Apprenticeship tales, the conclusion.

7 May

To apprentice or not to apprentice….

My overall opinion about my apprenticeship is that it was an invaluable experience, and I’m glad it was included in my schooling. I would recommend it to anyone. Go out and find someone that could use some free helping hands, someone that does woodworking that speaks to you and your vision for your future career. Tim’s didn’t match my vision 100% but overall he was self-employed and making his way as a woodworker and he focused on fine details and nuances. His shop was about the size I want. He had the level of professional tools I hope to acquire, and he started from zero.

Notable tip no.1

I value that I learned tips, and techniques that I was not exposed to at school. Namely how to cut sheet stock on a table saw instead of a panel saw. The school hadn’t prepared us for the realities of small shops, only large ones. Tim had an ingenious system that kept the user safe and comfortable while pushing cumbersome 4’x8′ sheets across the saw. Not surprisingly he had an outfeed table for the task, but also an infeed table that was simply a sheet of melamine with a cleat that dropped into the slot in the rail of the bismeiyer fence, and a hinged set of legs that swung down to support the melamine board. This allowed us to put the sheet up onto the infeed table and stand right against the table saw, beside the 8’x4′ sheet while feeding it- instead of standing behind the sheet 8′ from the blade, bearing the full weight of the sheet while feeding. I was nervous at first attempt with a 4’x8′ sheet, as I’d only ever used a panel saw to cut sheet goods, but I quickly understood how controlled everything was. I definitely will build an infeed table for my saw. Tim also had an excalibur sliding extension wing for doing crosscuts with large sheets. Personally I enjoyed using it but I probably won’t buy one, as I’ll be tight on space and a properly made crosscut sled can do the same job.

Notable tip no.2

I also learned more about relative measurements from Tim than I did when I was in school. I knew that it was a more accurate system- but I didn’t know that many ways to employ it. I knew that I should build from the outside in, but I didn’t quite know how to abandon my measuring tape.  I’ve already used relative measuring at my new job.  I needed to make a crate for a sculpture, and my boss requested that there be 2″ of breathing room all around between the sculpture and the crate. All I had to do was use two scraps of two by fours, and two scraps of ply wood. I extended a 4″ section of measuring tape past one side of the sculpture, then across the sculpture, then I slapped the thicknesses of the crate sides against the other side of the sculpture, and drew a line against the last ply to get my cutting measurement for the top and bottom. My crate came out perfect. Tim had “set up blocks” made of MDF that he cut to exact measurements, we would use these to set up the table saw fence/blade, router bits, and to layout or glue up projects. Strangely enough my school had taught us all to use a 6″ ruler to do all of those tasks, which was time consuming and way less reliable.

In the final weeks of stage…

  • I finished making a Danish Modern table
  • I helped make two more storage units
  • I started helping Tim with a bed frame construction
  • I milled some more mouldings for another house renovation
  • Tim and I visited about 5 more clients to install a desk, shelves, and meet with new and old clients about future projects.
  • I also spent a few days helping Tim’s shop partner with edge banding a whole bunch of drawer fronts and doors for bathroom cabinets his was making.
  • Tim’s partner  let me spread dyed epoxy on one of the drawer fronts and then I used a blow torch to achieve a piano gloss.
  • Over the course of my apprenticeship a teacher from my school  stopped by twice to evaluate my progress, but those visits turned into gab sessions about woodworking more than anything else
  • Also a previous apprentice of Tim’s stopped by and infected us with his entrepreneurial spirit and grand ideas. I learnt of a contest for woodworking students through him, and I quickly decided that I wanted to enter too. More on that soon…
  • I also worked with Tim to build the drawers, for a kitchen project of his partner’s. Tim showed me an easy way to install full extension drawer slides, and I helped him attach the face frames to the cases of the kitchen cabinets.
  • Once the kitchen was ready we packed it into an econoline and I headed off with Tim’s partner to install it. First we demolished the old cabinets and then installed the new ones.
  • And finally I had a wonderful send off with beer and chips  at the shop at the end of my last day, with Tim and his shop partner.

In Conclusion…

Tim was very generous with his knowledge and would share as many details about business with me as he could think of. Tim and I talked often exclusively about woodworking at lunch time, which was spent at the assembly table. We discussed  shop rental spaces, suppliers, client relations, shop scheduling, pricing, books, tools, techniques, and past experiences.

I’m glad to have Tim as part of my woodworking network, along with the school, and my woodworking classmates. Tim and I are still in touch, weeks after my apprenticeship and I hope to keep it that way.

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