Earlier today, a friend asked me what I was apologizing for in my last post. He hadn’t read the post previous to the apology so I told him to look at it. So he checked it out, laughed, and told me I was crazy. He asked me what I was talking about but I didn’t get in too deep with him because he doesn’t know the person I was referring to in my blog. I’m not going to name names now, but I will explain what brought it on.
At the end of last week I was talking to a guy I know through my job. He is a carpenter who also makes custom cabinets and built-ins for a living. We were talking about changing profit margins and supply and other boring business stuff that I won’t bore you with. But we were also talking about the building trades and the lack of respect that way too many people have for them. I see it every day at work. There is a perception that tradesmen are no more than people who were too stupid to get a real job. They feel that if you work in the trades in some capacity you must either be an immigrant, a drunk or drug addict, or a drop out who was too stupid or lazy to get an education. I won’t get into the knowledge and skill it takes to work as a carpenter, or electrician, or plumber, or mason or roofer. I hope that if you are a regular reader of my blog you know all of that or at least have an idea. But I will talk about the actual physicality of trade work. Very few people know what it’s like to carry 200 2×8’s on their shoulder every day, or wrestle a 500ft reel of 350mcm wire, or climb up and down a ladder 50 times with roofing shingles in your arms every day every week. Couple all of that with the precision and planning and skill you need to do fine work and you realize it isn’t so easy. Do fifty push-ups, run up and down a flight of stairs a few times, do a hundred jumping jacks, and run a 200m dash and immediately after try to do some mathematics in your head and tell me how you did. Believe me it doesn’t come easy when you are sucking air. But that is sometimes what it takes to be a tradesmen who does good work. Just because you do a lot of heavy lifting for a living, doesn’t make you a dumb brute. So that was one thing.
Over the weekend, on an internet woodworking forum that I won’t name, a person asked about building a bookcase with pocket screws. I’m assuming that the person was new to woodworking just because of some of the questions asked. Long story short, this person simply asked if it would be okay to make a bookcase with pocket screws and if it would be too difficult. One of the responders answered: You can if you want to build junk. Now, I personally wouldn’t make a bookcase using pocket screws, but I also wouldn’t discourage anybody else from doing it, and I certainly wouldn’t tell them that they are building junk. Another thing was this commentors screen name, which I won’t say but linked him to a woodworking philosophy that I don’t care too much for. So that was another thing.
On Sunday, I had a very brief conversation with a guy who told me that hand tools seperate craftsmen from hobbyists, or something to that effect. I don’t know if the guy was trying to be fuuny, or friendly, or condescending or what. I know that I took the remark personally. I should have told him off but I didn’t. That’s not me anymore, not if I can’t help it. Instead I let it get to me which I shouldn’t have done. So add one more thing to the list.
Sunday afternoon I’m checking out a book on workbenches that I own. My workbench has taken a real beating the past few months and I’m still thinking about making a new top, or possibly even building a new bench though I’m dreading that thought. Anyway, I noticed a comment about modern trim carpenters and it struck a nerve with me, most likely because of the conversation I had a few days before. The thing is that I probably had read the comment before, as I had read the book before at least twice, but this time I really took notice to it. And that may have been the final spark that set me off and got me to typing the blog post.
When it comes to blogging I have a bit of a problem. The problem is that I know how to type. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, especially if you saw my hands, but when it comes to typing I’m Superfly TNT; I’m the Guns of the Navarone. I had 3 years of typing in high school and 1 in college. When I graduated HS I was over 80 words a minute and I know that I’m faster now. I wasn’t planning on being a stenographer for a living. But at a time when schools were considering taking courses like typing out of the curriculum I knew that it would be an important skill to have in the future. The problem is that I type too fast, and sometimes that takes away from my natural ability to censor myself, or more carefully choose the way I put my thoughts down. Sometimes I just let fly and hit the publish button. That’s maybe why you may see a typo here or there. But it also can get me into trouble. The truth is that I don’t like censorship when it comes to ideas and opinions. That doesn’t mean that I think that you should just say whatever you feel like whenever you feel like. I have a few guidelines when it comes to putting an opinion out there:
1. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, as long as it is an informed one. If I or anybody else don’t know much about the topic, an opinion shouldn’t be given until you can make some kind of intelligent statement on the topic, otherwise there is no way to resolve the debate.
