What You Need To Know and What I Learned
Would you agree that the phrase “Old Habits Die Hard” is true? My old methods of woodworking had to quickly go before I could truly be successful. It was all thanks to my first in-depth woodworking class. I would call my work primitive prior to the knowledge I gained from a seasoned woodworker. I know it wasn’t as bad as I am making it, but I do think my skill set has improved immensely since taking this amazing Fundamentals of Woodworking class at Highland Hardware, I now not only enjoy the process of building but now have a renewed appreciation of the process.
When I started woodworking, YouTube was in its developmental infancy stages. I did not have much to go on other than intuition, books, and the kind folks at the hardware stores. I built in a way that I thought made since and once you begin doing something one way, even if that way is not correct it eventually becomes a habit. In the early days most of my joints were butt joints as I only had a circular saw and a drill. It would be silly for me to say I knew anything about technique. My main goal was to complete a project and move on to something else, of course, this got me into a few jams that were above my skill set.
Over the years I gained knowledge, learned new skills and grew my circle of mentors. I slowly began to fall in love with the technique of woodworking and appreciate it more and more and I owe a lot of it to the experience I had during my Highland Hardware woodworking class.
You might be considering taking a woodworking class to further your knowledge or get your feet wet. Once you find a quality school with phenomenal teachers, you’re set. I highly recommend whether you’re a novice or a long-term woodworker that you in enroll in class. You may notice that I didn’t say professional woodworker. Most woodworkers who have been in the trade or hobby for decades still will not refer to themselves as professionals. Each piece of lumber, every project has a life of it’s own. It can be unpredictable. There are many different variables that can affect its cellular structure and final appearance. Therefore, one can never truly master it. Although, my teacher Sabiha Mujtaba is extremely skilled, passionate, and knowledgeable about her craft.
When I registered for the class at Highland, the description stated that we would build a box. I thought, that seems too simple. Would I get bored hearing about building a box for an entire weekend? How could a box help me learn more? What if I am the only woman? nevertheless, I moved forward to gain any additional knowledge. There are things I believe this digital age will never replace and that’s hands on face-to-face engagement and tid bits of information that would take hours of Internet research to gather.
I arrived to class on Saturday morning shortly before 9:00 a.m. I wasn’t surprised that I was the only female and by far the youngest person in the room by a good 15 years. When I first began making furniture, I knew that I would always be in a room full of people who looked nothing like me. The important thing is that I know we will always share a connection. We all enjoy woodworking and passionate people connect.
I introduced myself to everyone and we went around the shop and shared what we did for a living and how long we had been woodworking. I was shocked that a few of my classmates had only been tinkering for a short while. Sabiha reviewed the schedule for the weekend and then we were off to select wood for our lidded boxes.
The Most Important Thing About Lumber
Here is the most important thing (in my opinion) that we learned. That is to “square” or true your lumber. Here are a few great articles on how to square lumber. If you do not begin a project with “perfectly” straight boards then you’re likely to end up with an uneven outcome or worse not be able to join your boards and they eventually fall a part. To square, we used a jointer. The jointer is this amazing yet powerful tool that takes shaves a small amount of wood from the edge and the face of the board, making a precise 90 degree angle where the ends meet.
Once we jointed our wood , it was off to the planer. I think planers are some of the coolest tools. This is where you start to see raw wood start to look like a useable piece of furniture. The planer got our wood down to three-quarters of an inch thick, its original thickness was some where over an inch. Each piece went through the planer about eight times. To ensure that all of the boards were equal in thickness, the planer was set based on the thickness of the thinnest piece to be planed. We used a dial caliper to measure the thickness. Dial calipers measure down to the millimeter and can be digital or vernier (non-digital).
Your Board Isn’t Straight Yet
If you thought jointing and planing was the end and you were ready to make something magnificent, not yet. After making sure three of the sides were straight and true, there is still one edge that needs to be perfect, for this we head over the table saw. The table saw is the center of the most woodshops. It is huge, powerful and necessary for most projects. Once you get the hang of it, it’s quite easy, as long as you stay safe. The key to getting straight cuts on the table saw is to hold onto your wood and guide it towards an imaginary clock set at 1:00.
