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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.

Two weeks into apprenticeship…

20 Feb

Time for a mini re-cap of my apprenticeship thus far.

I’ve started building a solid wood furniture design of Tim’s (described  as Danish modern). I milled up the leg blanks and glued them together, traced & cut out the designs and am now hand shaping the legs using hand tools.

I’ve milled up lengths of molding for transom windows that Tim was contracted to frame.  Tim cut the profiles on those moldings. We sent those off to Tim’s in-house finisher and soon we’ll see them installed.

I’ve improved Tim’s shop furniture some. I gave their fold away in-feed table for the table saw new life, and made it more sturdy. I also made MDF throat plates for the table saw. Tim had me glue laminate to both sides of the MDF and flush trim it on the router table. I then drilled holes in them, rebated the bottoms to fit, and inserted and adjusted set screws.

I helped in cutting sheet stock and assembling, and hand edge banding cases for a wall cabinet that will have 30 slots for scarves, 2 drawers for gloves, and a separate unit for boots.

I helped to partially disassemble a tv unit Tim had built  in a clients home, and then reassemble it to fit their new larger flat screen TV.

I helped to install a radiator cover (that Tim built) securely against the wall in a client’s home, and fit the marble top on.

I helped take measurements in a client’s home for a custom fit alcove desk. And milled up the wood that supports the MDF top.

And finally, I’ve just finished milling and assembling face frames that will fit onto  (kitchen) cabinet boxes that Tim cut and assembled on my sick day.

Apprenticeship beginnings

8 Feb

Two days into my apprenticeship and I’m quite pleased. I wasn’t sure if this apprenticeship would be a good fit. I was to make mainly high-end custom built-ins made out of veneered sheet-stock, but also stand alone furniture. I really didn’t know how sheet stock factored into high-end furniture, but it does. I realized in two short days that not only was my apprenticeship boss, Tim Timberland, a good personality  fit with myself, but that there would be a lot of skills and tricks to learn.

Customer service for one. We’ve done two site visits in two days, with more on the way. I haven’t had much experience with high end clients, and amazingly enough I found them to be sweethearts. Tim says about 2/3 of his clients are. What a delight to work for people that care. Tim and I stayed a bit longer than necessary after measuring a wonky alcove (that was to receive a custom fit desk top) keeping the exchange warm and fuzzy. Those same clients have other custom work to be done and may be calling for bigger projects soon, Tim says.

Build a network to succeed. I’ve been introduced to about five woodworking related people in the building that swing by to talk with Tim about projects, to ask favours or just to say hi. And we’ve dropped in on a few too. There are some antique restorers, finishers and renovation pros. This was great to see in practice, today Tim could honestly recommend the work of his finisher friend to complete a sale. He also gets work from his network. The clients we visited today were a product of Tim meeting them at a benefit that his wife was throwing, and networking got him in the door.

Do good work and word of mouth will follow. Tim, as I said, does high end work. He’s slow by industry standards (his own words) and focuses more on the quality of his work. Tim said that most of his work comes from word of mouth. He started up shop in his landlady’s basement and slowly established himself through is work.

Use the appropriate amount of precision for the task. Being in business for yourself means accounting for all of your income, expenses and time. Being freshly out of school I have less of a sense of this. Tim broke it to me lightly that there are times to be super accurate and there are times to be less so, and you can approximate sometimes rather than rely on measuring tools. Similar to adjusting a crooked picture frame by eye instead of whipping out the level. There are some tasks that make more sense without bogging them down with unnecessary tools or steps.

I was pleased to learn that Tim had set aside a small table design for me to work on. It seems that every hour that passes also reveals a new task or projects that I’ll be involved in over the course of my six weeks with Tim. I can’t help but feel lucky to have a diverse amount of work. It’s all very hands-on which takes a bit of trust on Tim’s part. So in short a lot of my worries have been eased. In Tim’s shop, I don’t have to work at unsafe speeds, but I do have to prioritize my time better. I’m also not expected to be anything more than an apprentice which is a great load off of my shoulders. All this makes me feel stress free about the weeks to come and probably will help me to do better work.

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