About thirteen years ago I built my wife a set of dry planter boxes that sit at the end of the steps
coming into our home. Not some amazing work of craftsmanship or anything, just pine planter
boxes made to have potted plants placed in side them that have sat outside all year round for the
last thirteen years.
I seems too often I get questions about finishing outdoor projects. And my thought is
what are your expectations for what you're building. For me things like the planter boxes I built,
I wiped on whatever it was and forgot about it. As the years have gone by the finish is gone and
the wood has distressed and worn from the elements creating a look that I think is better than when
I first built them. For something like these boxes that's okay, when they eventually rot it's a easy task
to build new ones.
Right around this same time I also build a new storm door for our home, this was different.
I knew it would see a lot of use and with eleven grandkids probably a lot of abuse as well. So I
wanted to build this once and not have to worry about it again for a while. My finish on this
was made up of a good epoxy sealer with a varnish top coat, and with a few touch ups over
the years it still looks good.
Back to your expectations what you need to know is that they will only be as good as the effort
you put into them. If you choose a cheap finish that is what you will get, and if you take the time
to apply a good quality finish you will get quality results.
When my wife and I first moved into our home one of the first things I
had to replace was the storm door. Not a big job we drove out to our
local box store picked out the one we wanted drove home and I
installled it. A proud new investment and a task completed on the
to do list. Fast forward a few years later and our investment was less then grand, the
door started to delapidate among other issues with it and being less than happy we just
excepted it and moved on with another new door. My first thoughts when this happened
where of logic, you know things happen. Maybe faulty materials or a manufacturing issue
I wasn't really sure, but what ever the problem was I was sure that it was behind me by replacing it.
Except I forgot that thing called Newten's Law, and I ended up in the same situation with this door. At this
point in the road I was completely done with box store and I went into my shop to build
a storm door. At the time I had a bunch of oak on hand, not ideal but I though it can't be
worse than what I'm dealing with now so I moved forward. And with a few mortises and tenons
then borrowing the window assembly from the old storm door before I new it I was done.
I had built my own storm door, the best part of this story is that as of today that door has been on
my home longer than the first two doors together and still looks just as good as the day I built it.
I think the lesson to be learned in all this is you get what you pay for, if you spend a
few dollars you'll get a few mile out it. But the next time that woodworker tells you
it will cost more then you can buy it for at a box store, understand that you are getting
a craftsmanship that can't be bought and true craftsmanship will stand the tests of time..
So you have to ask yourself. Do you want something that will last or do you just want to get by ?
Recently I was asked what was the most difficult thing I've ever built. Now having been asked this before my usual response is boarder line smart aleck, and usually implies that nothing is hard
followed up with a big smile. There almost always seems to be an assumption of pieces
like the slant top desk I built as being difficult, and I think it's because of the intricacy of the desk's
gallery. The truth is, it wasn't difficult it was time consuming with a huge attention to detail. But in fairness I think everyone has their own idea of what difficult is, for me it would be a project that involves multiple angles that have to be cut precise with lots of repetition involved. Having turned a few segmented vases and bowls they fall into this category. Several small pieces of wood cut at a given angle then glued together to form hopefully the perfect ring, repeated multiple times to create several more rings. Some smaller, some larger and then all stacked and glued together then with your fingers crossed and one eye open you turn it on the lathe and hopefully end up with tight glue joints and a beautiful new creation, if not you end up with a lesson and another log for the fire. Segmented wood turnings create a challenge that I will always enjoy, and for their difficulty are at the top of my list. If you have never attempted a segmented turning give it try, you will not regret either the challenge or the results when you get it right. It's a lot to be proud of and I have a lot of respect for the people who have made this their world in woodworking.
The first time I cut a tenon I started by taking my time marking it out with my marking gauge, then with
complete confidence I made my cuts and removed the waste material and after a little clean up I test fit the tenon into the mortise only to discover the shoulders of my tenon were out of square, forcing me to fuse around with my shoulder plane until I finally achieved a good square fit.