2. An opinion is just that: an opinion. It’s not fact, it’s speculation and therefore open to disagreement. If you give an opinion you should be prepared to defend it, and also be prepared for the fact that some may just not agree with it.
3. You should never just throw your opinion in somebody’s face. If people are asking for an opinion, it’s fine to give one especially if you aren’t using it to insult somebody. If people aren’t asking an opinion and just making a general statement, maybe you should keep your thoughts to yourself.
4. If you are going to put your opinion out there and you’re pretty sure it’s a controversial one, do it on your own forum. Don’t do it on somebody else’s blog or webpage. That’s not the way to go.
I honestly try to follow those guidelines on every blog post and I think for the most part I’ve kept to it. The problem is that sometimes I forget that other people are reading this blog and it’s not some kind of personal diary. I honestly don’t check my stats all that much. I know that this blog has 262 followers because it says it right up in the corner. I checked my stats for today and as of ten minutes ago it had 34 visitors and 97 hits. I checked the monthly average and those totals were roughly about the same every day. So on any given day about 30 people check out this blog. It doesn’t tell me who they are, just that they were here. I probably should take into consideration that people who don’t necessarily follow this blog are also reading it as well.
As I was saying in my last post, yesterday morning a person whose opinion I respect sent me an email and explained to me that my blog post Mission Statement was a little harsh. As I said in my last post, I thought about it for a bit and agreed with him. It has given me pause and at the moment I am not sure if I should even continue writing this blog. If I want to share my work and thoughts with friends and family, I could always start a facebook page or something to that effect and do it that way. I’m not here to offend, but to share my ideas about a hobby that I really enjoy. If it ever gets to the point where I can’t get my thoughts out there without offending somebody then I’m doing something wrong.
My next post will be about woodworking again. That I can promise you. But for today I thought I would explain where I’m coming from, at least a little.
Sometimes I’ve been known to fly off the handle. My wife, and coworkers, and friends can all attest to that. That’s a bad personality trait I have. Still, I try not to get too personal when it comes to my sporadic fits of rage. Somebody pointed out to me this morning that I did get personal in a blog post I put up yesterday afternoon. I thought about it for a little bit and realized that this person was pretty much exactly right. I fly off the handle on this blog at least a few times a month, quite possibly that’s what it’s known for, I hope that isn’t the only thing but it’s at least one of them. In any case, I try not to let my rants get to a personal level, and if they sometimes do it’s usually not meant to be taken all that seriously. Yesterday’s post, while not what I would call a rant, broke one of my rules.
The purpose of this blog is never to insult any one individual. Firstly, how easy is it for me to just rail away on somebody who is hundreds of miles away? Thats a real wussy move. If I’m going to get personal I should do it face to face, and at least give the person a chance to lay me out. Secondly, as I was saying, that’s not what this blog is all about. My rantings in yesterdays blog were not meant to be aimed at a person but an ideology. But, in truth, after reading the post again this morning, they were aimed at a real person. That was wrong for my part, and I apologize for it. Insulting somebody is never the way to go when trying to get a point across. I know that because I’ve been on the other end of it. Sometimes I took it in stride, sometimes I got pissed off. I probably should have known better. In my defense I will say one thing, right or wrong I was being honest.
As far as the ideology is concerned, I still stand by my beliefs. I believe that if you are an amateur woodworker who likes what he/she is doing and would like to share your feelings about woodworking and some of the projects you are working on via the internet, you should be able to do it without being attacked by people with a very narrow mindset. If you want to use a table saw rather than a handsaw, or if you do prefer a handsaw but it didn’t happen to cost an arm and a leg, you should be able to discuss it without being vilified as an enemy of the woodworking state. I will continue to condemn any ideology that condones what I can only describe as basically a form of prejudice towards anybody who doesn’t share their beliefs. That being said, my writings yesterday were still unfair. They took my feelings for a specific group of people and their mindset and aimed them towards one particular person. That isn’t why I write this thing. It’s supposed to be fun and hopefully thought provoking at times.
