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Moving on up…it’s a scary business

27 Mar

The dynamics at my job have changed for me quite a bit in the last couple of months. While I’ve stayed in the section that builds the galley kitchen of the plane, my actual position has switched around several times. I started off about a year and bit ago building the drawers of the galley, then moved on to building the galley structure above the counter. That first switch kept me from quitting, so it was a welcomed change. More recently I changed positions again. I still work on the structure above the counter but now instead of building from scratch, I’m fitting and fine tuning elements. It takes a lot of patience and precision, but I really like it. I’ve found it to be a huge contrast to my two previous positions where I had to be precise but build quickly and do quite a lot of heavy and messy work.

And finally to current day, where I’ve  signed on to learn yet another position. It’s the position that follows the one I work on now. I will be adding the veneer and wooden moldings to the structure above the counter. When I originally started working in aerospace this is the type of position I was after, so I’m quite pleased that it’s only taken a year and a bit to get here. I had graduated from woodworking school a mere 6 months before snagging this job and had only accumulated 6 months of woodworking experience in the interim. This all meant that even though I had wanted a veneering position straight off the bat, I certainly wasn’t going to beat out people that had years of experience over me. And the company wasn’t going to take it on faith that I was a good worker. I’m actually glad to have had the experience of the previous positions, because it has given me a more broad understanding of the process. Plus I have slowly but surely proved myself at work through consistency and by showing up to work everyday with the intent to do my best. Mistakes happen, but the intent was there. There are people many that show up to work with the intent to do the minimum required of them, and their mistakes turn out worse as they come from a place of apathy.  The good news it that I will be in great company for my new position. No apathetically inclined individuals work there.

I have to say that my experience working at a large company has proven invaluable. It has been at the same time terrifying and liberating to have the ability to change positions frequently. Terrifying because it is out of my comfort zone to keep diving head first into the unknown, but liberating because I have found that each new change has brought rewards with it. And so I will keep trying to say yes instead of no when new opportunities arise at work. Though this hasn’t translated to every aspect of my life, I see now that it probably should, and maybe I’ll work on that!

In the balance…the day job

24 Oct

I’ve never worked for such a big company before. I’ve worked as a glassblower, with my sister and father. I’ve worked as a dog walker for a very small business. I’ve worked for a studio that made bracelets and vases out of veneer- again very small 8 people involved max. I’ve worked a handful of other jobs along with my freelance pet portrait painting gig- even smaller operations than the above. Almost all of my jobs have had very little contact with others during my work day. I could easily go hours without talking to another human.

Very little of my previous work experience prepared me for this job in aerospace. I had the skill set but that’s about it. I’ve adapted to  talking to MANY of my coworkers throughout the day and I feel I am better for it. But on the flip side I’ve learned how frustrating it can be to work for such a big business.

Building private jets requires a lot of people, a lot of parts, and a lot of space (not to mention a lot of $$). It also requires a lot of paperwork. If there is the tiniest problem, there’s a form for that. And because of all of these people, parts, spaces, papers, and problems the whole thing is a huge orchestration! From an employee standpoint; It’s far from perfect and it’s far from personal. But it’s a very good business.

All this to explain that because the company is so big and has so many priorities, rules and paperwork; structured chaos if you will- my job is in the balance. I was laid off last November for three months. The rumour mill at work has been churning out all kinds of juicy info about our jobs for months now- but here’s the short version:

In two weeks I, along with potentially 50 other contractors (in order of seniority), MAY be given our white cards and permanent employee status. (with this I’d get benefits, a union, and more job security plus paid vacations)


In two weeks I along with all of the woodworking contractors (more than 50 ppl) MAY be laid off. (with this I’d lose my seniority, have no re-hire date given to me in advance, and there’s the possibility that they wouldn’t hire me back at all (at least 20 people didn’t come back last time))


Which will it be? I’m trying to stay optimistic but kind of preparing myself for the worst at the same time. Stay tuned and I’ll let you know! Wish me luck!

New life from old wood… the toy chest gets glued up!

3 Jul

Last time when I left off with the toy chest, I’d fitted all of the parts, and was then ready for sanding/gluing/finishing. I had a few weeks of distractions in between, but progress was made this weekend in the shop.

