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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!

Verdict is in…

17 Nov

….annnnnnd I have a white card! As of yesterday I accepted the offer to become a permanent worker- I’ll sign officially in a week or so.

Yehoo! For the first time in my life I have a secure job with benefits- for as long as I want it. Although most of my artist friends look down on my “factory job”  in Aerospace, I can’t help but feel proud of the accomplishment, and feel a bit giddy at some of the freedoms it will give me. It’s no ordinary factory job, there are no conveyor belts etc., we’re doing custom work in a more cozy setting . I have a calm and safe workplace, I build something that I’m proud of, and I’ve made some good friends.

What will become of me now!?

My original plan was to work at least two different jobs in the woodworking industry to diversify my experience and I’ve done that.

I also planned to work to buy tools. And I’ve done that. (and frankly there’s no end to the tools, but I have a great foundation now)

Next I planned to slowly but surely build a customer base by making furniture on the side. I wanted to start my business with the least amount of risk. That’s where I’m at now.

The goals stay the same but some are gaining priority…

The problem is that the third and final phase of my plan I’ve found to be a bit flawed in practice. I don’t have the energy to tackle full scale furniture projects on a deadline. I need to work at a leisurely pace, and still have time to live outside the shop. My first commission was a trial run that proved difficult on my everyday life. To make matters more complicated some of life’s other priorities have crept in- having a family and home-ownership are bumping my woodworking business plans down a peg or two.

The revised plan

I still plan to start my own woodworking business, but I want to put less pressure on myself and say that it happens when it happens. I need to actually discover what my niche will be- which I’d like to come to in a natural way by experimenting. I would hate to start hastily by doing the first thing that comes to mind and then get pegged into making a particular product that I didn’t even feel passionate about. The world feels full of possibility again!

Let the experiments begin!

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!

My first commission … the never ending project ends

17 Oct

Hooray! After many weeks of toil I finally wrapped up my first commission.

It was a surprise to me how much I had underestimated the time it would take me to complete the project. I felt like I was treading in quicksand as each deadline passed. I hate missing deadlines. As much as I was looking forward to getting my first commission I’ve learned a valuable lesson. Don’t bite off more than you can chew! As I found out, two hour sessions in the shop don’t allow for very much momentum and flow. So I’ve resolved that before taking on future commissions I’ll carefully assess how much time I’d need to complete the project, and the complexity or amount of procedures involved and then ensure that the timeline is loose enough that I can still have a life outside of woodworking (which I haven’t had much of these past weeks!). Above all I want to make sure that woodworking doesn’t become a stressful activity that I start to hate!

Without further ado here are is the wrap up of my first woodworking commission!

I last left off with the seven pullout surfaces completed and delivered. Next I moved on to  building drawers…

I started by re-sawing the stock I was given. I set up my shop made bandsaw fence to account for drift and was pleased with the results. BUT feed rate made all the difference, on the right I fed the stock too quickly and the blade wandered. I then began feeding the stock at a more moderate feed rate and the rest of the re-sawing came out like the example on the left. Luckily the wobbly cut pcs. still planed out all the bandsaw marks.

I then pre-milled the boards and let them sit a few days on stickers before milling them to final dimension.

I was pretty impressed with the cut quality of my planer. There were some that tore out no matter which direction they were fed, but others came out smooth as silk. Sapele has reversing grain all over the place- it sure isn’t predictable!

I had to laminate some boards and then I cut them all down to size for the drawers.

Next I cut the joints at the router table- rebates and grooves.

Here are some of the parts awaiting assembly.

I then assembled all the drawers…

Then I fitted all the drawer bottoms…

And then I sanded them, here are the final drawers.

Four drawers in total.

Next I worked on the remote control caddies:

I started by cutting out my parts.

I then glued the faux frame and panel together.

The clamps at work


I then rounded over the top inside edge of the sides, and added a rebate for the bottom at the router table.

I then ganged up each pair with the routered parts facing each other and cut the angle at the bandsaw and smoothed that out at the edge sander …

… which I just bought myself as a birthday gift! Let me count the ways I love thee ridgid edge sander / spindle sander! I’ve already used it so much that I don’t doubt it was an excellent buy.

Next I realised I had read the plans wrong and the faux frame and panel was a bit too short! I hemmed and hawed a bit then decided to add a wood lip on the top edge to lengthen the panel. I edgebanded right over the endgrain on this late addition. It turned out to be a seamless fix that I quite like.