So whether or not the victim of my anger ever sees this, I’ll admit that I was wrong on at least some level yesterday. And if I insulted anybody who did read it, I apologize to you too. If you’ve been reading this blog for any given time, I hope you know what it’s about, and right or wrong I fly off the handle sometimes. I can’t apologize for that because that’s who I am. But whatever I am, I’m no hypocrite, and certainly not afraid to admit a mistake I may have made.
When I started this blog in July 2012 I had been woodworking seriously for roughly 18 months. In that short time span I was amazed at the amount of conflicting advice you find in woodworking publications. I knew then and I know now that is more than one way to woodwork, so the presentation of several different methods to complete a certain task didn’t really surprise me all that much. What did surprise me was the derision that some writers had towards these other methods that were presented. When it comes down to it, everybody has their own way of doing things, and we all think that our way is the best way. That’s only natural. For me personally I try not to knock others methods, even after I had tried them. What works for you may not work for me, plain and simple. Take making a mortise for example. You can choose from several different methods that all work. If I need to make one I will generally chop it by hand. If I need to make many I will do it with a router table. There are several out there who will tell you that unless you are chopping them by hand you are doing woodworking as a craft some kind of disservice. So after I began to woodwork on a steady basis I found myself becoming quite upset at certain woodworking writers. Of course on the surface many of them come off as open minded, but reading between the lines isn’t too hard, especially when you start reading their blogs and not the magazine articles. That, in a nutshell, was one of the reasons I started writing this blog. I’m not experienced enough to present my blog as some type of teaching implement. But I can give you my personal experiences on different ways to woodwork and tell you what worked for me and why.
Last night I was reading Roy Underhill’s The Woodwrights Guide: Working wood with wedge and edge; I received it as a birthday present last summer. In the book Roy describes the number of different trades that came into play when taking a tree and turning it into a finished piece of furniture. The section on Joiners interested me more than the others for a few reasons. Before I started woodworking I had heard the term and understood vaguely what a joiner did way back when. For those of you who don’t know, a joiner was somewhat like a trim carpenter on a modern build site. Joiners often made the cabinets, doors, and window casings along with the trim work for a newly constructed home. Sometimes these items were made on site, in the shop, or a combination of the two. Joiners also made specialty items such as wooden gears, gates, and cupolas. I’ve heard it said by some woodworking writers that the joiner of the 18th/19th century was much more skilled than your average trim carpenter of today. I would have to disagree with that whole heartedly. The joiners of the bygone era were certainly skilled workers, but so are many of the top level trim carpenters working on homes and businesses of today. I’ve seen, in person, some stunning examples of millwork and built in cabinetry, some made right on sight that were as nice and well-constructed as anything ever made. Modern joiners still exist, the title has just changed. All you need to do is watch an episode of This Old House. Guys like Tom Silva and Norm Abram do much on site cabinet and millwork in every episode, and they are just the tip of the iceberg. So to make a statement that modern carpenters are not nearly as skilled as yesterday’s joiners tells me several things: You’ve never been on a high end construction site and therefore do not know what goes on there; You have no respect for working people, or you are a woodworking snob who feels that the only work that matters is done with a specific set of tools that you approve of. If you take a well made piece of furniture from 200 years ago and compare it to a well made piece of furniture built today you won’t notice much difference. The joinery tends to be the same in most cases. The use of material, proven designs, and solid construction hasn’t changed in two centuries. So, all things being equal, what is the difference between yesterdays furniture maker and todays? I would have to say the tools being used. The average professional joiner of the 18th and 19th century worked almost exclusively in hand tools; todays version probably uses more power equipment than the hand powered variety. So does all of that matter as long as the end result is a nice and well constructed piece of furniture? I don’t think so. But some people do. For the upteenth time in this blog you will here me say it: hand tool snobs.
Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis are probably asking: Why the hand tool/power tool tirade again? To answer that question, it was something that I read in a certain woodworking writer’s book on workbenches the other day. For the record I think it’s a great book, but the offending comment really struck a nerve with me. Why? This writer grew up the son of professionals, he obtained a journalism degree from a highly respected and expensive university, and spent much of his career writing for newspapers and woodworking magazines. Nothing wrong with any of those things right? Not at all, in fact I admire him for it. But, nowhere in his bio did I read anything about his years spent working on construction sites. Nor did I read anything about him being a time traveler who saw first hand the job site work of an 18th century joiner. So I’m a little curious on how he came to the conclusion that modern finish carpenters just aren’t very good when compared to their past brethren. He read about it in a book? Oh, that solves anything. As I’ve said, I’ve seen millwork in newly built homes that rivals anything done anywhere, ever! The principles of making mouldings, trim work, and cabinetry haven’t changed for a long, long time. So this guys foregone conclusion is that they must have been better then because they used hand tools. Well, drop by a real construction site and you will still see plenty of hand work being done, trust me. Yet you will also see some fantastic work being done with power tools. The people who hire these guys: I would say that they really don’t care what methods are being used as long as the results are good. THAT is what people like this writer do not understand and never will. The guys that he and people like him admire so much were working class fellows for the most part. These guys were and are busy earning money to feed their families. I’m sure they had pride in their work, but the people they were trying to impress the most were their boss and their bosses clients. They weren’t hoping that one day a pretentious writer from the future would someday fawn all over their work. I would feel comfortable in saying that had this guy been born in the 18th century to a comparable station in life he would have had little time for the joiners of the day. How do I know this? Because he has little time for todays version. Finish carpenters don’t fit into his world of literature, and craft beer, and publishing parties.
My conclusions leave me in somewhat of a difficult position. Truth is that I also love hand tools and I enjoy working with them. The truth also is that for the foreseeable future I don’t have the money to spend on the handtool kit of my dreams. This writer, and the hobbyists that follow him, as well as some pros, usually hide the true cost of their tool kits, which in many cases easily surpass the $20,000 mark. I would also feel safe in saying that my estimate is on the low side for the most part. So when they tell you that they only way that you can be a “real” woodworker is to own toolsets similar to theirs, what are they really saying? Maybe they are saying that only people who can afford toolsets such as theirs should be woodworking. Either way it’s what I would call an elitist statement. And look at the source, a guy whose station in life he was born in to. I’m not saying that he doesn’t work hard. I’m saying that his socioeconomic status at birth afforded him his current station. That of course is out of his control, he cannot help where and to whom he was born to one way or the other. But, it doesn’t take much understanding to see his elitist attitude towards people like jobsite carpenters. They, in his eyes, are unworthy of the title of joiner because he sees himself as a joiner. So there can be no way that a man as educated and thoughtful and talented as he can ever be compared to a lowly carpenter. I mean, he went to $$$ university, he has a degree in journalism, he has been a professional writer for many years. He’s no dumbbell with big tattooed arms and a dirty worktruck who lives week to week and paycheck to paycheck. That’s what carpenters are right? He’s better than that. So he refers to himself as joiner and his conscience is clear.
For those of you who made it this far, here is my mission statement: It is my hope that the people out there who live paycheck to paycheck and work hard to try to get ahead, if they find themselves at a point where they would like to try a hobby like woodworking, I hope I can be of some kind of service to them. I was that person at one time. Maybe you want to cue the violins at this point, but I grew up in a little row house in Philadelphia, just about 700 sq ft if you want to be exact. My dad worked in a paper factory, my mom was a secretary for an exterminator. They were divorced when I was 7 years old. My childhood wasn’t easy. I got an academic scholarship to my high school, joined the military, and worked the nightshift at a printing factory for 10 years while I went to school in the afternoons. It took me a long time to get to the point where I could afford a hobby like woodworking; it took me a long time to get to where I am now. I will never tell somebody who wants to spend a few hours of their well earned free time woodworking that they aren’t doing it right. I will never discourage somebody by telling them they have no skill because they don’t woodwork in a certain way. I will never tell a person interested in woodworking that they are destroying the craft because they don’t think they are a joiner from the 18th century. So that is my mission, and that’s why I will continue to write this blog.
