Meta Shop Class as Soulcraft Book Review and Book Repair How-To

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I recently picked up a great book from a used bookstore. Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford is a fabulous book about what it means to be a person who works with their hands. Ironically, before I was finished, the hardcover edition from Penguin Books began to fall apart. So much for quality construction! A large section came loose in the middle, and then became completely detached from the spine. I’m faced with one of the modern dilemmas that Crawford points out in his book. Do I keep reading the book, letting it slowly fall completely apart? Do I simply throw it away and buy another copy? Or, maybe download an electronic version to my smart phone, perhaps? No, Dammit! I will fix it!

A decline in tool use would seem to betoken a shift in our mode of inhabiting the world: more passive and more dependent. And indeed, there are fewer occasions for the kind of spiritedness that is called forth when we take things in hand for ourselves, whether to fix them or to make them. What ordinary people once made, they buy; and what they once fixed for themselves, they replace entirely or hire an expert to repair, whose expert fix often involves installing a pre-made replacement part.


Well Mr. Crawford… I, for one, am not willing to be passive and dependent. I’m all about the tool use, even when it comes to my reading habits! Luckily, my mother was a public school librarian, and I watched her repair plenty of books back in “the olden days.” There are just a few simple tricks to it, so if you have a favorite book at home that has seen better days, you can try this at home!

First, let me talk just a bit more about the book I’m repairing. It’s definitely a title I would recommend highly to any reader of HomeFixated. As someone who is lucky enough to actually teach a shop class, I can’t say enough about how important it is to a young person’s outlook and self esteem to have at least a minimal understanding of how to use tools and repair things. I think we lose a lot of our humanity when we deny the importance of working with our hands. Crawford point out:

This book is concerned less with economics than it is with the experience of making things and fixing things. I also want to consider what is at stake when such experiences recede from our common life. How does this affect the prospects for full human flourishing? Does the use of tools answer to some permanent requirement of our nature? Arguing for a renewed cultivation of manual competence puts me at odds with certain nostrums surrounding work and consumption, so this book is in part a cultural polemic. I mean to clarify the origins of, and thereby interrogate, those assumptions that lull us into accepting as inevitable, or even desirable, our increasing manual disengagement.


Now, let’s get back to the project at hand, how to repair a book. The single most important thing to consider is the glue that you choose. To really do it right, you need some archival quality glue. This means that it has neutral pH. Elmer’s Glue-All is okay, but if it is a book you really care about, you might want to drop eight bucks on some book-binding glue. Elmer’s has a pH of about 5, and over time the acid in it might discolor. The same holds true for most PVA glues. The pH scale ranges from 1 to 14, with 7 considered to be neutral. A pH less than 7 is said to be acidic and solutions with a pH greater than 7 are base or alkaline.


The process for repairing the book is very simple. After applying the glue along the detached section of the spine, wipe away any squeeze-out to prevent it from making the pages hard to turn. Make sure all of the loose sections are perfectly aligned. You can use big rubber bands, clamps, or just lay the book flat and stack some bigger, heavier books on top of it. Done carefully, the book should be as good (or better) than new!


After reading (and repairing) Shop Class As Soulcraft, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a fantastically inspiring book. And properly repaired, I can loan it out to friends for years to come without worrying about the book losing its pages. Pick it up in a variety of forms for about $10-$20 on Amazon.

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About Rich

Rich Dana loves to build things, to tinker on things, and to grow things. After more than a decade as a historic building remodeler in Brooklyn, New York, he and his wife Ericka moved to their back-to-the-land dream home (and fixer-uper nightmare), an 1870s farmhouse on 15 acres in eastern Iowa that they call “Catnip Farm.” For the last 18 years, Rich has specialized in super-efficient historical renovations and solar PV installation. He is working to convert much of the farm into perennial food crops like nut trees and berries, and he helps Ericka out with her heirloom seed project. His latest passion is learning to sew.

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