I finally began sanding today. After about an hour I had dust everywhere and stopped to assess the situation.  I found a way to adapt the port on the sander to fit my shop vac hose. So. Much. Better!

Once all the pieces were properly sanded I started by gluing up the base of the toy chest. I assembled it on top of the flat surface of my table saw to make certain the base sat perfectly flat.

Surprisingly the glue up went well for the rest of the chest. It’s a good thing I remembered to measure both diagonals to check for square because I needed to make adjustments.

The front and back of the toy chest is made of a re-purposed closet door. The door had an amber finish on it, I sanded away most of the finish but still need to get around the raised panels- not looking forward to that.

The front and back of the chest are comprised of  re-purposed closet doors which are made of douglas fir and some other softwood. The parts I built around these  are made of pine, I’m hoping the contrast won’t be too jarring. As it is the closet doors have an annoying juxtaposition of dark wood laminated with a lighter wood. I certainly wouldn’t have chosen to glue contrasting boards together like that, but  seeing as this was a project all about recycling and re-purposing wood, I decided it wasn’t the end of the world. The bottom of the toy chest is also made with wood I found on a curb. The remaining parts of the toy chest I made from pine that was originally intended for a home reno project that got abandoned. I’m going to use the hinges that I salvaged from the closet doors.

So next session I’ll probably be sanding the remaining amber finish off, installing the hinges, and soon the finish will also be done.

Projects from woodworking school… part III

18 Apr

For the sake of continuity I’m posting more of the projects I did at woodworking school. In part I I showed the projects tackled as an absolute beginner, in part II I posted the projects that were my introduction into using stationary machines. In part III now we’ll move on to the more involved projects that followed.

Now that my classmates and I had had a proper introduction to building solid wood furniture on stationary machines, it was time to move onto using man made sheet good materials and an introduction to a new set of stationary machines.  Machines that we had been forbidden to touch up until this module.

The school had a horizontal panel saw which looked like this…

There is a separate on/off switch for the normal blade and the scoring blade. It was important to remember to turn on the scoring blade.

And a vertical panel saw that looked like this…

The vertical panel saw was the safest. It was also easier to load up with sheet goods as they didn’t have to be lifted very high. The saw itself also has a tiny footprint up against a wall compared to the giant footprint of the horizontal panel saw.

We also learned how to operate an edge bander, and a time saver (industrial drum sander).

First thing we did during this module was to cut some MDF using the horizontal panel saw. We each took turns trying it out. The sliding table allows you to walk by the blade to make the cut. Many giggles were had over the “butt bar” which is a bar that you slide up behind your butt so that you can keep the sliding table from getting ahead of you as you push the table past the blade.

The MDF we cut was actually the table top for the leg and rail we had made in a previous module. Next we had to mill some solid oak and miter the corners around the MDF. We kept the oak proud of the MDF and used the time saver (drum sander) to flush the oak to the MDF.

Next up  during this module we tackled many different sheet good tasks. We split into groups and made all kinds of things that were needed in the school shop. Rolling carts (MDF), drawers for lathe chisels (baltic birch ply), racks that got fastened onto the 6 lathes (for holding templates, balitc birch ply) , nesting foot stools (MDF), and new sets of throat plates for each of the 7 table saws, there were zero clearance inserts for 6 different blade thicknesses/ angles.  The school board also wanted in on the free labour, and had us make some laminate desk tops destined for computer classes. One group of students cut the tops out, and I paired up with a fellow student to edge band all of the tops. Next there was a group that drilled the holes with a jig for the metal legs- which would only get assembled once delivered. Edge banding by machine is a finicky process- but I really learned a lot about the machine in the process! Every adjustment possible needed adjusting, AND the cutters needed to be changed.

The master piece for this module was that we built custom kitchen cabinets. Over in another wing of the school there was a break room that was in dire need of kitchen cabinets. As a class we designed the “kitchen”, made the cut list, ordered the materials, and then built the cabinets and installed them. The teacher specified that the cabinets would have inset doors with a cock bead profile around them. This was a pretty darned amazing experience. We had to build to fit the space, and also a small fridge and two microwaves.

We had bunch of cabinet boxes shifting around the school for a while- as it turned out we only installed the cabinets in another module because we ran out of time.

