Tag Archives: Woodworking apprenticeship

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.

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.

Krenov

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.

Carving

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.

Apprenticeship

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.

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.

Shop equipment; what kind do I need to get started?

26 Jan
Stocking a shop with equipment can be a large stumbling block for us woodworking upstarts. It’s hard to know what the best path is.
Do I start small and then upgrade as I go?
or
Do I try to start with all the best equipment?
and
How do I get the money to pull that off?
I had the opportunity to speak with the man my friend is doing her apprenticeship with. I visited them at his shop which is a stand alone garage behind his house  in a well populated neighbourhood. My friend had filled him in on my goals to set up shop, and he was VERY helpful and was more than willing to let me pick his brain for two hours.
The ah-ha moment I had was when we talked about shop equipment. Let me preface this by letting you know that at the school I had attended we were using industrial sized table saws,  panel saws, drum sanders, jointers and planers. We did 9 shop visits to small, medium and large-sized shops and all of them had industrial grade machinery (except for the luthier we visited!).
This was the first successful shop I’d visited where a portable planer, and a contractor’s table saw were in evidence. Now I’ve seen countless videos online with shops like this in them, but I didn’t know these woodworkers personally and couldn’t ask “Can your machinery handle the everyday milling of a woodworking business?”. The answer in this case was yes. What I had passed off as hobbyist machinery could actually get the job done for my purposes too. And that’s because just as in this situation I will be running a one “man” shop building one-offs, versus a production line. Another reason this will work for me and for you is that upgrades will follow.
Which leads me to the two tips that he shared on machinery:
  • get the best machines that you can afford (as in now)
  • when buying used, never pay more than half the retail value of the machine  (you never know what that machine has been through, no matter how shiny and clean it looks.)
My own apprenticeship “boss”, Tim also debunked the myth that woodworkers starting a business need all the best tools. Tim said that he started out with a canvas bag of tools and now owns solid, good quality stationary equipment that still isn’t beefed up on horsepower, isn’t large capacity (6″ jointer, 12″ planer), and was not bought new. But Tim is able to do the quality he promises to clients, the volume of work he’s capable of, and he told me that he doesn’t have any debt.
Recently I stumbled across a website for woodworkers starting a business that I found very inspiring with a lot of useful content run by a guy named Adam King. If you read the article I just linked to up there, you’ll note that there are just 3 things you need to start a woodworking business today:

A Work Space (borrow a nook in a basement if you need to)

A Creation to sell (go on start to create with the tools you do have!)

A Client (start with friends and friends of friends)

So this is the conclusion I’m sticking with- start small and work your way up. That way you can start now and stop holding things off until everything is perfect, or your funds are there.

That said, my next step is to fix the electricity in my shop space as it’s been through a fire and could be dangerous to use as is.

I’ll be sure to update you in future posts with the:

  • Machinery I currently have and how I came to acquire it
  • Tools I find to be essential
  • How I plan to start with what I have
  • And finally what I may have to buy on the cheap to cover my bases

Apprenticeship is Locked In

18 Jan
I’m all set to start my apprenticeship February 4th. I decided to go with a one-man shop, as that’s what I will have in the future. I want to of course gather valuable info on how a one man shop operates successfully. For the sake of privacy I’ll refer to my future “boss” as Tim Timberland. Tim was very easy to talk to. The hours will be from 10am every morning (sweet!) until 5pm, but he made it clear that he is self-disciplined and expects quality work. He’s a former graduate from the same school as me, and checked my references at the school to make sure I’d be up to the challenge. The work will mainly consist of built-ins and one-offs, as well as helping to complete projects that have been collecting dust.
His shop is located in an industrial building filled with a nice little community of woodworkers, finishers, and other artists- as it turns out this set up is beneficial to all involved. They trade services, shop time, and even client orders. Tim has someone to deliver all of his pieces to client’s homes. This little-big building of peace, love and productivity is literally across the street from Home Depot. Now I cannot think of a more ideal situation- except for the fact that it is also a short 5 minutes from a wealthy community that provides the building with a lot of work and is adjacent to downtown.
Tim’s shop was small, approximately a 24′ x 18′ space, but flooded with daylight. It was all very tidy and stocked with some solid milling machines but an overall modest selection of tools compared to the ones we had at school. That certainly made me feel less overwhelmed at the prospect of stocking my own shop’s equipment.

Going into this a freshly graduated woodworking student I have some concerns:

  • will I be expected to work as quickly as the pros
  • will I be expected to produce flawless work
  • will I be asked to do procedures I feel unsafe carrying out (due to unfamiliarity or due to the nature of the set up)
Once I start my apprenticeship, I’ll let you know how it’s working out.
Hold this for a few secs while I pop across the street for some screws…

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