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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.

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.

Projects from woodworking school … early days as a beginner

5 Apr

Since the purpose of this blog is to share what the early days are like in a woodworker’s career, I’m sharing the projects my woodworking school assigned us- most of us in the class started out absolute beginners. I will go into more detail about some of the important modules I did in woodworking school later, but here is a look at the bigger picture.

The very beginning… perspective, and shop safety

We started off  by checking out local woodworking businesses and giving reports on them.

Then we learnt all about shop safety and drafted a shop layout.

Finally we were primed to begin woodworking.

Our first weeks were using hand tools exclusively. 

The first project we were assigned was to find all kinds of wood from our networks and off the street that we could. Then cut it, and plane it by hand into 2″x3″ x 3/8″ sample blocks. We needed to find 15 different woods and 10 different man made materials. This module was to teach us the types of wood and characteristics of each, as well as all kinds of general information on how wood moves over the seasons and the anatomy of trees.

This was the sample string I ended up with. I have a separate string of man made sheet good samples also 2"x3" in dimension.

After this we understood how to sharpen a plane, and adjust it’s settings- to a certain degree. We also learned the concept of squaring wood up- it was not a simple task! Some people’s work stood out right off the bat with this first project.

Following that we built a mallet out of wood, again using only hand tools. We were given specs.

Our first glue up!

It was interesting to see how everyone chose to shape their handle differently. Some were other worldly. I always opt for plain comfort when it comes to my hands so my handle was more classic looking.

And then an introduction to frame making, and carving.

This photo was taken after I finished it and painted the carving to make it pop. Everyone chose their own designs for the relief carvings.

Here are the butterfly joints that reinforce the miters, and the rebates that the panel fits into. I learned the hard way that not removing dry glue makes finishing a nightmare...

We edge laminated two pieces of wood to get the canvas for our carving. Then we had to bevel the backs using a plane.

In this project we tackled hand cut miters, rebates, using a home made scratch stock to create the beading, carving and inlaying butterfly joints. Each project  began with rough lumber so we were quickly learning how to mill lumber by hand.

Some people also learned how to chip carve lettering because they had extra time.

Following this we made some test joinery in endless pieces of wood.  We learned of all the different kinds of joints and attempted several. Half laps, bridle joints, and of course we tried dovetails. It was very difficult. I felt like a 5 yr old trying to colour inside the lines and failing. My joints had gaps and were not nearly as precise as I wanted them to be.

Around this point we had our first practical test. We made a napkin holder to the specs the teacher gave us. I don’t have a picture as I gave it away. It wasn’t a very pretty thing, but it did feature an inlaid diamond of a contrasting wood.

At the end of this module we had a free day to work on joinery so I made this:

I was even allowed to use the drill press on this free day- the first electric tool I'd used so far! I had the teacher's know how and supervision for the holes I drilled.

People laugh when they see the dovetails in this project because it's overkill. But these are my very first dovetails and I wanted to make something out of the test pieces. One of them even has a pin that I cut off by accident and glued back into place. The bottom is rebated and fitted with a piece of plywood.

I was quite proud of my little bird house. No one else had made one. I found out later from my mom that I’d drilled the hole too big for the opening- apparently it will attract the pest breeds of birds.

The next module we moved on to power tools! I had already used a router and a circular saw once or twice in the past, but we got the low down on exactly how to operate power tools safely and properly. It turns out I didn’t know any of that the times I’d used them before.

We each chose to create our own cutting board designs, there were circular, square and all sorts of shapes.

In this cutting board project we used both dowels and biscuit joints to laminate our boards together. Then we used a router in a sled to flatten our boards. We made templates of our shapes and then used a router to cut along the template. I actually ended up using a jig saw since I had grain changes left right and center. After that we were using routers to round over the edges of our boards (in my case the teacher advised me to use a file, but I did rout handle notches). Then sanding. It turns out I didn’t sand my board enough- it’s a bit fuzzy feeling, I will probably re-do that someday… haven’t yet and it’s in operation!

At the end of this module we had a couple of free hours so I made a couple of tool racks for my tool closet- I’d just gotten a set of screw drivers and had no way of storing them

I wanted to be able to take them down off of the door easily so I made little brackets that cradle the strips of maple.

