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I have a bunch of those Reader’s Digest and Time-Life build, repair, and maintain handyman books. Way before MAKE and before the internet became an on-demand learning source for just about anything (back when the alt.science.repair USENET FAQ was the best resource out there), these sorts of books were a godsend if you wanted to learn the basics on building a deck, tiling a bathroom, fixing your own appliances.

Back to Shop Class: Metal Working ($19.95. Fox Chapel) reminds me a lot of those books. It has similar handsome, well-designed graphics and it holds your hand tightly through the process of learning basic metalworking skills. These skills include basic tool use and metal shop set up, safety practices, soldering, welding, forging, shaping, and cutting. The book is well-written, and reading it, I learned a lot (I knew basically nothing about metalworking beforehand). But this book suffers from the same problem those handyman books did. You end up with way more questions than satisfying answers and you don’t really learn any one thing adequately enough to be able to do much that’s useful. If you try to do any metalworking projects based on the instructions here — well, there just isn’t enough material — all of the above listed skills, and more, are covered in 135 pages.

What books like this are good at is giving you an overview of a discipline; in informing you of what you need to learn (learning to learn). You’re familiarized with all of the tools, the techniques, the nomenclature, and armed with that, you can determine what you’re interested in and where you need to delve deeper. Now with the web, there are tons of resources on each of these subjects. In fact, you don’t really need a book like this at all. But for those of use who still appreciate dead tree editions, this is a decent introduction to this skill set. I, for one, am happy to have it on my shelf alongside my other handyman guides.

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Count me in, I love flipping through old books and manuals like that.  I have a stack of “The Family Handyman” magazines from the 70s and 80s that I rescued from someone’s recycling bin and a copy of Popular Science The Best of Do-It-Yourself, published in 1988.  It’s really fun to read the articles and see how much things have changed, but more so how much they haven’t.  Lots of the techniques, materials and methods in thsee articles are the same as what you see in current books and articles.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I just paíd $20.87 for an íPad 2.64GB and my boyfriend loves his Panasoníc Lumíx GF 1 Cámera that we got for $38.79 there arriving tomorrow by UP S.I will never pay such expensive retail príces in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LCD T V to my boss for $657 which only cost me $62.81 to buy.
    Here is the website we use to get it all from,BidsBit.com

  3. Anonymous says:

    I just paíd $20.87 for an íPad 2.64GB and my boyfriend loves his Panasoníc Lumíx GF 1 Cámera that we got for $38.79 there arriving tomorrow by UP S.I will never pay such expensive retail príces in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LCD T V to my boss for $657 which only cost me $62.81 to buy.
    Here is the website we use to get it all from,BidsBit.com

  4. Anonymous says:

    I just paíd $20.87 for an íPad 2.64GB and my boyfriend loves his Panasoníc Lumíx GF 1 Cámera that we got for $38.79 there arriving tomorrow by UP S.I will never pay such expensive retail príces in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LCD T V to my boss for $657 which only cost me $62.81 to buy.
    Here is the website we use to get it all from,BidsBit.com

  5. Jay Arrrr says:

    The sad thing is, I *DID* learn how to do that stuff in High School. Learned how to operate a Linotype machine and a power press, too.
    School corporation lawyers and insurance companies won’t allow that kind of stuff today.