Understanding Wood Finishing is aptly titled. Unlike most books I have read on wood finishing, Flexner's work gives a great deal of attention to understanding the subject. Other books I have read, including one of my favorites, Finishing Methods of Work, are compilations of methods and instructions. Flexner explains the mechanics of the finishes instead of just the properties and dogmatized applications. Make no mistake, he provides instructions on those areas as well, but he leaves the reader with an understanding of the products that will allow him or her to improvise with a high likelihood of success.
Another strength this book has is the classification he provides of many finishing products. I especially appreciate the breakdown of "oil" finishes, an area of consternation for many woodfinishers. This arrangement allows Flexner to provide more accurate definitions and instructions for application than if he had grouped them all together.
Furthermore, Flexner provides troubleshooting sections for most chapters covering various finish types. As a bonus for beginners, many of the problems are well illustrated with vivid photographs (vivid photographs and illustrations being commonplace throughout the entire book). The problem is always accompanied by at least one potential problem and at least one potential solution, giving the wood worker a number of options. There are also photos of examples the author has prepared to show the difference in different finishes and techniques. In some pictures, he'll divide one board into four sections and apply a different finish to each as a demonstration of the end result, a handy teaching aid to those who haven't been around the wood finishing block
I, for one, do not see the "bias" some have claimed Flexner holds against certain finishes. Almost everything he has written about certain finishes, I have seen echoed by other authors. Perhaps his succinct presentation of pros and cons makes it look like he's bashing certain finishes.
Still, at 300-some hardbound pages, this isn't exactly a "handbook" that one could slip into his or her apron pocket--barring the possibility of a very large pocket...or a very large apron. My suggestion to purchasers of this book is to study the book and write down an action plan on a pocket notepad. It would be easier and safer than to lug this thing around a finishing area.
The book certainly focuses on finishing for furniture manufacture, which is fine if that happens to be the reader's area of interest, but I happen to be more interested in small projects like gun stocks. This leaves my needs as a bit of an afterthought in the autor's mind. Still, a small price to pay for an excellent resource.
I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in getting into wood finishing. It is never too technical nor is it too remedial. Flexner expertly blends science and experience so his readers can reap a windfall of beautiful finishes.