And the final assembly! The sheet stock off cuts in the middle are just spacer blocks.

Here they are completed. You can see here how the edge banding covers the endgrain of the top trim. The center of the panel will recieve moulding and the caddy will be mounted against a panel of the built-in which is why it doesn’t require a back.

And finally I worked on the wine glass racks:

Onwards I went with the wine glass racks. I cut out the parts and edge banded all of the parts first.

Here’s my set up for filing the edge banding flush.

Three sides on 7pieces and all four sides on 7 other pieces. That’s a lot of edge banding.

I drilled mounting holes in the backs.

I used two large push blocks when routing the profiles and that kept me safe and the profile consistent.

I decided to rip the molding off of the board each time so that I could work with a larger more stable board at the router table.

I sanded these moldings a little before moving on to the next step.

I cut all my moldings to size at the mitre saw.

I used tape to clamp the glue-ups, but I’d love to get some mitre spring clamps.

I pre-drilled holes and then screwed on the backs to the bottoms

Which gave me this. Oh yeah I forgot to mention that I sanded all the parts just before assembly.

Then I cut spacers and sighted the middle of the molding, then secured each end with one screw.

Which gave me this.

Here they are in all their glory. The racks will be fastened to the insides of the built-in’s cabinet doors, and then wine glasses will be stored in these racks.

I delivered each batch as it was completed and the final batch was just delivered to Tim on Monday. He still has to coat them with finish and have the components installed in the built in. The last batch I was the least proud of- some of my mitres were fugly- but I will now take the time to adjust my miter saw and even build a 45degree shooting board so that I can quickly fine tune miters. A mitre jig for the table saw and a hold down jig for the mitre saw might also materialize. I’ll probably also get some clamps in the near future- I seem to have  awkwardly long/heavy clamps and none suited to smaller and/or finicky glue-ups.

Progress at a snails pace…my first commission!

3 Oct

Greetings woodworking friends! If I’ve been absent from the blogosphere it hasn’t been on purpose. I’ve been hard at work on my first woodworking commission! I’ve been pushing hard to visit the shop as often as possible. It’s a half hour drive from my home, so it certainly takes some orchestration. I’ve been getting in about 2hrs at the shop before I have to head off to work. As with most woodworking projects I feel I underestimated the time it would take! And working 2hrs at a time is really a stop and start method I don’t recommend. I recall reading that one of the woodworking bloggers can only get in half hour increments in his shop- I couldn’t even imagine! Even 2hrs amounts to a couple of sawdust blinks and it’s over!

The commish (haha remember that show?)

My apprenticeship mentor (“Tim Timberland” as earlier mentioned in my blog- not his real name!) provided me with this- my first woodworking commission. He has been transforming a room over several months into a study that basically IS a built-in. All four walls are covered by a monumental built-in. Now that he’s wrapping up the project he has had an overflow of work and called in for extra hands. All that’s left are small components that complete the built-in: drawers, pullout writing surfaces, and some caddies that will hold remote controls(to be hung next to a couch) and wine glasses(to be hung on the inside of cabinet doors).


Tim provided me with materials, some detailed plans, and even some samples!

The designs are a mix of veneered sheet goods and solid wood.

I kind of lucked out that Tim had pre-cut all of the materials- it made for hassle free transportation of the materials, and more-over my shop is small so I didn’t have to cut down full sized sheet goods.

Here’s a sample of the pullout surfaces- it’s a cut-away. These will be mounted inside the built-in and the fronts will receive drawer fronts.

And the build…

And so it began! I started with a flurry of cutting parts to size at the table saw. Scroll saw pictured here was just a place for my parts to collect.

A lot of edge banding followed.

Pictured here are all the parts needed to make the pullout surfaces. The far right pile is edge banded on three edges.

Next I put together the sub-assembly of the pullouts. With glue…

…and brads.

And more edge banding ensued.

Next it was time to start assembling- slides and the pullout bases.

But first I stopped to sand my parts. I wanted to use my new sander but it seemed a little heavy for veneer and I’m not used to it yet.

First I attached the slides to part of the base.

Then I screwed the slides onto undersides of the pullout surfaces.Shown here with a 1/8 spacer block, and a registration block that helped position the slides.

