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I knew nothing at all about woodcarving, so I decided to read this.

And this is a pretty good overview. Pye has written other books on the subject and doesn't want to repeat himself, so this doesn't go into much detail about things like 'what is a gouge' or 'how do I pick a piece of wood', but it goes through the broad process of woodcarving in a way that gives me an idea of how it works.

The book is organized by projects, with divagations into little technical questions such as how you should hold the wood so that you don't exert pressure on it in the wrong directions, and what are the most common student mistakes, and so forth. Each of his projects illustrates something about the act of woodcarving, not just a particular technique or tool, so that at the end of one he will talk about how this demonstrates why you should always keep a smooth surface as you go, or what this says about the ways you ought to think about woodgrain.

So it's not a manual for a beginner; he assumes you have tools and know what they are, he assumes you're beyond the very basics. But for a layperson it is a wonderful glimpse at the sort of thing it is possible to think about, after one has learned something about the craft-- unlike many intermediate crafts or trade books, this is clearly explained, not full of technical jargon, and handily illustrated with well-chosen images. It gives you enough about woodcarving to start to realize what questions to ask.

And his work is incredibly beautiful. One of his projects is a Tibetan Buddhist panel relief that is jaw-droppingly stunning, all the more because he seems to take it rather in passing, and he also does two really eerie Green Men and a quite good version of a Dürer drawing. All of them are shown at every possible stage of completion that could be helpful.

In short, this is exactly the kind of book that one is hoping for when one picks up something at random about a subject one knows nothing about: informative, enjoyable, the correct amount of technical, and charmingly written. I may look up his other stuff.


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