This problem stayed with me for sometime, I would cut a tenon and then have a problem with the shoulder not being square. I tried using different marking gauges thinking maybe this was the problem, trying wheel gauges, knife gauges but nothing seemed to make a difference. Eventually I realized the problem was never in the marking gauges, it was in the material. When using a marking gauge to mark tenon shoulders the gauge references from the end of the board, and if the end of the board is not true it will cause the shoulder line to be out square, and it doesn't take much to have an issue. But if you reference from the side of a board these marks will be immensely accurate. So what I started doing is using my starrett and a marking knife to lay out my tenon shoulders referencing from the side of the board. Since I started created tenons this way I no longer have fit issues with my mortise and tenon joints.
One of the most common questions is how do I build this thing ? This table, box, chair or whatever this thing might be. Honestly just build it. The bottom line is the knowledge of how to build something comes from building it and the more you build it the better you will be at it. Nothing is a better teacher than repeating the same task over and over again, especially with the basics of woodworking. And over thinking
it will almost always put a fast ending to what would have normally been a great idea. As woodworkers we always push our selves to try and be better than the last thing we created and we should, because this is how we grow both in knowledge and ability. But as a person building something for the very first time ever, it can be intimidating when you look at the way advanced woodworkers do things. Mortises, haunched
tenons, dovetails and even the more common half blind dove tail is a lot to understand when you have no knowledge of any of it. My best advise to the first time woodworker is to just do what works for you, then do it again and again. This is how you gain the knowledge your looking for and grow in this craft. Because there is no rule that says you have to build anything a certain way, if there was things like the Maloof joint would have never happened. Just don't over think it and do what works for you, and when your done you will be glad you did.
I have always thought of myself as organized when it comes to my shop.
This goes here, that goes there, and I always put it back where it was.
Until the other day when I was using my router table.
My router table is an extension wing of my table saw with a router
lift that requires a couple of special tools to set it up, and I keep these
tools with the wrenches required for the router on an opposite
wall of my shop. My router bits are also organized in a cabinet on another
wall of my shop. So to use my router table I go from the router table to a
wall on the opposite side of my shop to get the tools I need to set it up,
then go to another wall to grab the router bit I need. It was in this mindless
journey around my shop that I had to point out to this master of
organization, ( being myself ) maybe I'm not as organized as I could be.
Realizing this skill set I seem to some how poses, I took a look around my
shop to see what other amazing feats of organization I had been unaware
that I have achieved through the years. And just like the family dog
searching the floor for crumbs I found a few. Now if you look around
my shop everything appears to have a place or be organized in a way that
makes sense, but there are a lot of little things like my router table accessories
that if they were all at the router table would certainly make more sense. So as a man with a new found plan I went to my scrap bin and found what would soon be
greatest tool organizer of all time for my router table, then went to work building a miracle of craftsmanship. Okay it's just an L-shaped bracket constructed from a
couple of scraps then screwed to the bottom of my router table, but all of my tools are now right at my router table and that's awesome.
If you want to learn how to do something, we have the internet. Are you looking for
a new cookie receipt or how to fix that broken thing ? Or maybe it's
how to build that project you're excited to undertake, the internet is the go to vault of
Recently I was asked who I watch or follow in the woodworking / maker community,
and while I understand the question and the curiosity behind it I also think it creates
a king of the hill effect. You are basically stating that this person
is better then all, and I have always found this to be bothersome when I see articles or videos
about the top ten woodworkers or the best makers to watch or follow.
My honest answer to this question is I enjoy everyone,
and watch or follow as many people as I can. Especially in social media platforms like
YouTube where it has grown to be a huge melting pot of creation and ideas. If you
want to understand this just look up how to make a coffee table, there are literally
hundreds of videos with all different levels of craftsmanship and creativity and just when
you think it's over a new video comes out with an even greater idea. For me personally
I enjoy all video creators and content producers. I think it's the appreciation for the effort they
put in it, but also the creativity and craftsmanship they share with all of us that makes me appreciate
and enjoy everyone that contributes to this community.
