive, heating, storage, hydraulics, and on and on and on.

Order your free catalog here.

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June 22, 2009

Outside the Not So Big House - Review


If you're thinking about some landscaping projects this summer, you might want to check out Outside the Not So Big House by Julie Moir Messervy and Sarah Susanka.

A lot of landscape books are simply portfolio pieces, little more than pictures of what other people have done. But the authors here understand the simple fact that every house is different and has different 'needs,' so along with the stunning photography showing you how nice things can look, they also provide a lot of information on how to think about your specific property to better improve it. It's like stepping into the brain of a very good landscape architect.

Their goal here is to bring all of the aspects of your property into a single idea and theme. To show us how this can be done, the authors walk us though a wide variety of successful projects, representing a wide array of house styles as well as landscapes. In doing so they discuss how to gain a new vision of your property and how to design a landscape that flows seamlessly from the interior to the exterior.

It's impossible to cover even a fraction of the ideas presented in this book, and there's no question that, after reading it, you'll have a completely new view of your house in relation to its surroundings. It's far headier than the average landscaping book, but well worth the effort to read and consider.

At ($15 paperback)

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April 23, 2007

Setting Up Shop - Review

setting_up_shop.jpgOur workshop used to belong to someone else, so when we moved in, we pretty much kept things as they were; the workbench is against the same wall and the lumber racks are in the same place. We made a few changes and built some shelves, but nothing too severe. Well, we just finished Sandor Nagyszalanczy’s Setting Up Shop and now we’ve got some work to do. This book has opened the door to such a large array of possibilities for our workshop that we don’t even know where to begin the renovations.

Nagyszalanczy makes that point that every shop should be different in order to match the working style of its owner. But even with this difference, there are a lot of universal considerations to take into account before rolling in the table saw and having at those oak boards. This book is about those universals, some big and some small, that all come together and create the functionality of a workspace.

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April 3, 2007

Renovating Old Houses – Review

renovating_old_houses.jpgIf you’ve ever owned an old house or even known someone who has, you know that the effort involved in keeping them going is huge. The process of fixing one thing usually leads to fixing something else and who even knows where to start when everything needs fixing in the first place? It's enough to make you jealous of Sisyphus and his boulder; at least he knew what was coming at the end of each day.

But old houses are filled with a personality and a feel that you simply can’t get with a new home and, for some, those characteristics far out-weigh the time and effort needed to keep these old warhorses afloat. But, there’s also no doubt that the process can be intimidating and, from time to time, overwhelming, even to the experienced builder. What should you tackle first? How will fixing this problem affect that other problem later on? Is that sagging old roof going to fall in on me while I’m sleeping? All these questions need answers, and thank the Lord for George Nash and his book, Renovating Old Houses, because he has all the answers.

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March 25, 2007

Taunton Books Arrive For Review

unbuilding.jpgTaunton Press, probably our favorite publishing house, has sent us a few books to review and we’re really looking forward to getting started in on them. The titles we’ll be reviewing are; Unbuilding: Salvaging the Architectural Treasures of Unwanted Houses, Setting Up Shop, and Outside the Not So Big House. Since we’re just about done with Renovating Old Houses, we’re hoping to get to these new books this week. We’re particularly excited about Unbuilding. How can we not love a book dedicated to scavenging, dismantling, and salvaging?

Unbuilding at
Setting up Shop at
Outside the Not So Big House at

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March 6, 2007

What we're reading right now...

renovating_old_houses.jpgAt the moment we've been chewing through George Nash's Renovating Old Houses and, so far, we're loving every minute of it. It's packed with useful information, whether you own an old house that needs immediate attention or a newer one that you just want to get better aquainted with. For the reader facing a renovation, the book educates on how to proiritize a renovation, the fiscal considerations, and, if you're not tackling it yourself, how to handle contractors and architects. If you are doing it yourself, this book has a lot of detailed information on what to do and how to do it.

There's plenty more, but we'll cover it all in a full review once we're finished.

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