This morning I applied the finish to my Hall Table project. Again I turned to the Minwax 225 Red Mahogany that I used on my bookcase and Stickley magazine cabinet. This table, like the last three projects I completed, is destined for my livingroom, or actually right outside of it, so I want everything to match. I will be the first to admit that I don’t enjoy applying finish to a project, in particular when that project is made from Pine. I’ve found that no matter how carefully I prepare Pine it ends up with blotches. In this case the right front leg has a blotch near the bottom that turns out to be sap wood, or if it isn’t then it’s one of sap wood’s close relatives. There is little I can do about it so I’m just not going to let it bother me all that much. The most important part, the table top, I feel turned out very nicely, with good grain patterns and no blemishes. If a little sap wood on one of the legs is the trade off for a nice top I can live with that deal. But if it were a perfect world, and I had the money, I would send my projects out to be finished professionaly. I don’t have the facilities to do it and even if I did I just don’t like it. My workshop space is challenging enough without trying to turn it into a finishing area.
On the subject of workshops, I was checking out a shops and tips type of magazine the other day and considering my next project. When I first started woodoworking and subscribing to magazines I was always drawn to the “setting up shop” issues or special supplements that the magazines would often send with a subscription. I had ideas then to make a tool cabinet, and several different workstations among other things. It’s hard to ignore the beautiful examples that the magazines were showing. Who wouldn’t want an Arts and Crafts style wall mounted tool cabinet in their workshop? The funny thing is that after a few years of woodworking I couldn’t care less about such things. I have nothing against them on any level, but as my time to actually woodwork is relatively short I would rather spend it making house furniture, not shop furniture. I’ve heard some say that making shop furniture is good practice. Maybe, but so is making regular furniture. Not too long ago I nearly considered making a wall mounted tool cabinet. But my wife has access to some unfinished oak cabinets and I’m going to turn one of those into the cabinet instead. I have no shame as a woodworker in making that statement, same as if I had purchased a workbench instead of built one. Shop furniture is a means to an end to me, nothing more. Does that mean I would just throw my tools into an old milk crate? Absolutely not, but what is does mean is that when I have somebody offering me a free cabinet that I can use to store my tools then I’m going to take it without thinking twice. Building tool chests and workbenches just doesn’t appeal to me anymore. I will add that I am planning on making a power miter saw station later on this spring. I’ve said before that I don’t use a miter saw often while I woodwork. But because my saw can cross cut 13 inches, it is certainly handy enough and accurate enough to break down large stock. That’s all I want it to do and that’s all I’m going to ask of it. That, to me, makes a miter saw station a valuable project.
For my next project I’m considering making matching end tables to compliment my hall table. I can make them simultaneuosly and kill two birds with one stone. My only question is do I use the same methods that I used to build the hall table or do it try something different? My wife thinks that I should stick with the same methods because they’ve been proven to work. I could try something else and mess up and waste a lot of shop time doing it. I agree with her to an extent. I’ve made a few tables before using traditional methods and I managed to do a decent job. But making two tables using those traditional methods would take a lot of time. Not that I’m in a rush, but as I’ve pointed out before in earlier posts, the longer it takes to complete a project the better chance that something is going to happen to it, and when I say “something” I’m not speaking of anything good. Now, more than ever, I wish I had a dedicated shop space where I could leave projects and not have to worry about anything happening in between my time in the shop. I have to just face the fact that unless we move that isn’t going to happen.
So this week I will make some rough sketches and measurements and begin planning the material list for my “two tables” project. Next thing will be picking up the lumber. I’m going to have to make a trek to the lumber yard and really get some clear pieces. I’m not messing around on this one, I’m going to be fussy. I’m hoping that like my last few projects, my finishing skills continue to improve as much as my woodworking skills have done.