With the holiday season upon us we find ourselves seeing all kinds of sales,
and for a woodworker we look forward to this time of the year. A chance to stock up on
things, or maybe it's that new tool purchase we just can't pass up on because the deal is too good.
It's easy to know what you do or do not want, and we always know the make, model and even
the color of it if there's ever the option for that. But if you're not a woodworker it can be a challenge
to buy a gift for someone who is, and in searching the internet for ideas
there plenty to be had. From the ever famous top ten must have tools, to the always insightful
what the pro use. But the reality of these lists is that while they may have good intent,
no two people work the same way so a good tool for one person might be the worst for another.
But shopping for a woodworker can be easy, because there are a couple of
things we all need that are inexpensive and we're always happy to get. The first one that come to
mind is glue, stop by your local box store and grab a bottle of Tite Bond. Get the blue bottle,
and trust me it will get used. Another great option is acid brushes. You can buy
these in bulk from places like amazon for just a few dollars, and they work great for spreading glue with.
For my final pick I'll have to go with sandpaper. You can buy this in multiple sheet packs, and if you get
two twenty grit you have a paper they will certainly use. Now these may seem like really cheap gift ideas, and you might be right in the sense of the cost. But the truth is if you
feel this way about giving any one of these as gift to a woodworker, then give them all three and you be giving them quite possible their most useful gift this year.
So the time has come, you've convinced yourself that you can build it. The it being that project that screams you can do this. For the person who has never built anything before and finds themselves in this situation chances are fairly high that the tools they own are limited if any all. So with a google search of " What tools do I need to start woodworking " there it is, a vault of endless input. From buy this to get that and the ever famous top 10 must have lists, to say it's confusing is a serious understatement and then there are the brand names. Honestly it can give you a headache and stress your pocket book to a whole new level, just for a hobby you have an interest in. To get started with woodworking the answer to what tools you need really falls on what project you are planning on building, because all you need right now are the tools to build that project. So the question to ask yourself should not be what tools you need for woodworking but rather what tools do I need to build this one thing. By growing your tool collection with each project you build, over time you will ensure that you have everything you need for what you build and the way you work. Because honestly every woodworker approaches things their own way, making it hard for someone who does not even know you to advise you on what need or should buy. The only other thing to realize is that you don't need to break your bank account with each purchase, because as nice as that new table saw or miter saw might be, a good hand saw works just as well and you can always upgrade later. Just look at your current project and think, what do I need to build this and start there.
What is a good first woodworking project ? A great question and honestly the best project to start out with is
the first one you build. A bird house, a box, or maybe an end table, it really doesn't
matter where you start it only matters that you start. I have never bought into the idea that you have
to build this or do that when you start woodworking because the best teacher has
always been hands on, so your craft will evolve with the projects you build. And in ten years both your knowledge
and skill will be greater then today. But as you go through this progression of projects always try to
push yourself to do something that will test your abilities, a new joinery technique, a different finish, or
maybe a string inlay, it doesn't matter just believe you can. Always believe it and apply it and this is how
you grow as a woodworker.
It's more a matter of guidance when you are first starting out, and in this day and age you can find good free
project plans online, just stay to sites that are reputable like Fine Woodworking, or
Popular woodworking for example. These are all great sources for detailed plans.
Places like Youtube I think are bad for a beginner, and before you get upset hear me out.
While there are creators there who get it right and you should listen to them, there is also a lot of misinformation that is scary at best. And when you are just starting
to learn you really don't know who to listen to, making it easy to be misguided. So I would avoid social media places like this, or any google search that claims to
have an abundance of free woodworking plans with titles like Ted's for example. The best advise I can pass on to anyone who just starting out is one
word, " Patience ". Because without it that's when you make mistakes and or find yourself doing things that are subpar. Don't rush it, so what if it takes you
longer then the other guy. Most master pieces weren't built over night.
The Shavingwood Workshop Blog