Here is the result…

We split off into groups to make the cabinets, I helped put the boxes together and build the toe kicks. Others made the face frames, side panels, drawers, doors, and counter tops.

Because work was spread out among the class it wasn’t possible to learn how to do every part, but it felt amazing to have all worked together to complete the kitchen. In theory we understood each process, but installing drawer slides would have been nice to experience, for example.

Our test for this module was to build a shooting board out of MDF and then laminate it. The shooting board design we had is double sided.

This side is simply a bench hook…

… but when you flip it end for end you get the shooting board side. The laminate was a great idea because it’s lets your plane glide with no friction.

I have two of them, and the funny thing is I didn’t build them. As it turned out I was busy with a project I got permission to do in lieu of making the shooting board. Luckily some people tossed their shooting boards by the wayside  once the test was over and I was there to scoop them up!

I had connections to a non-profit and they needed some supplementary kitchen cabinets for their kitchen. A kitchen that is part of a program that cooks fresh healthy meals for students once a week for free. They were busting at the seems and needed more storage, namely a pantry unit and a hanging cabinet to go next to the stove. I proposed that my school donate my time and their materials to making these cabinets. At first, my teachers were unsure, they sent me to administration. Administration thought it was a grand idea and gave it a green light. I was psyched!

Here are the before pictures…

At the end of the cabinets in the corner is a rolling cart, that’s where they wanted to have a large pantry.

Between the stove vent and the fridge is where they wanted a hanging cabinet. Also the vent is hanging from some 2×4 framing and the chefs would stack stuff on top of the vent only to have it fall through the hollow center of the frame.

I took measurements of the spaces to be filled, consulted with my teachers about what was the best way to build the cabinets, and how to replicate the arc detail on the doors of the existing cabinets, and cut all the pieces out. I then edge banded them with an iron and wood banding, and drilled holes for shelves.

And here are the after pictures…

I machined all the parts at school and hauled them over in my car so could only assemble the cabinets onsite. The cabinets are melamine. The doors I made out of MDF- heavy! I also had to paint the doors before installing them- a pain! The door here is slightly ajar I think because I drilled the holes for one of the hinges slightly off my mark- rookie mistakes!

I had to scribe the toe kick to fit the wonky floor, 1/2″ difference from one edge of the cabinet to the other! I used a jig saw for cutting. I secured the cabinet to the wall in many spots. All but two shelves are adjustable.

I unfortunately was just learning to understand plunge routing at the time of routing these doors to match the others in the kitchen… I didn’t know that there was a lever that locked the router at the desired plunge depth- I was trying to hold it the router plunged down and move it along… made for some variable depth detailing… *doh!*

This cabinet has one adjustable shelf. I had to make cleats for the cabinet to hang on and drilled tap con screws into the concrete. I was very satisfied with how solid both cabinets were once installed. I had some help to put the cabinets in place- I’m not crazy! You can also kind of see how I added a “top” to the stove vent and painted the 2x4s so that it would be a functional shelf and blend better.

Thankfully the mistakes I did make were minor enough- not very obtrusive, and there was a happy free-storage-solution   ending. The non-profit even had a plaque made that now hangs in the kitchen giving thanks to my school.

For the next module we had to tackle how to incorporate jigs and fixtures into our work practices. The assignment we had was to split off into groups and make a production line. Each group would have one part of a a whole piece of furniture to build in multiples. The piece of furniture we wanted to make multiples of was a shaker table. We aimed to make sixteen of them. I worked in the group that processed the legs, there were three other groups, the shaft/spindle group, the table top group, the drawer assembly group.

Each group had to brainstorm what jigs would be necessary, and what procedures to follow to process our respective parts.

A couple of cool jigs that we learned about:

-Turning on the lathe using a router and a jig! It’s mind blowing! Though our jig was more sophisticated, this plan is similar. The spindles came out all exactly the same, and the router/lathe combo made the surface look like snake scales all along the spindle!

-Using a liegh type  jig to cut dovetails… unfortunately only the students on the drawer assembly understood how to use the jig…

-A template cutting jig on the router table- we used this to cut exact replicas of our legs and drawer runners keeping the grain direction in mind when cutting. This plan is similar to what we made.

