The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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What Have I Learned?


I’ve checked the woodworking archives and it seems that I’m coming up on somewhat of a milestone in my brief career. Next month, January, will be the three-year anniversary of my first furniture project, a bookcase. I’m not really sure of the exact day I started but I do have an actual photograph dated 1/27/10 which is when I brought the case out of the garage and placed it in the house. I like to think that I’ve improved a great deal since then. I’ve completed quite a few different projects since the bookcase, taken several classes and read many books, put together a decent set of tools, and started this blog. It got me to thinking about the way my perceptions have changed, and today I literally wondered out loud what exactly have I learned about woodworking in these past few years; so I came up with a list, in no particular order, of some of the things I’ve picked up along the way. So here goes….

The majority of hobbyist woodworkers seem to be upper-middle class conservative men from the midwest belonging to the baby boomer generation.

I’ve come to this conclusion via several different routes. The baby boomer part is easy. Every woodworking event and tool show I’ve ever been to has been dominated in attendance by men ages roughly 50-70, and the comment boards on most woodworking forums also support my conclusion. As far as the midwest part, I can only guess because I don’t have any hard figures to go by but judging by the commentors and contributors to woodworking magazines, blogs, and forums I see quite a bit of addresses from the midwest, say Ohio to Colorado. I could be wrong but this is my conclusion. Now I have nothing against this group, it’s just that…..nevermind….

I really like making Arts and Crafts Furniture

When I first started woodworking I had little knowledge of different furniture styles. I would say that three years ago the only style I really could tell by eye Queen Anne, and that was because we had looked at so many dining sets. I knew of Shaker, and some of the off shoots of the Arts and Crafts style such as Mission, but my eye was still untrained. Now, my eye is still untrained but I am much better at identifying furniture. Something always drew me back to Arts and Crafts. Maybe it was the clean lines and sturdy look. Whatever it is, I like how it looks, I love making it, and it really goes well in my house. If I make only one type of furniture from now til the day I stop woodworking it will be Arts and Crafts.

Veritas/Lee Valley is the best all around production tool company and woodworking hardware dealer.

I’m sure that many people will disagree with this, but I have to give credit where it’s due. Veritas has an excellent line of premium planes and woodworking hand tools. Everything I’ve ever ordered from them came in quickly, was extremely well made, and worked exactly as advertised. Their prices are as good or better than other comparable manufacturers and their tools almost always receive rave reviews. Lee Valley offers a great line of hardware and woodworking tools from other lines and provides great customer service. I’m not running down the other top makers, they do a nice job too. It’s just that Veritas seems to do it a little bit better.

Don’t ever go on the Lost Art Press blog and disagree with Chris Schwarz

If you’ve ever done this then I don’t need to explain it. If you’ve never disagreed with the Generalissimo and might be thinking about doing it I’ll warn you to think twice. Be prepared to be gang tackled by Schwarz’s Stormtroopers and have them point out that you know next to nothing and that the Generalissimo is never wrong. In fact, don’t even mildly disagree, cause Schwarz himself may have to correct you, put the dunce hat on your head, and put you in a corner for a time out. I still do visit the Lost Art Press blog because I do agree with Schwarz a good amount of the time. However! If I don’t agree I keep it to myself, and let’s be blunt, that’s how fascists like it isn’t it?

The New Yankee Workshop is still the best woodworking television program.

This is another one that some will probably disagree with but I won’t be swayed. TNYW was and is still the only woodworking show where the guy actually made furniture, and that is my main criteria for calling yourself a woodworking show. I like the Woodwrights Shop but Roy rarely actually builds something, his show is more about technique than furniture making. That certainly has a big place in woodworking, but it’s not always fun to watch. The other woodworking shows on TV do actually show furniture, but you never really see anybody building it. You may see a guy chop a mortise into a table leg on his mortising machine, next scene he is standing next to a finished table. No offense, but I want to see some actual woodworking when I’m watching a woodworking show. In my area I get The Woodwrights Shop, The Woodsmith Shop, Rough Cut with Tommy Mac, and Scott Philips show. They all have their merits, but Norm’s show was the best, sorry, it just was.

Hand tool woodworkers and Power tool woodworkers really do hate each other.

I’m still trying to get a firm grasp on this one and I just can’t figure out why anybody cares. But somebody does care because chances are if you go on a woodworking forum of some kind you will eventually run in to a hand tool/power tool argument. I can’t seem to put a finger on what each group represents. Is it Socialism vs Capitalism? The long road vs the quick and easy? Good vs Evil? In my mind I usually group the hand tool camp with hippie socialists and the power tool camp with the red blooded American man. The funny thing is that I’m finding most hand tool hobbyists are in the upper middle class conservative group I mentioned earlier in the blog and that a good percentage of the power tool only group are woodworkers who are sometimes younger or at least have less disposable income for a large collection of hand tools. So that is my dilemma. Personally, I’ve always believed myself a hybrid woodworker who uses both types of tools. In some woodworkers eyes I am betraying each group. I don’t care really. I like how I do things.

Sharpening is not my idea of a good time.