There are three in total- they may look clunky- but they got the job done

The test for the power tool module was to make a shelf that had pegs for hanging coats on. I kept mine for a long while and then eventually realized it was too small for practical use so I tossed it. We rounded the corners with a jig saw, routed the edges, drilled holes to a certain depth for the pegs, and doweled the two main pieces of wood perpendicular to each other.

Following power tools we spent several weeks drafting technical drawings of our upcoming projects. We then took a shop math class. We also spent some class time learning about fasteners and glues.

Graduating to stationary machines…

After three months of using hand tools, some power tools, and learning a lot about shop safety, wood types, joints, etc.. we were ready to go on to the feared stationary machines.  That is, if you’d passed all of the exams/ practical tests up to this point.

Thankfully we started off slow.  The teacher would write down all of the safety guidelines and rules for each machine and then show us the parts to the machine and adjustments that could be made. Then the teacher would demonstrate. Then it was our turn, one by one.

The first machines we were introduced to were the bandsaw and drill press- most of us had used these in the past- but now we were learning A-Z about the machines.  We were set to task to each make our own push sticks for future use one the table saw.

We traced an existing push stick, then drilled a hole and cut the rest out on the bandsaw.

I cannot remember which machines came next but by the time we did test cuts on each machine we knew enough to feel safe on them. I remember a lot of us were quaking after trying the jointer though. We had heard that a recent student had gotten his shirt sucked into the cutters and had to lean backwards with all his might as the shirt ripped off his back and into the machine. We had thought this was folklore that the teachers liked to tell but the story proved to be true. The table saw and radial arm saw were also quite nerve wracking for many of us.

Once we’d been properly instructed on how to use stationary machines we got down to our first project built on stationary machines– which we each had a nice technical drawings of.

In the closed position

Section and detail views

I would have preferred doing these drawings on the computer, because they were super time consuming by hand.

Originally this box was designed to house an oil stone for sharpening- but water stones are much more popular these days so most of us ended up using the boxes for other purposes.

We started from rough poplar stock and milled our pieces in groups of three, it was important that before we pass the first module on stationary machines that we use the buddy system. As there was only one teacher we each were in charge of noticing if our group members were making safe choices. This did help ease us into using some very industrial sized machinery.

This project helped us really understand that if something is off square it affects the way the entire project will come together, and that when creating rebates with a dado stack even pressure is key- which was very difficult for us to carry out at this early stage. The slip joint of the top was actually created by us cutting a groove along the inside of the box parts and then gluing the box together and finally cutting the box apart- so keeping our wits about us to make sure we cut the box apart on the right line was an adventure.  The glue up went awry for most of us, some parts got glued inside out, some just were not clamped properly- mine had some nice gaps I didn’t have in dry fit. It was disappointing to say the least.

It was really interesting to learn along with 22 others because every type of scenario possible usually ended up occurring among that number of novices. It was almost like learning 22 times faster because you yourself didn’t have to make each type of mistake to learn about and from them.

Stay tuned for a second installment of the projects from woodworking school. Thanks for reading!

Lessons from woodworking school- Safety

22 Mar

Okay so if youtuned in last time, my class and I had to visit 3 woodworking businesses and report back. Now we were done researching the field, and were ready to start woodworking!

Not so fast! Turns out the school thought we should cover shop safety first. Okay- fair enough! So we calmed our antsy selves and learned all of the dangers of working in a woodshop.

Aside from the basics (ear, eye, skin, foot, and respiratory protection), we read articles, talked  about common sense, poured over statistics, and drew out a shop plan that would provide key safety features. Before I go into detail on the shop plans we drew up, I’d like to list some of the safety tips and advice that have stuck with me and are relevant to seasoned woodworkers and beginners alike.