-A tapering jig for the legs once they were already cut. We built a jig to send through the planer that would hold the legs at an angle to the table. We ended up using the jig to send them through the drum sander instead- just to be certain there wouldn’t be tear out.

-A jig for cutting out circles on the band saw, and a jig for routing profiles on a circular work piece

This module really taught us that there is a jig for everything, and they really do help you get precise and repeatable results.

Here are some photos from the build…

The spindles fit into the drawer assembly with a wedged tenon. You can also see the sliding dovetail slots that were to receive the legs.

The tops got the first pick at the lumber stack to ensure we’d have pretty tables!

The parts got paired and awaited assembly.

The entire class worked on sanding all the parts and assembling the tables.

The drawer slides in and out from either side of the table. Here you can see the dovetails, and the curved drawer slides.

And the final product!

Since we had several vocational programs running in our school, we got to collaborate with the finishers on what finish we wanted for our respective tables. I chose oil and lacquer. I want to see the cherry age naturally.

Next up we had an introduction into veneer. We learned out to use a veneer press ( industrial grade), and a vacuum press (most likely what I’ll have, on a much smaller scale), a fret saw, a veneer saw, and an electric scroll saw.

Here are some of the projects I made during the module…

This was a test after we made some parquetry designs, we had to make a four way book match with a frame around it. I didn’t choose the best sheets of veneer for this- the grain is crooked and not consistent…

We finally finished our table tops for the leg and rail! First we started with the B side- this gave us a chance to work out the kinks with our technique and in my case- a case of the ugly ( This practice run let me know not to pick colours at random!)

And this is my final table! I learned while sanding with an orbital sander that veneer is VERY thin, I have one spot where I sanded through, but thankfully the cross banding veneer underneath is a similar colour so it’s not too in-your-face.

I did a practice run of this pattern first- glad I did because it was really rough compared to this.

We were told to make different styles of shoes  and that a series of the shoes would be hung up later on the wall- unfortunately most people didn’t hand in the shoes so I never go to see them all together.

We all attempted to replicate a picture of an elephant standing on a ball- as our introduction to using a fret saw. Cutting by hand is really hard!! I didn’t finish mine.

And finally this was the test I had for marquetry. We each got one of four designs to cut out, assemble, and glue within four hours. We also had to use a technique new to us- burning the veneer for shading by dipping it into sand in a hot pan.

Thanks for reading! Happy woodworking.

Stay tuned for more posts on the projects I made at woodworking school.

Projects from woodworking school… part II

11 Apr

If you tuned in last time, I had shared  my first woodworking projects from woodworking school. I’d started out an absolute beginner, but now I was warmed up after using some hand tools, power tools and being introduced to stationary tools.

Here is the second installment of projects from woodworking school.


Our next project was another mallet! But this time turned on the lathe. We started with rough oak or ash and milled up blocks of wood, then glued up the mallet blank, in my case as with many others I chose to glue contrasting veneers between the blocks of wood.

Everyone designed their own mallet shape. While most people winged their design, I chose to follow the specs I had drawn with only minor changes.

I’m sensitive about the way things fit in my hand. I didn’t want any sharp edges digging into my palm so I went with a more traditional looking mallet.

 Tea time…
After the fun time at the lathe we got back to learning to cut joints using stationary machines and a Tea Box design.

The Tea box project

This was the only project we did using metric measurements.

This view shows the joinery very well, the box has floating panels as the top and bottom, the sides are keyed miters, and there are dadoes cut to fit the dividers. Again it was a slip joint top, but in practice a tea box that has a hinge would be way more convenient.

Dramatic lighting was unintended and perhaps not the best for illustrating the final product. I finished mine with a dark stain. Most of my classmates opted for a clear finish. 

This project introduced us to cutting miters and keys.  We also had to fit our panels into the grooves we cut, and make stopped dadoes for the dividers.  We had an overhead pin router for that task- but a regular router would do the trick.

The exam for this module was  cut a scrap of wood precisely with holes, dadoes, grooves, curves, and chamfers follwoing a plan. I was disappointed that the resulting “part” was not a piece of a bigger design- it was just a random test part that got thrown into the scrap bin. Missed opportunity, I say.