*****WARNING. THE FOLLOWING BLOG POST CONTAINS ADULT LANGUAGE AND OPINIONS THAT SOME MAY FIND OFFENSIVE. THIS BLOG POST IS NOT RECOMMENED FOR THOSE UNDER THE AGE OF 18.*****
****I tried to post a link in this particular entry but for whatever reason I cannot. I will work on it and see what I can do****
I make it a habit to check out the Lost Art Press blog at least a few times per week. The other day Christopher Schwarz posted a blog about sawing into some rough teak that he had picked up for an upcoming project. It was an interesting post about an ordinary shop activity and the sometimes unexpected things that happen when you go to a lumber yard. So what? What am I getting at? Things took an interesting turn in the comment section. There were several comments on the fact that Schwarz used a Stanley handsaw to break down the rough stock. As I was reading them I at first didn’t think they were all that serious, but then it dawned on me that they kind of were serious. I even left a few comments about it, which I rarely do. The only thing I could think of and what I couldn’t post was: WHO GIVES A FLYING FUCK WHAT SAW THIS DUDE USES!?! Is this what the woodworking community at large cares about? Does it really and truly matter if the guy was preparing his stock with a Stanley saw from Lowes or some ancient Disston that was found under a barn board that got knocked off of the frame from a cannonball at Gettysburg? Did the board get sawed through or did I miss something?
You may ask why I’m picking on Schwarz again. I’m not at all. I generally admire him very much. His blog gets caught in my sites for two reasons: It is one of the most popular woodworking blogs on WordPress, and because of some of the comments his fans leave. A sizeable group of his fans, whom I’ve unaffectionately given the title of “Schwarzholes” are some of the biggest douchebags in the world of woodworking blogs. And if the some of the comments left in this particular blog I am referring to, with a link posted by the way, don’t prove my point nothing ever will. The fact of the matter is that nearly every one of his posts has comments that make me want to puke. The worst part is that I can’t help myself and I have to look. Most of the offending comments come from either suck-ups, pretentious woodworking snobs/douches, or last but not least, people who think they are really funny or clever or witty but really aren’t in the least. The suck-ups and the pretentious douchebags make up the largest group demographic, just for FYI. So am I being really judgemental? Hell Yeah! But because I actually enjoy the stupid blog I read it and try to not let the comments get to me and end up getting pissed off anyway. There are times I will leave a generally inane comment on his blog just because I want to get the Schwarzholes all riled up. I like to know who they are and sometimes they aren’t as easy to find as usual.
You know what? I’m not going to hold Schwarz blameless here either. For whatever reason, he created the woodworking version of the Wack Pack. There has to be something to that, doesn’t there? Doesn’t a persons fan base say as much about character as the person himself? I can at least understand the suck-ups. Suck-ups are good at sucking up. That’s what they do. So when you have a bunch of people telling you just how wonderful you are, it’s kind of hard not to give them your attention. I for one actually value people’s opinions so I prefer the truth. I mean, if you have any self respect, how can you surround yourself with people that have none? The group that thinks they are funny, I can understand them too. When it comes down to it just about everybody thinks they are funny, including myself. The hard part is realizing when you are not, in fact, very funny. The group that I cannot understand for the life of me is the pretentious woodworking douches. I can almost hear the wannabe Locust Valley Lockjaw/Thurston Howell III accent when talking about their national debt-sized tool kits and how you simply cannot be a woodworker unless you own these tools. So when a Schwarzhole leaves a comment wondering why Schwarz wasn’t using his Disston 1911 with the fleam at some odd degree and a gullet or two here or and the buckcherry handle with flim flam next to the sqeeb squab I want to say: SHUT THE FUCK UP! You know what, even if you think you are kidding, I know that you aren’t. I know that you’re trying drop some obscure woodworking minutae to impress some guy you don’t even know and at the same time put down anybody who doesn’t use the Disston Iroc Z saw. This is what you are buddy, a complete and utter ASSHOLE.