Here it is once installed.

Next I added the final parts to the base with glue and brads.

My fingers are holding up a 1/8″ spacer block to show how I aligned the parts. The surface is 1/8″ narrower than the base, and is set 1/8″ forward on the base so that the base will not interfere with the pullout closing.

Now to get your bearings on this built-in component, here it is upside-down…

…and here it is right side up. I pulled it out to demonstrate the full extension slides.

And finally here is the stack that I delivered earlier this week.

I have lots of the other parts all cut to dimension and they are awaiting routing and edge-banding, sanding and assembly. For clarity purposes I’ll present each component from start to finish in a post. In reality space and time are a jumble in the shop and any number of the components move forward with each machine set-up and shop visit.

I wish things would go a bit faster, I feel like I’m letting Tim down. But I can only do what I can fit in the time I’m given. So I’ll just keep trucking. The stress aside- it really feels great to get in the shop and build something with purpose and it’s giving me a chance to test out how effective my tool selections have been. I know now that I need to tuneup my jointer soon, but that I really do have most of my bases covered.

Tomorrow I head off to the shop again- wish me luck!

Til next time, happy woodworking!

A visit from the ergonomist…

10 Sep

One of the benefits of working for a big company is that they hire all kinds of professionals to help the company improve. In this case we had a visit from an  Ergonomist. She held a workshop and then followed each of the attendees for half hour sessions to observe how we worked and to suggest improvements.

The workshop was a two hour lecture on the body and possible problems we might run into while working a physical job. Tendonitis, hernias, sciatica flare ups, and carpal tunnel syndrome among them. The point of the lecture being that we often don’t listen to our bodies, and move in very detrimental ways that lead to all of those aches and pains that can become long term problems. We often push ourselves too hard, put ourselves into awkward positions because we ” just need to get this one thing done”, and ignore aches and pains until it’s too late. We also give excuses as to why we might be sore, “oh I must have slept on it wrong” etc until we have entirely dismissed the proper source of the problem.
Now a lot of the solutions are answers you might think can be found through common sense. But if you had an ergonomist follow you for a period of time  in the shop I bet you’d find you were guilty of some  infractions! I tend to break the laws of good ergonomics often, which explains why I’m experiencing a lot of aches and pains. But I’ll share what I learned on the topic, and hopefully this can help!

Preventative Tips to less aches and pains :

-Keep your center of gravity in mind( ie. if you’re leaning forward, move your legs to support that action)

-Move with your whole body and not just your arms

-Keep your arms close to your body whenever possible to reduce exertion and straining your joints

-Grip with your whole hand and not just your fingertips

-Always point your body AND toes in the direction that you’re working

-Bend your knees while doing work that requires effort

-Take mini-breaks (15-20 seconds every now and then) during demanding work especially if the task has caused you pain in the past

-Let go of your tool often and change your hand positions often

-Whenever possible try to only bend your body in one direction at a time (ie. if you pick up a box on the floor and bend over and twist at the waist, that’s two directions)

-Actively double check your body position during a task and ask yourself if you’re in the most comfortable position

-Stretch before working, and at the very least stretch the body part you’ll be straining moments before you start a task.

-and finally assess whether there is another  tool, technique, or angle to use, or  another way to raise, lower, or clamp your workpiece so that  it will be in a better position for your body.

Treatment  tips for aches and pains:

-Number 1 is to listen to your body and at the first signs of strain try to work in another way that doesn’t cause the strain or pain to return. Once your body reaches a certain buildup of lactic acid in the muscles it can take up to 6 hours to release those toxins. Which is why when you attempt to return to a task that was hurting, you can endure it for shorter and shorter periods of time than the initial period that lead up to the pain.

-If you have tendonitis there is a band you can slip onto your forearm that gives your tendons support during strenuous activities (it’s important to only use it during strenuous activities because it doesn’t help tendonitis at any other times)

Compression bands can help tendonitis!

-If you sleep with your hand pressed against your face and experience wrist pain, you can buy special gloves that keep your wrists straight as you sleep.

Use heat on knotted muscles to help them relax

Use ice on tendons and joints to help reduce inflammation.

-Stretch the aching area to release toxins

-Rest the area and try to avoid using that body part even in every day life whenever possible(use a less dominant hand for instance)

Tug of war

Of the suggestions and tips above, I do follow some willingly and others seem to be a struggle to put in action.

