So class, what have we learned?

28 Dec

Every Winter I pack up the shop and shove all my tools into a useless heap in the back of the garage so I can pull my car in.  Until I get much more serious about insulating the place (and bumping up my heating bill a few notches), it’s the best use I can make of the space.

I really enjoy the hobby, but I wonder if packing it up for 4 or 5 months out of the year isn’t actually a boon to my enjoyment and possibly even my skill.  I’ve picked up a lot of new moves in the past few years.  A huge portion of that has to be attributed to YouTube, and another big batch to a few folks that I’ve met in the hobby these past few years.

But the fact that it’s unavailable for a few months out of the year might actually be an advantage – an opportunity to really think through what I want to do the next year.  Not that I actually do that when the time comes, but the ideas come through nonetheless.  Last winter, I sketched up this sideboard:


But I never built it.  The intention of it was to feature a lot of curved cuts, and generally mix the colors of the walnut and red elm that I have.

When push came to shove, though, we don’t really have a place to put a piece like that in our house right now.  Our dining room table is always covered in spattered watercolors, scraps of paper, rubber bands, glitter, popsicle sticks, glue, spirograph…  What would we really do with a formal sideboard right now?  We’re also thinking of remodeling the space, so who knows whether it’d even fit right in the final space?

But I got a bur in my bonnet to build my own band saw, and then I did a couple of little things, did our usual array of summer camping trips to enjoy the perfection of the Washington summer.  I felt like the next thing should be smaller, so I got to building a small chest of drawers.

I spent a lot of time building it.  In fact, one of my lessons learned is that size has very little to do with how much time it’s going to take to create a project.  E.g. the cabinet above has 6 drawers to do, which means it probably nets out to fewer dovetails to cut than the little cabinet I made.


I’ve really learned a lot about woodworking, but more than that, I think I’ve discovered a number of things about how I want to woodwork.  I want to use more hand tools.  I want to work with smaller pieces more often.  I want to find a way to be in the shop with my kids.  I learned with hand tools, and I made my share of crappy bird-houses and CD cases with hand-tools before I was allowed to work with the table saw.  When I think about my shop right now – particularly the near complete lack of functioning hand-saws, I truly wonder if I can actually pass on my skills to my kids before they’re too cool to care about me and my fuddly old ways.

There’s gotta be something better than what I can do now, which is little better than lectures on why they shouldn’t touch anything.  This is just not where I want to be.


In terms of the practical, I bought this cheap HPLV spray gun and tried it out with some Shellac.  The reviews are all along the lines of “omg this is awesome for the money!”  I think they’re spot on.  I used it and got good results.  Without a paint booth or a properly sized compressor, there’s only so much spraying I can really do.  But it’s there for when I want to put some finish on some intricate stuff.

That said, I think I want to find an oil-based finish that I like.  While there are times when a hard shell really matters, I really want to make stuff that actually feels like wood.  I don’t really think I can get that out of any finish that builds a shine.


But probably the biggest improvement to my woodworking over the past few years is in sharpening.  I’ve got a couple of diamond stones and the Very Super Cool Tools “Ultimate Sharpening Jig”.  I set up a little station for it this year, and I’m reasonably happy with it.

But the big improvement isn’t so much from the tools, but rather in my attitude towards.  I still seem to be  convinced that sharpening tools is hard.  In fact, I was sure I didn’t have the means to sharpen planer blades myself and was just going to take the set down to Eastside Saw and have them do the work.  Happily my children torpedoed my plan for the morning and by the time I could actually head down there, they were closed, so I had to man up and figure it out for myself.

Sharpening doesn’t have to be so scary or difficult.  Check out these two videos I found on planer blade sharpening.  Here’s a guy who has a finely crafted jig, an expensive granite stone, and wet-dry sandpaper for sharpening his blades, one at a time.  Here’s another guy who’s got a 2×4 scrap, a random piece of sandpaper from his collection, and the bed of his jointer.  His technique can do two at once.

Happily, I saw that scrap 2×4 one first (my fear still lingers); that 2×4 maneuver works a treat.  I got a nice edge on both of my blades with hardly any effort at all.  I kept the jig; it’s now clipped to the stand that holds my planer.  Next time I want to sharpen the planer blades I know it’s really easy to do; no need to fear.

In each of the past two years I’ve made an order-of-magnitude improvement in my sharpening.  The first one was just getting some basic techniques.  This year was about extending those techniques and getting a system that I could conveniently follow.  There’s always more improvement to be made, but I think the gains will be harder to come by now.

I’m not saying I’m fully over fear of sharpening, exactly; I now can confidently say that I can make my stuff somewhat sharp.  When my lay friends come over and touch my chisel’s edge they pull away from it like it was a loaded Luger, but when I watch the wise-eggs on YouTube, I’m convinced their stuff is sharper.

Maybe it is.  But there’s one other thing I’ve learned while watching YouTube:  I know more about woodworking than a lot of those folks.  But I watch their channel and they don’t read my blog.  Who’s more clever?

I think the winners are the ones having fun.


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