There was a bit of free time at the end of this module– for those of us that had completed our tea boxes. I was always exactly in the middle when it came to how fast I was in relation to my classmates.

I chose to make  what I thought would be used as a cat bed, but turned out being a storage solution for mitts and scarves. The cats didn’t like the strong smell of pine. Some people had enough time to make a second tea box.

I put this together relatively quickly. I wasn’t too worried about getting it perfect.

I also needed a laptop tray so I cut a scrap piece of 3/8″ plywood to shape during free time. I was already finding woodworking to be quite convenient. Need something? Make it!

Now that we were geared up and ready to build more…

We hit the classroom and learned furniture styles. We took three field trips to museums and to furniture stores in our city. Some hit the antique districts, while others visited the contemporary furniture stores. We got a quick rundown on the history of furniture, the different styles, the parts, and the decorative features. It was humbling to see the sheer number of hours that went into some of the furniture designs.

We also learned about the golden ratio; proportions that are the most universally pleasing.

The final for this module was to give a presentation on your favourite and least favourite furniture styles including photos shown via projector. I hate presentations and this was the second one I had to do in under 5 months. It went well.

Group time…

Our next module was the first project we split off into groups. Each group was to make their own unique set of 3 nesting tables. One group had to make their nesting tables out of laminated plywoods that would have bent legs, one would have fluted tapered legs (my group), one would have beaded tapered legs, and there was one other group I think but I can’t recall what the challenge was. I didn’t document these tables very well, so here is the one picture I do have.

The tops are not yet on and the tables are upside down- but you get the idea. My group was the slowest and finished the tables only after the module had ended.

Working in groups presented a lot of challenges. For some groups there was a clear cut leader, some had too many leaders or none at all. There were some personality clashes and others were solid units working happily along.

In my group we had one major problem- discussions were ongoing and constant- it seemed any decision that we would reach would then be brought back into question later on. It frustrated me that we couldn’t just agree and move onto building- it wasn’t surprising that we did not complete our tables during the allotted time. It’s not that I don’t play well with others, but I’ve always gravitated towards working in solitary situations, so checking in with people was a bit alien to me.

Shop visits…

Interspersed throughout these stationary machine modules and over a span of a couple of months we visited 7 different shops as a class. We visited a luthier, an aerospace operation, two separate cabinet makers, a one man shop, a furniture restorer, a contemporary furniture shop (that had a prominent storefront), and a custom built-ins shop. We wrote reports on each of these visits. I was quite pleased with the variety of shops we visited.

Flying solo, building a tool box …

It was time to move upward and onward. It was time to abandon the buddy system and work independently. Our next module using stationary machines had us complete three more projects.

First was the tool box. The sides were rebated together then keyed. Many in my class made box joints instead.  The technical drawings we’d made had the top and bottom rebated into the sides, but this didn’t allow for wood movement- so as a class we decided to make the top and bottom fit into grooves.

We had seen other tool box designs made at our school that were much more appealing than this one- but ultimately it does the job.

As you can see the rebates would have bought us more storage space, but making the top and bottom floating panels was a better choice in terms of wood movement.

The runners for the drawers consisted of a spacer that had a groove run along it, and a runner glued into it. The drawer sides were then grooved to fit onto the runners.

I made some minor mistakes, but none that ruined the project for me. Installing hinges was unexpectedly fun!

In this project we learned how to fit a drawer. We also learned how to cut out the false front of the drawer from the tool box “front” to glue it onto the drawer creating a continuous grain pattern.

And then came the leg and rail…

We drafted the leg and rail with straight legs but in reality we had to either turn the legs or taper them.

The rails were to have haunched mitered tenons.

Exactly what the pieces looked like when cut.

Here was the leg pattern I chose, it’s pretty ordinary. We cut grooves into the insides of the rails to later fit cleats or buttons that would secure the top to the leg and rail assembly. The top was to be completed in later modules.

In this project we learned how to make mortises, mitered  haunched tenons and how to fit tenons. We also found out how important having a marking system for staying organized is! We had milled five legs just in case something went awry and I can almost guarantee that we all needed that spare leg by the end of the project.

A cabinet of sorts…

We rounded out the module by making a clock case.

The clock case

There are Mitered rebates for the top of the clock case, and a raised panel door.