At work there is a fitness instructor that visits daily at the beginning of each workday to put us through various stretches. This is on a volunteer basis, it is not mandatory, but really it should be. I found myself attending these stretching sessions about two months ago and have made efforts to go every day since.  I’ve never thought much of stretching but I’ve found it really has helped.

Here are some common stretches for problem areas:

For the Back

Lie on the ground with your arms spread out, take one leg and cross it over your body and let it down onto the ground and relax it keeping your torso flat against the ground.

Slowly round your back by slumping forward and letting your head drop towards your body. Continue rounding your back downwards one vertebrae at a time. Stop at any point where you feel the most tension and hold the stretch there. Then slowly rise back up one vertebrae at a time

Lift your leg to your chest and hold it there with your arms. Repeat with the other leg.

For the neck

Put one hand behind your back and lean your head to the side of your relaxed arm. The bring your relaxed arm up and put your hand on your head, but little or no pressure on your head with that hand. Hold for five seconds. Keep your head from leaning forward or backward during the stretch.

Another is to do slow semi circles with your head dipping low in the center and coming up to each shoulder, not forcing the neck, but relaxing it and feeling your vertebrae as you raise and lower your head in semi circles.

For the forearms

My points of contention…

So I stretch before work…  but I certainly have a hard time remembering to stretch just before strenuous activities, it may take a while to make progress there.

Also some of the simple tips such as changing hand positions often, and taking mini breaks seem to elude me. It’s difficult to interrupt work flow but I’ll try to make it more of a priority.

Bending in more than one direction is also a problem spot right now. I forget to reposition my stance if I reach for something diagonal to me on the bench, so I lean forward and twist at the same time. I feel this will improve over time.

The ergonomist specifically mentioned that I tend to bend my head down to take a look at my progress and suggested I move my workpiece closer or bend my knees instead of straining my neck. This one will take a lot of time I think. It just seems quicker to bend my head down than to reposition my workpiece every time. But now I’m aware of it and I will try to improve this point over time.

Do you recognize yourself in any of the examples above? I certainly did. I even noticed that I don’t point my feet towards what I’m working on even in everyday circumstances. I need to improve on MANY things!

Happy woodworking, ’til next time.

The job that’s paying the bills… more about my aerospace experience

26 Jul

So it’s been four months since I’ve been back on the job (5 months total not counting a lay-off period inbetween). This job pays the bills, and that was what it was intended for. I wanted to amass as much woodworking toolage (sure it’s a word… ) as possible while building experience on the job to boot.

But truthfully I’ve been trying to figure out how long I want to keep this job. I haven’t been all that happy. I’ve been yearning to start my own woodworking business ASAP, but recent events may change my mind.

Nothing but the truth…

These past four months have been spent at one station, assembling drawers for the kitchen area of private jets. This entailed many procedures that got carried out over a jam packed six day period- then it was on to the next jet’s drawers. Each task was written in a chart. The amount of hours given for each task on my chart seemed to never correlate with how long it took me to accomplish each task. Over four months I grew faster, but still not fast enough for the charts. I was delivering the finished drawers behind schedule each week. This grew more and more frustrating. I had positive feedback about the quality of my work, from several people but I somehow couldn’t find a way to keep up. I wasn’t alone. My station was shared with another person on my shift, plus two people on the day shift. All of us were struggling. I worked myself ragged some days- advil and ice followed. Sometimes we would even get help from other very experienced woodworkers in our section- I noticed that they too could not work at the pace the chart demanded. Finally we had a two our meeting with the fellow that created the chart and he agreed that changes needed to be made.

The shift…

Several days ago we started a new jet that was to have the amended chart with more realistic hours for each task. But that same day I was switched over to another station, as were four other people in our section. I was disappointed at first because I wanted to prove I could turn around the drawer station- especially with the new chart. But the higher ups had made their decision.

Hind Sight…

I’m now working on a totally different part of the kitchen. I’ve had two days of worry-free bliss compared to the station I’d been frantically struggling through. Both days so far I’ve been able to do the work assigned in the time assigned, and even a little under schedule. I can’t believe the difference. I have the sense that I had been dropped into the worst possible station right out of the gate. Aerospace work doesn’t resemble traditional woodworking in the least, so in this case learning your abc’s is hard enough without being asked to then transcribe a dictionary. Short of growing two extra arms I don’t know how I could have done better than what I was doing. No wonder I was so stressed all the time. I had no idea just how bad it had been until I started this new station of sunshine and lolipops. My attitude towards my job-that-pays-the-bills has improved ten-fold. It feels good to breathe again.  So… yeah I might stay a while longer… I’m still not sure how long, but longer than before the change in stations- that’s for sure.