In addition to cross cuts and rip cuts, the table saw can also do rabbets and dados. Both are just grooves in a board. Rabbets are at the edge or recessed and dados are somewhere near the middle.
The Best Part of the Weekend
I have a confession. I own an old Ryobi router and have only used it once. When I used it and things went horribly wrong. I didn’t adjust the bit properly and took off too much wood and for some reason, I didn’t touch it again for ten years.
When it was time to route our raised panel lid, I was both anxious and excited. This was my chance to redeem myself and dust off my own router. Sabiha explained that in order to achieve the desired depth the bit should be gradually raised. It took four passes on each side of the lid with an ogee style bit. In mere minutes I became comfortable with the router and router table, once I identified the issue. Since the class, I’ve used my router on almost every project. If I gained nothing else from this class, the fact that I know how to use the router changed everything for me.
Let’s Get Fancy
All the elements of the box are almost done, now it’s time to get fancy. Simply gluing the box together is not good enough. Which is why we add dovetails. To cut dovetails, we used a dovetail jog on the router table. How could something so cool be so easy? A jig is something used to make a job easier. It may take more work on the front end to construct the jig, in the long run, it will save you time and your project will be cleaner.
The Glue Up
Once all the pieces were cut, the gluing began. This was tedious yet easy. Any excess glue oozing from the joint must be wiped with a damp cloth right away. The longest amount of time it should be left is 20-30 minutes. If the glue is allowed to harden and dry, its difficult to remove and doesn’t accept stain well.
For the glue up we used a straight edge (board), painters tape and resistance bands as well as plenty of spring clamps.
The Final Outcome
The ash box came out great. I decided to finish it with a coat of Miniwax Paste and Polyacylic. It was important to preserve keep it as close to it’s original state as a reminder of my experience. I also plan to use it as a template for future similar projects. I highly recommend woodworking classes for anyone. Once you know the capabilities of a tool or method, it only broadens your horizons and expands the type and difficulty of projects you might consider taking on.
Things Every Woodworker Should Know
I do believe there are some nuggets of knowledge you can only receive from a skilled woodworker and not from the web. Here are a few takeaways I learned during the Fundamentals of Woodworking course at Highland Hardware:
- Once you square your wood, mark it with a large “>”. This is an international symbol used in the woodworking industry to identify with the face side of your board. This is the side of the wood that will be visible.
- How to check for square-there are several methods used to check for square. We used a try square similar to this one and a combination square like this to check for square. If you see any light coming through between your tool and board, it isn’t square. Meaning you will need to head back to the jointer, planer, or table saw to make adjustments.
- If you’re looking for the luxury brand of table saws, SawStop is it. SawStop designed their saws in such as way that if it even catches a hint of skin (i.e. a finger), a nail, or wet wood, it will stop instantly. Leaving your body and nerves in tact. Among the safety and procedural information we learned, the juicy part is how to position the blade. To ensure your blade is at the correct height it should be set with three teeth and one gullet above the zero clearance plate. The gullet is the space between the saw’s teeth and the clearance plate is the base from which the blade extends.
- How to get the most our your planer: every now and then send your wood through the planer at an angle, this way all the blades in the cutter get used. For a visual, a standard planer size is 13″ wide, meaning you can send a 13″ wide board through the planer, but let’s say for example you typically work with four inch or six inch boards. Likely, you would send those boards right down the center of the planer. Well, the remaining blades won’t get any love, so every now and then send those thinner boards through the planer at an angle. This ensures even wear and tear and subsequently smooth and clean boards for a while.
You can also visit these nationwide woodworking specialty stores which also hold classes
If you’re in the southeast region, be sure to check out
If you know of any great class locations or have thoughts on woodworking classes, please share in the comments.
Be Great. Live Passionately.