Other than building a house, few projects are as satisfying to the dedicated do-it-yourselfer as making furniture.
Whether the project is a simple outdoor bench or an elaborate dining room hutch, homemade furniture often is superior in material and workmanship to mass-produced items -- and a lot less expensive.
Two new books on making furniture that could become family heirlooms are highly recommended: Draft of Furniture Making by David Johnston (Charles Scribner's Sons, 12.95) and The Book of Furniture Making by Alf Martenson (St. Martin's Press, $15.)
Johnston's book is an ideal primer for the amateur who's just getting into furniture making or is curious about whether he or she has the patience and ability to turn out a table or chair.
Johnson deals extensively in the characteristics and choice of woods, selection and use of tools and construction techniques, including cutting joints and gluing. His chapters on cutting mortise-and-tenon and dovetail joints with hand tools are outstanding. And there's a welcome chapter devoted to correcting the craftsman's mistakes.
"This book was written by an amateur for amateurs," Johnson writes. "It is not a complete woodworking or cabinet-making manual, but is an attempt to explain what the amateur needs to know in order to produce good quality furniture using only hand tools."
Although he does not give detailed plans, Johnston describes some beautiful pieces he has made (with materials lists), including a record cabinet, teak sideboard and inlaid African mahogany table. He does give detailed plans for a workshop bench.
Martenson also covers woodworking techniques and he gives detailed instructions for building many pieces for every room in the house.
Martenson's indoor projects range from toothbrush holders to beds to a huge dining room table. If you're becoming a little dismayed over the cost and short life of today's mass-produced outdoor furniture, take a look at Martenson's folding picnic tables and benches, put together with brass screws and bolts. The same for his attractive outdoor planters.
It would be possible to furnish an entire house, including the kitchen, nursery and workshop, from Martenson's projects. There's even a living room sofa with a storage chest underneath and plans for a baby bed, playpen, highchair and doll house.