Projects from woodworking school part IV- the conclusion

22 May

This is the final instalment of the projects I made at woodworking school. If you missed  earlier instalments they are as follows:

Projects part I- as a beginner. Learning to use hand tools and some power tools

Projects Part II- getting to know stationary tools

Projects Part III- a look at jigs, panel saws and drum sanders 

Part three showed that my classmates and I had progressed to more difficult projects as time went on. The shaker table is one project from school that I still puff with pride about.

We had a stock pile of projects at this point all in dire need of some finishing. Thankfully the next module we sunk our teeth into was finishing.


Much like the glue-ups, finishing proved to be difficult at first for the majority of the class. Why were we getting such unpredictable results?! It was simple really- we had no clue what we were doing those first days-even after careful instruction from our teacher. Like most things you need to get a feel for it. We learnt how to apply stains, dyes, lacquer, varnish, wax, buffing compounds and touch up products. We learnt that it is possible to layer stains. We learnt how to rid our pieces of unsightly blushing, and we also learnt the importance of scuff sanding between coats of finish. Frankly we didn’t have nearly enough time on the topic and fit in as much frantic experimentation as we could. Bob Flexner was introduced to us in this module- several months ago I was able to track down a used copy of his book “Understanding Wood Finishing” he is a master, and the book is excellent. I finished every project myself except for the shaker table.


We had been to two exhibitions of the students that went before us and had seen their interpretations of Krenov cabinets. We couldn’t wait to build our own. This module was a watermark for everyone. We were finally allowed to design the project. We split off into groups and spent many weeks at the drawing board (literally). While we were at it we learnt how to use  google Sketch-up to draft our creations. We still had some parameters to follow. We had to keep the overall dimensions within 30″ x 30″ x 60″ and we had to have at least one drawer in the cabinet. We also had to have doors on the cabinets and install knife hinges. We calculated the quantities of materials and ordered them while we finished drafting our creations. Once we had a full set of drawings each group hit the shop and started building.

One group made a classic Krenov cabinet. I really liked their wood choices. The proportions for this cabinet were strictly using the golden ratio as you’ll see in the next photos

I’m glad I got pictures of it, it was literally moments away from being loaded into someone’s car. We were given the option of buying the three cabinets we built for the cost of the materials. $150 per cabinet.

Needless to say all three of them found a home. The pattern on the drawer fronts is the symbol for the golden ratio.

This interpretation was pretty inventive.

The doors were an unconventional design that kind of reflect the way the legs cross.

And there’s the rest. There is a drawer just under the cabinet and…

… a hidden drawer behind the first central drawer.

My group’s cabinet also came out a bit funky looking- we were constantly unsure of our impressions of the design. The three of us in the group that put together the design, were also the same three that put in extra hours until this cabinet was complete. We didn’t finish building our cabinet within the allotted time.

We thought it would be really cool to create the effect of a floating drawer with two other elements in space. I also happened to have aluminum square rods that we incorporated to make that effect possible.

We built two drawers beside the cabinet- which blend into the cabinet when closed because of the continuous grain of the zebra wood veneer. (we had originally planned for a spalted maple veneer front but the stores didn’t have any in stock.)

This module gave us a great wealth of experience incorporating veneer into projects, installing knife hinges, designing and creating cut lists, material lists and plans from scratch, and so much more. It was a brilliant way to introduce us to Krenov. I even took out a book on Krenov from the library, a woodworker’s notebook, or something of a similar title. I was amazed to find that he would share his thoughts of never being good enough. I think that’s the best thing I learnt. Masters become so because they have a drive to always improve, and always try new things. Among other things.

How to start a business

I was glad that we had this incorporated into the program. Because really the program was built to mainly create industry ready workers. But here it was. One of my classmates called this module “story time with Ted” because our teacher would basically just tell us his own business experiences. But they were gold to me. He covered renting shop space, overhead, zoning, sales and marketing, the business types (partnership,  sole proprietor etc.) and the common pitfalls.