In conclusion, I’m sorry to those of you who read this blog on a regular basis. I know this has to be at least the 5th or 6th time I’ve harped on this subject. I can’t promise I won’t do it ever again, but I will try not to. Here is the plain truth. What bothers me the most about all of this is that I really love woodworking. I cannot say enough good things about the hobby or the profession. So when I read some of these comments by people who supposedly love woodworking as well it depresses me. Am I in that same group? Can woodworking be as wonderful as I think it is when it attracts some of these people? That scares me, a lot! So that’s why I wrote this particular entry. I had to get it off my chest, and I’m trying to separate myself as far as possible from all of the Schwarzholes out there.
I’m a pretty confident guy. At least I think I am. Confidence, some brains, and some hard work got me out of the ghetto. Confidence was one of the things that got me into woodworking, because it sure as hell wasn’t any kind of formal training. I’m confident that I am becoming a good woodworker. That doesn’t mean that I sometimes don’t have doubts about my ability. I know that I have light years to go before I will consider myself good. Just yesterday I was walking through a Costco of all places and happened to notice some of the furniture that they were selling. It was mostly Arts & Crafts stuff. It all looked pretty nice, at least as nice as anything I’ve ever made and in many cases much nicer. I didn’t inspect it close enough to decide if it was junk, decent junk, decent, or good. But like I said, it sure did look pretty. It was a sobering thought to consider that I have a ways to go before Costco would sell my furniture. But that didn’t stop me from feeling pretty good about myself when it comes to woodworking.
I’ve just finished the construction phase of my hall table project, which I detailed in my last few blog posts. It was a straightforward build of a straightforward design. The table is actually fairly simple to make as far as tables go. But there is something about it that I really like, and apparently somebody else does too. A friend of a friend of a friend, or something like that, has asked me to make one of the tables. I was asked for a price and a time frame on the build. I told the person that the build time would be roughly 8-10 hours and the material cost could be from $100-?, depending on the wood used. The problem is that I don’t know much when it comes to pricing up furniture. Ask me to price up an electric job and I can do it in my sleep, but building furniture is another matter. Part of the problem is that I didn’t get into this hobby to sell furniture, not in the least. That isn’t to say that in my own little fantasy world I wouldn’t love to be a professional cabinet-maker. But in the real world I know that I’m just not good enough and there is too much competition. Had I started 25 years ago it would be a different story. But a youngish nearly 40 year-old with a family just doesn’t have any business dropping everything to make furniture for a living. (oh yeah! I added the youngish part without shame)
So does this mean that I’m not going to build and sell one of my tables? Maybe, maybe not. I told the person to pick a material and I would give them a price and I would consider it. I won’t lie and say that selling a piece of furniture doesn’t appeal to me. It would definitely give me a little room to brag, and a hair more credibility in the woodworking department, and I think it would be an interesting experiment. I will admit that people have asked me to make furniture before, but nobody has ever done it on a “professional” level. People have asked me to make this or that and they would pay for the material and so on and so forth. This was different. I had to tell the person that I’m not a pro, I don’t have pre-written furniture contracts made up waiting in a desk drawer; I’m not an LLC. They didn’t care. They just liked the table. That was enough for me. I like the table too, as simple and utilitarian as it is. Still, I’m just not too sure if I want to go through with this. It kind of reminded me of an episode of Seinfeld where George lived two lives: Independent George and Relationship George, and if those two Georges ever met then worlds would collide in a fiery wreck. See, right now my little garage workshop is where I go to unwind after a 50+ hour work week. Woodworking is my fun time. The workshop is where I go to get away from work. If my leisure time hobby turns into work and deadlines will I still enjoy it as much? I will be getting paid of course, but what price will I pay for the privilege? That probably isn’t a question I can answer until I’ve already taken the plunge.
