Is there anything more fun than starting a review with disclaimer? I consider Charles Neil a friend. Although we never met in person, we have had numerous chats on the phone and I even interviewed him in the Guild. I also wrote the Foreword to his finishing book which is the subject of this review. That said, if I didn’t like the book I would have just kept my mouth shut. The fact that this review exists is, in fact, something of an implied endorsement by itself.
Charles Neil’s Finishing, Simply Put, is a 231-page wealth of information. I think one of the best ways to describe it is a “brain dump.” Charles is a guy who has extensive years of experience in the finishing world and probably finishes more projects in a month than I’ll finish this year. He has so many tips and tricks (as well as unique perspectives) that it would be a shame not to capture that information in this format for the world to benefit from. I had a feeling that’s what I would find in this book and I wasn’t disappointed. Another way to describe the book is a “missing manual.” In other words, a book that goes between the lines of the other books on the market, cutting right to the chase and filling in blanks.
The book immediately caught my attention by starting with a frank discussion about finishing preparation. Charles is a big believer in thinking about the finish before and during the build, not just after. This finish-focused approach to the building process sets the stage for a successful project. He then dives into blotch control, color treatments, chemical stains, application methods, sealers, defects, and rubbing out. The book closes with a very pleasant surprise: advice on setting up indoor and outdoor finishing areas. As someone who typically finishes in his driveway, this was very much appreciated.
The book is self-published by Charles and is wire-bound. The front and back pages are laminated which is great for a book that is likely going to end up in the shop on your finishing bench. The pictures are large and plentiful, which is extremely important in a finishing book.
Another important aspect of the book comes from the subtitle: “No Chemistry Degree Required.” If you ever saw one of Charles’ woodworking videos, you know he has a very no-nonsense style of teaching. And he isn’t one to over-complicate things with industry jargon. That core piece of Charles’ personality comes shining through in this book. At no point did I feel bogged down with chemical terms and because of that, the book is very approachable. It also helps that the book is unapologetically written in a pleasant conversational style. Frankly, the entire time I read the book I was reading it in Charles’ voice. I’m doing my best Charles impression right now but you won’t be able to appreciate it.
So is this book a solid replacement for other well-known finishing books on the market? Well, that depends. If you find traditional finishing books from folks like Jewitt and Flexner to be difficult to read or they simply don’t keep your interest, this is probably the finishing book for you. Even though it’s jam-packed with information, at no point does it seem daunting.
What if you already have one of the traditional finishing books sitting on your shelf? Is this book worth the purchase? Yes, I believe so. The reason goes back to what I said earlier in that this is more like a missing manual that cuts to the chase. In many ways, this book starts where others leaves off. So I feel it will also serve as an excellent supplement to existing finishing books that might already be in your collection.
Finishing, Simply Put, is packed full of the kind of information you might eventually absorb if you spent a few years working in a finishing shop. I don’t have that kind of time on my hands so I’ll read this book instead.
You can purchase the book directly on Charles Neil’s website. Happy finishing!