Repairs and restoration

In this module, everyone brought in at least two pieces of furniture to repair, and/or  re-finish. It was fantastic in that we had a wide variety of repairs to do and each learned from the combined efforts of the class. Turning new legs for chairs, re caning a chair, building replacement parts for stretchers and the list goes on.

Personally I brought in a cheap rubber wood windsor chair that was in shambles and disassembled and reassembled it within an hour. Next I refinished my solid oak dining table that had many issues with it. I stripped it,  glued in a patch, and sanded and refinished  it. It looks ten times better. After that I brought in some chinese nesting tables that my family passed on to me. They were missing at least two parts of the stretchers and had very loose joints.

These tables got a lot of attention because of the beautiful carvings. I made replacement stretcher parts, disassembled each and every part, pulled out nails that had caused the joints to fail, cleaned out the glue , and reassembled it with hide glue. Next I cleaned all of the grit from the carvings, covered the million or so nicks with black touch up paint, and added several coats of wax.


The most amazing thing I learned about carving is that it’s not just for the artistically inclined ( like me). It can be a very calculated craft. The ball and claw is an excellent example. There are so many lay out lines that help make even the novice carve a perfectly beautiful ball and claw. It’s a step by step process- think too far ahead and you’ll be overwhelmed, but really it’s not all that complicated. We were encouraged to read up on Chris pye, and were given several articles on carving.

I learned that I’m not very good at finessing wood to create smooth facets- tool marks and tear out were a reality.

We also did lettering, but I neglected to take a photo of it.

We each has some free time to carve any picture of our choice

This one I heart and is perhaps my shop mascot. It sits in the window in my shop.

It’s funny because I researched grain direction for legs and my teacher laid out all of the blanks ahead of time, tracing the shape of our legs with a template. When i cut mine out I was surprised to find my teacher hadn’t oriented the leg so that the grain would follow the curve of the leg- instead it’s an example of how NOT to orient the grain.

As I said before, everyone in class ended up with a very nice ball and claw, no matter that we had just started carving days earlier.

Stair case

The stair case module was surprisingly mathematical. Rise and run head fuzz was a real thing. It took us several days to calculate properly. We also hit the computer lab and drafted our squat stair case on google sketch-up.

The top step had a mitered return.

This type of stringer is routed so that your treads and risers fit into the stringer and are then secured with wedges from underneath. Here you can see it was a nice tight fit, and the bullnose is a pretty close fit with the pattern I routed into the stringer.

Here you see the routed sections the risers and treads fit into, along with the wedges that secure the steps. There are also glue blocks that keep the stairs from squeaking over time.

At first I didn’t know what the heck to do with this SQUAT stair case, it was large enough that I ruled it out as a step stool for a kitchen. And yet it was so solid…

Then it dawned on me. My mom has a yorkshire that can’t make it up onto the bed, so my staircase has been put to work, and the yorkie uses it every day.

Final Project

The krenov was the first project we were allowed to design, and our final project was the second(and last). We were allowed to build from an existing plan or build just about anything under the sun- except that we needed to have it approved by our teacher. It was at the teacher’s discretion to decide whether your project was too involved and needed paring down in order for us to reach our building deadline. We had 20 days at 6hrs a day. This included waiting for tools at the tool crib, and waiting for machines to free up during the build. The month or so leading up to this module we started our designs, and by the time the module started we had not only had our designs approved, but also had our wood ordered and delivered and fully acclimated. We also had full sets of drawings that we individually laboured over using google sketchup. We burst out of the starting gates- it was insanely stressfull and exciting at the same time. We were each on our own truly for the first time, because we were not building the same project- problem solving was ours alone to tackle.

I snapped a few photos during lunch. Everyone was so absorbed by their own projects that we hardly had a chance to see what our classmates were working on.

This one would later turn into a filing cabinet for drawings

Carts were at a premium- but I think we all managed to snag one.

If I’m not mistaken this later turned into a coffee table.

This project got the most attention during and after the build.

Hall Table / Laptop Desk

This is my design. It’s a hall table, but can also be a Laptop Desk. I made sure it would also fit behind a standard couch. Made out of Maple and Walnut.

When it was all over, we had an exhibition, and then abruptly it was time to leave school and start our apprenticeships.

You can read more about my final project here.

