Grain of Truth: The Ancient Lessons of Craft


187 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 1-55199-090-3
DDC C813'.54




Reviewed by Lisa Arsenault

Lisa Arsenault is an elementary-school teacher in Ajax, Ontario.


Grain of Truth is a poetic tribute to the craft of woodworking. The
author has an almost symbiotic relationship with wood. He views the
laying on of hands on this previously living material as being of
benefit to the craftsman’s soul. The material itself also benefits,
responding to a skilled touch by revealing its true grain, its lustre,
its unique scent, etc. This mutually beneficial relationship is summed
up in the play-on-words title.

The mystical connection between man and wood permeates even the
structure of the book. It is organized in eight chapters based on the
ancient symbols of Taoism. Each chapter describes a woodworking project
that best reflects that chapter’s symbol. As the process of completing
the project unfolds, from the germ of an idea to completion, connections
are made between the work and the essential eight elements (wind, earth,
fire, etc.). Occasionally, the author uses anecdotes from his own life
to reinforce the connection.

More a philosophical tract than an actual account of woodworking
techniques and finished products, Grain of Truth nevertheless reveals a
true connoisseur’s appreciation for this ancient craft. The book is
full of lyrical paeans such as this tribute to fir: “the fragrance of
open air, of suddenly emerging from the forest onto cliffs above the
ocean, that moment when you realize the depthless sky deeps going,
reaches out farther than you can see, and something in you acknowledges
your own unfathomable depth.” Sometimes this lyricism overreaches
itself, occasionally sacrificing clarity in the service of sonority, but
in the main the beauty of the language is the major attraction of
Laird’s book.


Laird, Ross A., “Grain of Truth: The Ancient Lessons of Craft,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 22, 2024,