This was our first time drilling holes for adjustable shelving- a surprising amount of things can go wrong when drilling those holes for the first time ever.

The finished product. Meant to hang on a wall, but I also made the door a bit offset from the case so that it could rest on a table and be opened without scraping the table. 

In this project we learned mitered rebates, how to cut coves on the table saw, rail and stile joinery, and how to fit a door to a case by abandoning the cut list and following relative measurements.


At this point I started to feel like a woodworker. I’d learned some things! I’d become familiar with some serious machinery. Not to mention my head and heart were fully into woodworking; I was already feeling pretty passionate about the trade. And I was only mid-way through the program!

Stay tuned to see more projects I built at woodworking school- among other shop talk. Happy woodworking.

Working it…

3 Mar

The path of my woodworking career, one year in.

My foot in the door…

I got my first woodworking job in March of 2011. I found out about the job through my woodworking school. The company was an art studio that made high end corporate gifts, such as vases, bracelets and desktop organizers. I worked there for six months. I learnt how to use a sand blasting machine, a metal shear, and an old giant veneer press. I had many different products to make and manipulated many different materials. I even spent time in the spray booth and learnt how to mix lacquer, and use a spray gun properly.

The next step…

In October 2011 I moved on to a job in Aerospace, building cabinetry for private jets. I sought out the job specifically this time, applying to the company cold. Luckily they were hiring for many positions and I got in.The certificate I earned at woodworking school came in handy as it was a prerequisite for the job. It’s a funny thing, most of the equipment is all familiar but the materials used in Aerospace are SO alien, it took a while to get used to. I spent about a month at this company.

Fiberglass skins on either side of a honeycomb formed cardboard is a super light weight material used in aircrafts.

The upset…

After a month of working in Aerospace I was laid off. So were about 40 other people. I didn’t feel wonderful about it but I also wasn’t hit as hard as those who’d worked there longer.

The interim…

I knew that I wasn’t ready to start my woodworking business solo quite yet. I actively looked for a new job, and contacted possible employers. I kept my phone on me 24/7 with ears pricked.

As weeks went on I decided to work on my shop while I waited for word. I made shop fixtures, and moved all the wood from under my bed to my shop.

I received a couple of calls from the placement agency that I signed on with, neither of them panned out.

As more weeks went by and still no success at finding a new job, I started to build some tables out of scrap wood I’d found in the bins at school.

And then it happened…

After three months of being out of a job I got called back to the Aerospace company that laid me off. I go back Monday. I’m super pleased and yet I hope they keep me on for a while longer than last time! I’ll be working on those tables at my own shop when I can sneak them in. I’ll document the progress on those.

Coming up I’m going to review the Rockler DustRight dust collection system that I own. I’ll also be posting a little trick for measuring tapes, and *hanging head* I bought a few more tools that I’ll post photos of.

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.

A daunting task- time to start my job search.

9 Mar

A lot has happened in recent weeks. All very relevant to my woodworking career goals. I’m almost to the five week mark in my apprenticeship, with only one more week left after that! With such little time left, I’ve been hastily putting my efforts towards my job search.

It’s always shocking when a far off date finally rounds a bend in your reality and suddenly NOW is go time. Since I decided I’d like to build funds and experience before starting my own business, I need to find a woodworking related job. I’ve been a little disappointed thus far in my search. I was hoping to find something  related to my utlimate shop setup. I may need to compromise depending on what’s available right now. Timing is everything!

So far I’ve asked Tim if he knows of anybody that is hiring, and contacted my school for any juicy job leads. The school yielded one, which I’ve applied to. I found  and applied to another interesting position listed on a government job bank website.

Next I need to spread the word to my friends and family that I’m actively looking. The search continues!

I accidentally deleted a fully written post recently. I have yet to re-write it- but soon there will be a second installment of lessons from woodworking school. I’ll also no doubt relay the highlights of my apprenticeship, and check in with job search details.

I also have pretty substantial changes in plans for the shop as it turns out. A family meeting about the (family) shop space kind of put a kink in my plans. More on that soon!

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.

