Since the purpose of this blog is to share what the early days are like in a woodworker’s career, I’m sharing the projects my woodworking school assigned us- most of us in the class started out absolute beginners. I will go into more detail about some of the important modules I did in woodworking school later, but here is a look at the bigger picture.
The very beginning… perspective, and shop safety
Finally we were primed to begin woodworking.
Our first weeks were using hand tools exclusively.
The first project we were assigned was to find all kinds of wood from our networks and off the street that we could. Then cut it, and plane it by hand into 2″x3″ x 3/8″ sample blocks. We needed to find 15 different woods and 10 different man made materials. This module was to teach us the types of wood and characteristics of each, as well as all kinds of general information on how wood moves over the seasons and the anatomy of trees.
After this we understood how to sharpen a plane, and adjust it’s settings- to a certain degree. We also learned the concept of squaring wood up- it was not a simple task! Some people’s work stood out right off the bat with this first project.
Following that we built a mallet out of wood, again using only hand tools. We were given specs.
It was interesting to see how everyone chose to shape their handle differently. Some were other worldly. I always opt for plain comfort when it comes to my hands so my handle was more classic looking.
And then an introduction to frame making, and carving.
In this project we tackled hand cut miters, rebates, using a home made scratch stock to create the beading, carving and inlaying butterfly joints. Each project began with rough lumber so we were quickly learning how to mill lumber by hand.
Some people also learned how to chip carve lettering because they had extra time.
Following this we made some test joinery in endless pieces of wood. We learned of all the different kinds of joints and attempted several. Half laps, bridle joints, and of course we tried dovetails. It was very difficult. I felt like a 5 yr old trying to colour inside the lines and failing. My joints had gaps and were not nearly as precise as I wanted them to be.
Around this point we had our first practical test. We made a napkin holder to the specs the teacher gave us. I don’t have a picture as I gave it away. It wasn’t a very pretty thing, but it did feature an inlaid diamond of a contrasting wood.
At the end of this module we had a free day to work on joinery so I made this:
I was quite proud of my little bird house. No one else had made one. I found out later from my mom that I’d drilled the hole too big for the opening- apparently it will attract the pest breeds of birds.
The next module we moved on to power tools! I had already used a router and a circular saw once or twice in the past, but we got the low down on exactly how to operate power tools safely and properly. It turns out I didn’t know any of that the times I’d used them before.
In this cutting board project we used both dowels and biscuit joints to laminate our boards together. Then we used a router in a sled to flatten our boards. We made templates of our shapes and then used a router to cut along the template. I actually ended up using a jig saw since I had grain changes left right and center. After that we were using routers to round over the edges of our boards (in my case the teacher advised me to use a file, but I did rout handle notches). Then sanding. It turns out I didn’t sand my board enough- it’s a bit fuzzy feeling, I will probably re-do that someday… haven’t yet and it’s in operation!
At the end of this module we had a couple of free hours so I made a couple of tool racks for my tool closet- I’d just gotten a set of screw drivers and had no way of storing them
The test for the power tool module was to make a shelf that had pegs for hanging coats on. I kept mine for a long while and then eventually realized it was too small for practical use so I tossed it. We rounded the corners with a jig saw, routed the edges, drilled holes to a certain depth for the pegs, and doweled the two main pieces of wood perpendicular to each other.
Following power tools we spent several weeks drafting technical drawings of our upcoming projects. We then took a shop math class. We also spent some class time learning about fasteners and glues.
Graduating to stationary machines…
After three months of using hand tools, some power tools, and learning a lot about shop safety, wood types, joints, etc.. we were ready to go on to the feared stationary machines. That is, if you’d passed all of the exams/ practical tests up to this point.
Thankfully we started off slow. The teacher would write down all of the safety guidelines and rules for each machine and then show us the parts to the machine and adjustments that could be made. Then the teacher would demonstrate. Then it was our turn, one by one.
The first machines we were introduced to were the bandsaw and drill press- most of us had used these in the past- but now we were learning A-Z about the machines. We were set to task to each make our own push sticks for future use one the table saw.
I cannot remember which machines came next but by the time we did test cuts on each machine we knew enough to feel safe on them. I remember a lot of us were quaking after trying the jointer though. We had heard that a recent student had gotten his shirt sucked into the cutters and had to lean backwards with all his might as the shirt ripped off his back and into the machine. We had thought this was folklore that the teachers liked to tell but the story proved to be true. The table saw and radial arm saw were also quite nerve wracking for many of us.
Once we’d been properly instructed on how to use stationary machines we got down to our first project built on stationary machines– which we each had a nice technical drawings of.
We started from rough poplar stock and milled our pieces in groups of three, it was important that before we pass the first module on stationary machines that we use the buddy system. As there was only one teacher we each were in charge of noticing if our group members were making safe choices. This did help ease us into using some very industrial sized machinery.
This project helped us really understand that if something is off square it affects the way the entire project will come together, and that when creating rebates with a dado stack even pressure is key- which was very difficult for us to carry out at this early stage. The slip joint of the top was actually created by us cutting a groove along the inside of the box parts and then gluing the box together and finally cutting the box apart- so keeping our wits about us to make sure we cut the box apart on the right line was an adventure. The glue up went awry for most of us, some parts got glued inside out, some just were not clamped properly- mine had some nice gaps I didn’t have in dry fit. It was disappointing to say the least.
It was really interesting to learn along with 22 others because every type of scenario possible usually ended up occurring among that number of novices. It was almost like learning 22 times faster because you yourself didn’t have to make each type of mistake to learn about and from them.
Stay tuned for a second installment of the projects from woodworking school. Thanks for reading!