Sunday, May 24, 2020

How Did I Get Here? - A Woodworking Journey

Let it be said that I never claimed to be an expert

A little while ago I was asked by a reader how I got to where I am today - puttering around with wood and electronic bits and posting about my misadventures for the world to see. 

That did give me a bit of a pause to be honest, mainly because my journey into the shop has been a bit of a meandering one with lots of curves and dead ends.

I guess my interest in things wood and electronics had separate points of origin with the two interests meeting because of a very basic reason - being as cheap as possible, I was forced to use what I had on hand because I didn't really want to spend a lot of money. 

Since there are really two separate stories here, I'll split this up over 2 posts, with this particular post focusing on my woodworking odyssey, wrapping up with my electronics adventures and how I manage to mush the two together next week.

My adventure in woodworking has probably been the one that I have been on the longest, stretching all the way back to childhood.  

Growing up on a farm (ironically the same farm that I moved my shop to at the beginning of the year),  I was embedded in an environment where there was a strong motivation to build and fix things on your own, using what you had on hand.  

While I didn't really have a strong attraction to tinkering with mechanical things like farm equipment, I did seem to be drawn to try and create things out of wood - mainly because there was always a good supply of scrap wood and slightly bent nails on hand. 

Due to the frugal nature of farming, I only really had access to very basic tools, namely a hammer, a hand saw, and a mixed assortment of screwdrivers. 

Needless to say, my initial projects were pretty basic (if not downright primitive) and comprised of the fairly standard fair of birdhouses and bird feeders. To my knowledge, I don't believe any birds took up residence on any of my creations. 

Admittedly I was in too much of a rush to "just build something" so the quality of my workmanship was pretty poor, but I was still rather intrigued by the idea of creating stuff, so I kept plugging away. 

Eventually I learned the art taking your time and focusing on the fine details thanks to the gift of a balsa wood airplane that I got for Christmas one year. 

This started a phase where I built and crashed several airplane models. But as I got more and more skilled in cutting out fine pieces of wood, the models got successfully more complex and better built. 

This was the first balsa wood airplane

Eventually I was allowed to take woodshop in school. While I still didn't really demonstrate any real talent (one time, when grading a dado joint that I had made, the teacher asked me, with a straight face, if I had beavers make the joint for me), it did give me the opportunity to try out real power tools, gain a basic understanding on how to use them, and more importantly, what sorts of things I could do with them. 

No, beavers didn't make my wood shop projects

After taking a break for a few years for college and other "real life" pursuits, it was the purchase of a house that sparked the woodworking bug again. 

A new house needs furniture, but I wasn't really keen on the idea of spending thousands of dollars in buying furniture that was made more from particleboard than actual wood. 

On the other hand, nice pine boards could be had fairly cheaply down at my local hardware store. 

This need for furniture was what restarted my woodworking addition.  Again with nothing more than basic tools (albeit I now had power tools at my disposal), I set about furnishing the house.  

Admittedly my first attempts were more functional than fashionable, my spouse's initial assessment of my end projects was charitable, to say the least, but she also offered suggestions on what I should differently next time. 

As I kept incorporating the suggestions, I slowly started making things that were more warmly received, not only by her but by others were starting to notice too. 

Drawing from my memories of woodshop in school, I was able to slowly increase my stable of tools, usually with the justification of "sure I can make that way, but I need to have this tool to do it".  

This was a rather slow process that took many years to accomplish, but eventually, I gained all the tools that I had at my disposal in the woodshop back in school. 

At the moment I would consider my woodworking skill to be somewhere at the "knowledgable enough to be dangerous" level. I certainly would not consider myself as a craftsman, but then again, referring to the title of this post, I consider this to be more of a journey. 

The fun comes with trying out different ways to doing things, making mistakes along the way, and learning from them versus cranking out perfection all the time (to be frank, it would get boring after a while). 

It's with that spirit of trying something new, be it trying to make a tractor that I chatted about last week, or merging my other fascination, electronic "stuff" into my woodworking projects. 

How I got sucked into tinkering with things that have the potential to catch fire or at least give off a nasty shock will the subject of my next post. 


  1. Hello,

    Glad to see this posted! Did you get any formal training in woodworking apart from the woodshop or is it mostly self learning?

    Looking forward to the second part.

  2. Thanks!

    Other than some classes in high school, it was pretty much self learning, with a lot of failures on the way.

    Now I did take the odd day course for certain skills - like how to use a lathe, but the main goal for taking the courses was to learn how not to hurt myself (the idea on sticking a sharp object into a piece of wood spinning at high speed without knowing what I'm doing is a bit scary). There are a lot of people around that offer such courses that are about a day long and are not too expensive (Lee Valley Tools in my area offers them).

    I basically started simple - making things that are simple "box" structures in constructions - which is one reason why my initial projects were more functional than fancy, but I as I got more comfortable with a certain tool or technique, I would jump up to something new (say I was making something that had plain square edges, I then raised the stakes a bit by trying to use a router to round over the edge on the next project).

    Like I said, it was more of an evolution, be prepared to sometimes have things not come out as expected (hey, wood is cheap) - but learn from what when wrong and just keep moving :)