I know I would have enjoyed being a professional woodworker if I had started 20 or so years ago. I like building things; I always have. Once I’m finished a project I can’t wait to get to the next one. I have to think that a good professional woodworker would possess that trait. I’m not so sure that I would enjoy being a professional weekend woodworker. Right now I build for myself and my family. There are no angry customers demanding shipment or asking where that little ding came from. The only angry customer I have to deal with is my wife. So I may just make another one of my hall tables and tell the person I have one for sale if they would like to buy it. That way I keep the ball in my court. It’s probably the wussy way out but I’m not too proud to admit the truth. Whatever may happen, it was a good feeling to know that somebody thought I was good enough to make a piece of furniture and charge a price for my time and effort. It was an even better feeling knowing that the design of that piece of furniture was my own, at least in theory. So when all is said and done I learned something: I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and (some) people like what I do when I’m unwinding in the workshop.
Last night I decided to take a few hours and finish the hall table I’ve been working on for the past few weekends. The only task I had to complete was to build and fit the drawer. The drawer front is actually a false one that is supposed to look like the side apron of the table, so I made the drawer using typical dovetail construction for the front and a dado in the back. As far as the dado is concerned I wasn’t being lazy; I wanted that little overhang at the back of the drawer to help prevent tipping.
First thing I did was rip and crosscut the drawer pieces to final dimensions using the table saw. For the drawer box I used some 1/2″ Poplar that I had in the shop. I then laid out the dovetails. Cutting dovetails is probably the most traditional woodworking task I do. I used a traditional marking gauge to set the cut line, though I am leaning heavily towards picking up a Veritas marking gauge because they are freaking awesome. I then laid out the dovetails using a standard three pin/two tail set up that I commonly use for making drawers. I cut my dovetails pins first; I was taught that way and that’s how I prefer it. That being said, I learned to cut dovetails at the Acanthus Workshop and I highly recommend the dovetail apprenticeship video offered there. I am pretty quick at cutting dovetails. I don’t strive for perfect symmetry, I just try to get close. These were the first dovetails I had cut in a little while and I’ll admit that they were a bit gappy for my taste, but they hardly looked bad and they were definitely snug enough. Before I glued up the drawer I used the table saw to cut a dado in the drawer pieces to slip the bottom in to, which was just a 1/4″ piece of birch plywood I had left over. I also cut a dado at the back of the drawer sides to hold the drawer back. I then did a test fit of the drawer on the table itself and luckily it fit nicely. So with everything looking good and fitting well I glued it up. While the drawer was drying I set the kickers in place and also installed the rest of the cleats that would be used to attach the table top to the case. I then waxed the runners and kickers and let the drawer dry.
After a few hours I unclamped the drawer and drilled and countersunk some pilot holes in the front to attach the apron/false front. I set the drawer in the table and spent a few minutes fitting the false front until I had it where I wanted it. I used a few wood screws to attach it and that was that. The last thing I had to do was place a stop on the runners so that when the drawer was inside the table it would stop and leave the same reveal that the other aprons had. I did that with a scrap piece of Poplar and a few brad nails. When that task was completed so was the table. Some light sanding and this table is ready for finish. I won’t do that this weekend though; it’s much too cold.
All in all this table took around six hours to complete. Not a bad time at all. I wasn’t building it to see how quickly I could do it, but how efficiently. This was a great way to test a design and get a working table that isn’t bad looking at all. There is very little I would change about this build. Everything went as planned because I like to think that I am getting better, not only at planning but also at woodworking. Another thing, there was almost no scrap wood left, even from the scrap pieces I used, also a good sign. The most difficult part of yesterday was planing down one of the kickers to fit, which took around 10 minutes. Thankfully my smooth plane was sharp because the Jack plane iron needs some quality time with the water stones. So this was probably one of the more fun builds I’ve had. It was great seeing a design go together almost exactly as I had envisioned it. It was even better that I hadn’t even planned on a table as my next project; it arose from a need we had around the house. My wife likes my matching end tables idea. I’ll see. That is something that I may want to try in a more traditional sense. I’m going to get this table finished and in place before I make any further decisions, and then I’ll let fate and necessity decide the rest.