And you can find the photos of my classmate’s final projects here.


I actually had a hard time finding an apprenticeship at first. But ultimately I got a lead from one of my teachers that worked out very well. We were each to spend 6weeks apprenticing, still on school time, and our teacher was to drop in unannounced at least twice. After our apprenticeship we gathered at the school for one last time and shared our experiences. And then school was over! It was time to find a job.

You can read more about my apprenticeship here, here,  here and here.

And you can read more about my quest for a job here, here  here and here.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the look into what woodworking schools have to offer.

Stay tuned for updates on recent events- a possible client! And some projects in the works.

Safety week- at work

30 Apr

It’s been a couple of months back at my job in aerospace, building cabinets for private jets. I’ve been very thankful that I have a solid foundation of safety knowledge.  If there’s anything woodworking has taught me it’s that your gut feeling paired with the safety knowledge you have are worth their weight in gold. I often put my foot down and decide I won’t carry out a task in the way I was shown if I don’t feel comfortable with that particular method. I usually just find another method that I know is safer.

A CNC cuts out all of the parts for the cabinets. This saves the shop floor from being one giant stationary machine maze with toxic dust everywhere. Instead us cabinetmakers have the job of assembling, and correcting whatever the CNC messed up and/or didn’t do. We have two “cutting rooms” where all of the stationary machines live and where any orbital sanding happens. We each use the cutting room for brief intervals-mostly. Sometimes the cutting room is blissfully deserted, other times it’s a full house, and maybe someone is even waiting to use the tool you’re on. It’s important to keep your focus during these times and not feel rushed.

But in the cutting room I think a lot of people want to make their cuts as quickly as possible- which is dangerous. The rule is that you sweep after using a machine, but this gets skipped by some. I cringe at some of things I see- mostly I see a lot of hands close to the table saw blades- not accounting for worst case scenarios as I was taught in school. Also because people are in a hurry THREE times someone has found a table saw blade ON with no one at the table saw. We have giant knee switches to turn off the saws that people tap and walk away without checking to see if they tapped hard enough to really power down the saw.

The shop floor is relatively quiet, and consists of many work benches with the tools needed on our own pegboard to one side of the bench. There are only a few power tools at each bench, trim routers and drills being the most common.

We have general safety policies even on the shop floor. We are encouraged to always sheath our utility knives, cap any bottles of thinner, unplug air hoses, or power cords as soon as we set a tool down, use the central vac to suck up dust AS we create it, and wear cut resistant gloves when handling utility knives. And of course we are encouraged to wear respirators when creating dust, ear protection when it’s noisy, and we are forbidden to be on the shop floor without safety shoes and glasses.

The biggest dangers for me so far (and I suspect for others) have been the toxic materials we handle all day long. Orbital sanding is another that takes a toll on my thumb and elbow. My one weakness is never really knowing when my body wants to call it quits. I assume I’m okay to go a little longer. I’m trying to work on protecting my body from myself. I also seem unaware of the poor positions I contort myself into while working. I often find myself craning my neck and back at weird angles to get a better view at my work, and then try to reposition myself so that I won’t end up with a tweaked neck or back. It’s a constant battle.

Long term health can’t be stressed enough in a work environment like mine. Most of the other cabinetmakers also have a solid foundation of safety knowledge, and so they are very aware of immediate danger while using power tools and stationary machines. But what I see is that a lot of people are complacent about wearing a mask when routing, or ear protection because they want to listen to their ipod.  More still handle chemicals that create dangerous fumes without wearing masks. My eye openers: The other month when I was using a putty much like auto body filler I didn’t notice some had gotten some on the back of my hand as I pulled off my gloves. I saw it finally when it started to itch and rushed to wash it off – but it had already burned my skin. It left little scars. I try to peel my gloves off more carefully and check my skin often. We also use a type of crazy glue that is super strong, we use syringes to apply it and my syringe let a drop escape onto the floor unnoticed. I walked on it and my shoe literally got glued to the floor. I had to use my full weight to break it free. I vowed to be more aware of drips.

Safety is  a constant in a field like woodworking. And it’s important to keep learning about safety. Anytime an eyeopener presents itself, we need to listen and learn.

Here are some links to other posts I wrote on safety.

General safety tips from woodworking school

And a repetition injury of mine

Happy and safe woodworking to all.

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.

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