While I sit here and dream of building furniture and working wood for a living, after January I am glad I don’t rely on it to put food on my table.
This was a tricky one for me.
It seemed that every board I used was from the weakest
Shoe bench made for a friend to replace flat pack failure.
part of the tree and split. Or the cuts I made didn’t make sense even if I was using the wrong measurement systems or any other myriad of things that could go wrong.
But I finished it.
And it looks good.
And it’s solid.
My #1 rule of woodworking is to build something that will outlast me. The #2 rule is that is has to look good. This piece nails both of those rules.
A few months ago (far too many) a friend of mine asked me to take a look at a piece of flat pack furniture they bought that didn’t go together right and promptly broke. They lived with a shoddy piece of furniture for 3 years at that point and finally called for help.
The flat pack was beyond help. Everywhere the screws were supposed to pull joints together were broken, the laminate sheets were already failing and the drawers were a rough-housing away from disintegrating. I had to be the doctor and declare the piece DOD…Dead on Design.
Flat pack either goes right or it doesn’t. When it goes right, it’ll last maybe 5 years before it needs to be replaced, which is just perfect for our trendy culture. When it goes wrong, it falls apart as you assemble it and you have to spend hours boxing it back up, returning it and re-assembling the new one and that is the biggest travesty. The time wasted.
Instead, I spent a few hours and made Janie a replica of what she bought that will last beyond her lifetime…something that is lost on our current society. Lifetime furniture. I didn’t invent a new gadget, I didn’t find some killer app that will let Janie waste away her days mindlessly tapping at a screen but I hope I gave her something her kids and grand-kids will fight over.
This is a question I get asked on a fairly regular basis. When I told my Dad I had sold off my power tools (extensive collection of a radial arm saw and a table saw), he asked how’d I’d ever get any work done and how I’d make anything square or decent.
Yet for a vast majority of recorded and all of unrecorded history, woodworking was done with hand tools. First stones then varying metals throughout the ages. Many tools were made of wood themselves (wedges, planes, mallets) and all of them were powered using muscle and expertise.
That connection to the past, when furniture was utilitarian and often served more than one purpose. A dining table might have had storage underneath for cutlery and plates. A chair would have had slots on the back to hold candles. Barring furniture meant for the upper classes, it was simple and to the point.
And each maker had their own style that came through. Now, you go to furniture stores and the only difference you see between brands is the name on the price tag. There is no difference between those items and the ones you find in Target or Wal-Mart. Many are even made in the same factory by underpaid workers in China and with modern plastics, it is offen impossible to tell the difference between wood and plastic at first glance.
With every cut I make, I reach back hundreds of years and pull knowledge back into the present. I don’t try to replicate woodworking from then, modern lumber, tools and customers are different, but I do learn from them.
Ultimately, working with hand tools gives me an incredible satisfaction. Using my muscles to push steel through wood allows me to learn about each board, where it was in the tree, how wet it still in, how fast it grew. With hand tools you have to closely work with the wood; with machines you force the wood into shapes.
There are times where I’ll finish a project and have to think of the next one or have other projects to complete around the house and it takes me a few days to get back into the shop. These times always find me itching to get back into the shop to create something, even if I don’t have a clue what to create or the funds to get the lumber.
So I’ll putter into the shop and grab a scrap piece of wood and, usually, a chisel and start going to town just screwing around with it just to see if I can make a certain shape or a mortise or who knows what. Ultimately, I go to bed unsatisfied and longing for more time in the shop.
Thankfully, recently I got some extra money and purchased some supplies for shop projects to fill this time. I always need another drawer for tools or to start on a tool cabinet and now, after I finish The Ugly Box (post to come on this one), I’ll have more than enough lumber to get me through until I need to get my next project going.
Hopefully one that makes me some money.
The first post of a new blog is intimidating. You don’t have a routine down, you don’t have old articles to build off and you feel the pressing need to do better than Shakespeare.
Kinda like building stuff.
Hell, I’m 20-odd projects into what I hope is a long career and I still get paralyzed with fear before starting a new project. “Can’t screw up”, “other people will have better ideas than me”, “I can’t possibly make anything interesting and unique.”
Well, you know what: I can and that’s ok, they will and that’s ok, and I’m dead wrong.
Since I started woodworking about 18 months ago I’ve made tons of things that, while I can see where’s I do it differently, they’re all still interesting to me. From my first coffee table held together using pocket screws to the tv Stand I just built using no glue or screws, each piece is some small part of where I was at in my career then.
So I’ll be here, sharing what I can so that you can stop saying: “nah, I could never do that because………”