General safety information:

  • your attitude will determine how safe you work
  • never approach or touch someone while they’re using a machine- wait until they’ve finished and it’s best to approach from the front.
  • do your most demanding work in the morning, when you’re sharp.
  • understand and respect each machine in your shop
  • keep workpieces as large as you can for as long as you can, a lot of accidents are caused when a workpiece is too small and unstable on a machine.
  • keep your blades sharp
  • keep your work area clean
  • use push sticks and guards whenever possible
  • if it feels dangerous, don’t do it or find another way
  • table saws cause the most accidents because more people own them and use them more frequently than other machines. Make certain you’re focused while on the table saw.
  • prevent hazardous airborne substances when ever possible. Avoid spray finishes by using brushed on oils or varnishes, and avoid dust by using hand tools (plane, scraper)
  • unplug or shut off the secondary power box to any machine before changing the blade or bit.
  • avoid eating heavy lunches, a lot of accidents are reported to occur after lunch and before 3pm
  • know when to quit for the day, accidents happen when focus has been lost or a job has been rushed
  • chisels cause a lot of accidents, keep both hands on the chisel and you’ll easily avoid jabbing yourself
  • choose safety gear that feels comfortable, you’ll be more likely to wear it and prevent hearing loss, eye damage, or even cancer
  • always be aware of the possible dangers of a set-up before starting (know where to stand, which is the safest operation, and that you have enough clear space to maneuver safely)

For safety tips and guidelines for specific machines, stay tuned. Those will come in later shop lesson installments.

Several quizzes later, we had a solid understanding of shop safety. We then needed a crash course on shop layouts.

The shop plan required we have:

  • good flow from machine to machine
  • a logical place for wood storage
  • a work bench
  • natural light, and electrical lighting
  • a cabinet for finishing supplies
  • a fire extinguisher
  • an eye wash station
  • a first aid station

The shop was to be the size of a typical double car garage 18’x22′ and we would have to show how an 8′ board could clear all of the walls and other machines, and also take into consideration that each stationary machine needed a minimum space around it to operate properly and safely. One other consideration was to make certain you had the kickback zone behind the table saw aimed at a benign area of the shop where something could go flying and not harm or damage anything or anyone.

click to view closer up, the list on the side is the legend

I’ve included my sketch. We did this by hand, with rulers, but as you may have seen in my previous post, using google sketch-up is very useful as well!

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!

My Final Project from woodworking school- finally revealed!

27 Jan

I thought now would be a good time to show you my Final Project from woodworking school. I worked for 11 months with very little creative freedom. Most of our projects had strict parameters.

Well not so with the last month of the woodworking course, I had the option of building from existing plans or going for an original design. I chose the latter. I was busting to finally have shop time to create something I could be proud of and had complete creative freedom over! In class we had recently learnt how to use Google SketchUp (a free designing utility) and so I was off to the races. Here’s my attempt at rendering my design on SketchUp:

Don't mind those side panels, I couldn't scale them up properly.

And here it is in reality:

Hall Table / Laptop Desk

It's a hall table, but can also be a laptop desk. I made sure it would also fit behind a standard couch. It's made out of maple and walnut.

I finished it with lacquer, and luckily had access to the spray booths and equipment at school.

And now for the details:

I added butterfly joints for design reasons, but they're still inlaid 1/4" deep! I'll get a wax stick for that little imperfection- no worries!

These are not plugged screws. I ran dados in the legs to hold the shelf up securely, then used a dowelling jig to insert 2" long walnut dowels through the leg to the shelf. Each leg attaches to a walnut apron above with two vertical dowels.

The walnut apron is topped with a sliding dovetail that was slid into the underside of the table top. The apron is pegged in the middle to the top. I plugged the overhang portion of the slot and left a 1/8" space between the plug and the slide for wood movement.

For the back panel I cut mortises into both the back rail and the underside of the shelf, each tenon has 1/8" on either side of it inside the mortises to allow for wood movement. To keep the panel in place as this is a dry joint I pegged the tenons and glued those pegs in.

There are through tenons that pass through the legs into the side rails. They're solid walnut.

The drawer simply rides against a guide which is screwed into the top with elongated holes. The guides fit into dados made into the top.

Both heron panels were cut stuck together on the scroll saw. I ran stopped grooves(at different heights) along the insides of each leg to fit the panels.

The drawers were made with a simple locking joint. I wedged a dowel into the underside of the table top to act as a drawer stop.

Last but not least I designed the table to look appealing from all angles in case the owner didn't keep it butted against a wall.

And this completes the tour of my final project. Hope you enjoyed it!

I plan to post photos of my Vernissage soon, to share with you all of the final projects from my class.

Stay tuned!

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