I’ve truly gotten better at sharpening but I honestly can’t stand it. The good news is that I’ve gotten much better and have finally settled on one method. I will admit that if I could afford a Tormek I would get one tomorrow, but that is another story. My one hope is that the more I sharpen the easier my tools will be to sharpen. Unfortunately I just don’t have the time to do it every day. If I don’t set my smoothing plane just right I get plane tracks and it’s not because the plane isn’t alligned properly, it’s because I can’t get the camber how I like it. I have bench grinder but I will never let it near my tools. After everything I’ve learned sharpening is the one thing that is still holding me back.

It’s OKAY to use plywood.

When I first began woodworking I had the notion that I will never use plywood to do anything but make a case back or drawer bottom. Don’t ask me why because I don’t know. Maybe I considered it cheating, or too easy, or an affront to all things wood. But back in the summer I nearly had to give up on a project that I had worked long and hard on because of warp. I decided to give plywood a try for my latest bookcase project and boy am I glad that I did. Not only is the plywood stable, it looks great too. I can cut it to any length or width I need for much of the woodworking I do, and it’s available in many different species. Even better is it opens up the world of veneer. I’ve decided that for any large case type project plywood will be the only way to go for me, and that has eased my mind greatly.

Looking back I can see that I left a lot out, and I can also see that I have a lot to learn. Here’s hoping that the next three years lead to greater things, more knowledge, more projects, more tools, more blog entries, and a lot fewer mistakes. One thing for sure is that I’m glad I started writing this blog. It has helped my woodworking greatly and introduced me to some really great people. So I hope that whoever reads this blog has enjoyed it. I have a ton to write about, I have even more to rant about, and I really can’t wait to get at it. So thank you all!

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15 Comments

  1. Maybe not perfect, but dam’d near spot on IMO.

  2. lsvop says:

    You guys in America are having it real good. I’m in Singapore (which is not part of China) where woodworking is not a common hobby, and I have to do it on my own with no TV shows, no classes and no woodworking friends to glean anything from. I was in Cleveland for 10 weeks in 2008 and I found nothing relevent to woodworking on TV, maybe except for the podium that Obama stood on during the presidential campaign. And I got to pay crazy amounts for shipping to get anything from Rockler and Lee Valley. You woodworkers in America are really lucky.

    By the way, I’m 35.

    • billlattpa says:

      I agree. There are some professional woodworkers in this country who try to scare other woodworkers by telling them that the woodworking hobby is in danger of becoming irrelevant or even dissappearing. I think that is complete nonsense. We have more access to top quality woodworking tools and machinery, magazines, and television programs and videos than ever before in history. You can order a premium quality tool and have it delivered to your door within a week for the most part. Many larger hardware stores and book stores carry a good selection of woodworking books and magazines. There are several excellent lumber dealers within an hour drive of my home. So I will be the last to argue that American woodworkers aren’t fortunate.
      Like I said though, there are some who will tell you the opposite. The only thing I would say is that like everywhere else it seems, woodworking is an expensive hobby regardless of where you are from.

  3. Jonas Jensen says:

    Really well written.
    Brgds
    Jonas

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks Jonas! It’s good to see you here again! I hope all is well and have a great holiday season if I don’t get to chance to talk to you before then.
      Bill

      • Jonas Jensen says:

        I just signed on yesterday, so the holiday is 5 weeks from now. So that leaves me with some time to read woodworking blogs etc.
        All the best
        Jonas

  4. dabcan says:

    Must agree with just about everything you have up there. I too don’t understand the hand tool/power tool rift, but I guess everyone has their opinions…

    • billlattpa says:

      The hand tool/power tool war used to piss me off a little, now I think it’s kind of funny. Some of the comments you see on the blogs and forums are ridiculous. My only issue with it is that while I think everybody is entitled to an informed opinion, that doesn’t give you the right to get nasty. If you wan’t to get nasty you should save that for face to face. Thanks.

      • dabcan says:

        It’s funny because I do a lot of photography and there is the same thing there but with film vs. digital. These people seem to take the arguments overly personal, as if you are against them if you don’t share their view on photography, ridiculous…

      • billlattpa says:

        I don’t ever think I’ll ever truly understand the debate but I do have some ideas that I’ll share once I get them coherent enough. My philosophy on woodworking is pretty simple: If you are a hoobyist, woodwork in a way that makes you happy. If you are a professional, woodwork in a way that makes you money.
        Bill

  5. Jonas Jensen says:

    Hi Bill.
    Just remembered the 4th ammendment to the woodworking constitution. As per your description above.
    Someone commented on Lost Art press, that he wasn’t particularly impressed with a “new” way to mark a cabinetmakers triangle. He simply stated. mark it up and glue it together. And shortly thereafter, a loyalist told him off by accusing him of making as crappy as possible.

    Take care
    Jonas

    • billlattpa says:

      Well, neither of us can say that it’s a surprise when you see something like that on Lost Art Press. I just think that it’s getting really old when you can’t give a valid opinion on a woodworking blog without getting attacked.

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