Day: August 7, 2019
So, you have your woodworking shop all set up. Your tools are all in place. Well, most of the tools. Naturally, there are always others you wish you had. (Get used to that feeling because the desire for that one more tool never goes away). You have a nice supply of different types of wood on hand. You have taken the safety lectures to heart. In short, you have done everything I suggested in this blog.
Then you moved on to the projects I outlined here. You built the gravity-defying wine rack, the sofa arm sleeve and cup holder, and the desktop organizer. You are about to experience a strange feeling. You will look at these pieces and feel both pride and a strange yearning for more. It’s a desire to continue creating things in your shop that are more awe-inspiring, more satisfying than anything you’ve built before. You have become addicted to woodworking in a way you never expected.
So, where do you go from here? How do you take your woodworking hobby a step higher? That’s a tricky question, and it may take a bit of soul-searching on your part to find the right answer but let me suggest a couple of paths you might consider.
The mark of a really well-built piece of wood furniture or cabinetry is that to the average person looking at it, there don’t appear to be any brackets or screws or nails holding it together. It is seemingly just pieces of wood that are extensions of each other with no reason to remain mated. Yet, there they are. There are many methods used to create hidden joinery. Mortise and Tenon, Biscuit joints and pocket screws are three of the most popular because they are effective, not difficult, and fairly quick to accomplish.
I have spent a lifetime honing the skills to make seamless joints between two pieces of wood, and I’m pretty good at it. But there is always someone better. I once met a furniture and cabinetry-maker in Costa Rica who has elevated the skill of building furniture without using any fasteners. His pieces are master works of mortise and tenon, bridles, laps, dados, and other joints that are all invisible on the finished product. He is a true woodworking artist.
Sometimes you want that joint to be visible. For example, if you are mating two very different types of wood together to create a striking visual pattern, you want the transition to be obvious, yet seamless. Dovetails are a perfect example. Mortise and tenon and bridle joints can also become part of the visible design. Often, these visible joinery methods can add complexity and character to what would otherwise be a fairly plain-looking design.
The key to creating perfect joints is patience. Take your time planning, measuring, cutting, and refining your elements. Perfect dovetails like in the image above aren’t created in a “New York Minute”. This example required planning, measuring, gluing, more measuring, cutting, filing, sanding, more gluing, more sanding, and finishing. Impatience could have ruined the piece at any step in the process.
A ballerina spends hundreds of hours practicing to bring a role to life on stage for two hours. A bodybuilder spends hours in the gym every day for years to be able to compete on stage for two minutes. A photographer takes hundreds of pictures to produce one marketable image. What makes you think you can just walk into your shop and create perfection without practicing?
Great joinery technique doesn’t just happen. Unless you are a natural-born woodworking savant, the very first dovetail joint you create isn’t going to be something you’re proud of. These things take time and practice to perfect. If you walk in to your shop one day wanting to create something, but you just don’t have any great ideas, don’t despair. Head for your little stash of wood scraps and practice. This is something you can do without spending a dime. It will improve your skills exponentially with very little effort. My mantra for learning how to do something right is this; Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.
Creating beautiful projects in a woodworking shop is no different than any effort that requires specialized skills and techniques. You can’t wander into your shop once every couple of months and expect to create beauty. Be willing to spend significant amounts of time paying attention to the finer details of everything you make. Many projects require far more time sanding and finishing than building. I know, sanding is probably the most tedious aspect of any project. But it can also be the difference between an okay job and a great one.
Woodworking is about more than just cranking out a large volume of pieces. That’s why we have factories. The time you spend in your shop is your time. It is meant to be enjoyable. I don’t want to get too mystical here, but I often find that shop time helps me keep a healthy perspective on the rest of life.
When you just started down your path as a woodworker, you found it hard to spend big bucks in the best equipment. After all, every saw cuts wood, right? But at some point, in your journey through this amazing hobby, you realize that there is really a difference. The higher quality tools have sturdier designs which means they can cut that piece of wood with greater accuracy. They will also last longer, eliminating the need to buy the same tool again.
Think of your tools as an investment that will pay off in three important ways. Top-end tools will retain their resale value for a long time. But, more importantly, they will return the money invested in them by making your woodworking projects come out better. That increases your personal satisfaction in the project which is, in fact, the whole point of woodworking.
By engaging with me on JoineryPlans you are already taking your woodworking hobby to the next level. You are seeking knowledge and community among fellow woodworkers. That’s the best way to step up your game. I learn something every time I go online to connect with others who share my interest. I often just look at images of woodworking projects to get ideas. I study the joining techniques I see in images and use that information to develop my own styles.
I hang out at the local lumber yards. I wander through furniture stores looking for ideas. I scan home décor magazines and DIY TV shows. I never stop learning. Most importantly, I never stop Doing.