learnin’

I thought it would be interesting for me and my nonexistent readers if I reflected a bit on some resources that I have found helpful in trying to become a better woodworker.

Online learning resources and videos have been invaluable in helping me figure out stuff. When I was in my just-watching-videos phase, I watched a lot by The Wood Whisperer. And by “a lot,” I mean I have watched pretty much Marc’s entire catalog of free content. Recently I joined The Wood Whisperer Guild by purchasing a set of instructional videos on building a large outdoor table. The instructor for this course was Matt Cremona and, although my mostly hand tool approach differs from Marc and Matt, I really enjoyed Matt’s instruction style and got a lot out of the series.

Speaking of hand tools, after I realized that I wanted to work with mostly non-electron burning equipment, I shifted a lot of my focus to content about this type of approach. Oddly enough, or maybe not oddly at all, my favorites in this area happen to be English woodworkers. I watch every free video Paul Sellers puts out, if only to watch him work so effortlessly. I also heavily relied on his approach to restoring old hand planes as an affordable method to add some needed tools to my kit. If I had to pick a favorite online instructor, it would have to be Richard Maguire, AKA The English Woodworker. I have watched all of his free content as well as purchased a few of his classes, including one on making an English-style workbench and on sharpening. I love his approach and his penchant for using English swear words that I have to google to understand.


Books also play an important part in my beginning education, particularly a couple from Lost Art Press: The Anarchist’s Tool Chest by Christopher Schwarz and The Essential Woodworker by Robert Wearing. I want to write reviews of both of these books at some point so I will not go into them too much here, but both have been helpful in different ways. I really enjoy Chris Schwarz’s writing style, which I was introduced to at the Lost Art Press blog (and this blog too). Informed by research and historical examples, his book focuses on the smallish kit a hand tool woodworker actually needs. Wearing’s book is aimed at hand tool woodworkers without access to a formal teacher. It’s just downright awesome. I honestly feel it explains how to flatted a board with a hand plane better than any video I have ever watched. Wearing is a true teacher with the talent to translate that skill to the written word. That’s a rare skill (e.g.: every textbook ever).

The hand tool box making class I took in 2014, which I mentioned in my first post, was the single most important thing so far in my early journey as a woodworker. The instructor’s name was Ken and he looked kinda like Sam Elliot (but didn’t appreciate me yelling “Hell’s coming with me!!” all the time). The class was held in a horribly lit middle school shop, but the surroundings and my constant desire for a Coors didn’t stop me from loving every minute of the class. Ken taught us to sharpen and how to properly use chisels, saws, and files. He even let us use his Lie Nielsen dovetail saw (which I couldn’t even get started at first). He demonstrated the sound wood makes when it is planed with the gain as opposed to against. That blew my mind! We had tea breaks, a tradition I keep up in my own shop. He showed me that woodworking can be a quiet, relaxing, artistic endeavor. As a librarian with a natural fear of loud noises, I liked that a lot.

Experience is, or course, the greatest teacher of all. I try to get as much of that as I can even if the project is not all that woodworky. For example, we are currently in the process of turning a small space in our house into what my wife calls the “Kardashian Closet.” This glorious manifestation of our selfishness needs some wide shelves. I could use plywood and be done with it, but I’m using poplar boards instead so I can get more experience making panels, something to date I have not exactly hit out of the park. It has also given me a chance to experiment adding a bit more power into my woodworking lineup, like a miter saw, trim router, and biscuit joiner. As much as I enjoy DIY, I hope to work in more woodworking projects in the near future because, no matter how much I watch and read, I do not truly see improvement unless I do. And I still need a proper workbench…

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origin

Every superhero has an origin story. I am no different, other than I do not exactly qualify as a superhero (unless the ability to eat my weight in Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies counts as a super power). I started my woodworking journey in 2013 when I built some simple cedar planter boxes for our apartment balcony with my dad in his shop. Until that point I mostly watched videos on building stuff. I know it seems silly, but those planters really flipped a switch for me. I designed them (took a chance and went rectangular), made the decision on pocket hole joinery (don’t judge), and did most of the cutting and assembly. They went together, they looked pretty good, they did not fall apart… I was hooked. The problem was, except on weekends when went home to visit my parents, I didn’t really have any tools and certainly didn’t have a shop in which to put them in. So, I was back to watching videos. Even worse, my planter boxes stood sentry outside my sliding glass door, mocking me.

The following stir-crazy filled winter, my wife bought me a birthday present in the form of a woodworking class taught through the local adult education program. There were two to pick from: one on building a step-stool with power tools and one building a dovetailed box using only hand tools. I went with the hand tool class because I thought that was a more apartment-friendly direction. I was hesitant to do anything too noisy or dusty on my second floor balcony despite the fact that my neighbor insisted on playing his mandolin and singing horribly on his balcony quite often.

During the second session of the class, I was paring away waste between my poorly cut dovetails when the instructor said that the class was almost over. I looked up from my work, eyes adjusting to the dimly lit middle school shop. How could class be almost over? To add a bit of context here, I am not one to get really absorbed in things, especially when it is after a long day at my day job. No, in normal circumstances I would have been counting the minutes before I got to go home and would wait to try the things I learned on a day off. But not this night. Something about the action of the sharp blade on the wood, the ability to create a well defined shape using nothing but a chisel, the quiet progress… I didn’t want to stop.

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My dovetailed box. I call him Gappy. 

I took the plunge and started buying some hand tools of my own. My workbench was a rickety folding table and “shop” time was sometimes cut short because of snow, rain, or the singing neighbor (seriously, a damn mandolin?!?), but I managed to get some stuff built. I finished my box and built a milkman’s workbench to help my work holding situation a bit. In 2015 we were lucky enough to move into a house of our own, where I now have pretty much taken over our one-car garage as a cluttered, dark, but otherwise wonderful and mandolinless shop. Making improvements to our house takes up a lot of my spare time but I have built a few cutting/cheese boards and a small bathroom cabinet as I try to improve my fledgling woodworking skills (maybe one day they will be skillz?) while making things for my family.

I am writing this blog for a few reasons. One is I miss blogging. I used to have one focused on librarianship and archives and miss the act of writing how I want to write (referencing 80’s movies, cursing, bad parenthetical humor, etc.). The other is, I want to make sure I can look back. It is awesome if you stumble across this blog and find it interesting, but to be honest it is more for me and my desire to document my progress, my projects, and my woodworking thoughts. Maybe someday I will look back on these initial posts and laugh at what little I knew as I contemplate building my next kick­ass highboy (whatever the hell that is). But, for right now at least, I am content to try to make stuff good enough to put in our home.