Lessons… from woodworking school

11 Feb

So… what was woodworking school like? I thought I’d go into some detail on the topic. I know that not everyone that wants to take a woodworking course can do so, for whatever reasons. I was fortunate enough to live in a place where woodworking courses (cabinet making courses to be specific) are subsidized by the Government (as part of an initiative to create more jobs in the trades), and it cost me only $240 to register for a full 12 months of education. I’ve heard that equivalent courses cost up to $10,000 elsewhere.  So why not get a little insight- for free.

I’ll go into:

  • the projects we tackled and why they were useful learning vehicles (pictures included)
  • my personal learning curve as I experienced it
  • safety procedures we learned
  • notable techniques we used and were taught
  • the approximate time it took us to complete projects
  • AND more

My school

As a little precursor I’d like to give a brief description of my school. I went to a vocational school that had many different trades and professions to choose from. We would walk down halls and see electro-mechanics frowning over complex machinery, graphic designers chained to their computers and printers wearing aprons covered in cyan and magenta splotches. The cabinet making course was held in a shop right next to the machinist’s shops, and we shared the tool crib (all the tools were stored there, and lent out as per your request/needs) with them- always warring to beat them to the line for tools. We tried to stay on the good side of the tool crib manager.

The Cabinet making program itself was comprehensive yet we never had quite enough time to master any one thing. This was a program put together for individuals with absolutely no experience in woodworking. We weren’t there to refine skills we already had, or to learn master joinery and build fine furniture within a month of starting the course. We were there to learn from A-Z about anything a woodworker might find a job doing in industry (including cabinet making). In this sense it was no frills, we were not given a list of fine tools to purchase, in fact we only had a few marking and measuring tools to buy and the rest were provided by the school. More on that soon!

Let’s jump right into Lesson 1

So, what was the first thing we were asked to do? Well, it wasn’t what I had expected. I thought maybe we’d be thrust right into the thick of things and begin building. I feared that I wouldn’t be prepared and wouldn’t feel comfortable with the tools yet.

Lo’ and behold we didn’t pick up a single tool the first days. We were instead asked to assess whether woodworking was a career we really wished to pursue. Our fist assignment was to seek out and visit a minimum of three woodworking shops and gather basic information about them. What was the size of the shop, what did they specialize in/produce, what were the machines used, who were their clients and were they hiring or accepting apprentices? We were told to each go alone. This terrified me. But I did it, and so did most everyone in the class. Next we were asked to draw up reports on each visit and give an oral presentation on what we found. This terrified me…again. I hate public speaking. But I followed through yet again and felt a new confidence about my decision to become a woodworker. If I could be moved to do things that I normally would avoid at all costs, then obviously I’d found something that motivated me in a positive way. I also mostly liked what I saw and heard about the various shops.

What I learned

The first place I visited sobered me up, it was a small dimly lit shop dedicated to slapping together white melamine cabinet cases.  The work looked soulless.  I knew then that I’d have to be careful to choose the right job, or I might end up trapped and unhappy. I also was instantly aware of how inherently dangerous woodworking is as a trade. One man was missing two fingers.

The next shop cheered me up. They produced very high end solid wood furniture and had a product line. This made me realize that woodworking could be anything I wanted it to be, I didn’t have to work  in a bad environment, or produce stuff that I didn’t feel any connection to. AND I could make money. This shop had a front office that looked very sleek. The owner himself took me on a tour, he was in his thirties, also encouraging. I could envision myself being successful sooner rather than later looking at this shop.

The last shop I visited was very impressive. I think they had about twenty employees. Each was dedicated to a certain machine, working solid wood.  They made fine furniture AND had a very professional show room a block away that I visited. The most impressive part was visiting all of the different production stages, the furniture was made from start to finish on site- including upholstery, any other fancy detailing and finishing. They never bought pre-made turned legs or other furniture parts, it was all done in house. I realised these were huge selling points to their clients. I liked the thought of quality being much more important than cutting corners and producing a product the cheapest ways possible.

Needless to say I was convinced that there were all kinds of opportunities in the market place after hearing the presentations of my classmates. Together we had captured a mini picture of what the woodworking landscape was like in our own city. And the results were encouraging.

I had a sense of things falling into place. I was embarking on a path that felt right.

I’d encourage anyone who’s planning a new career to do their homework on what the work is really like, get an inside peek.

Stay tuned for more lessons from woodworking school!

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