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Home > General

Woodworking Truths

In looking around at different woodworking sites on the Internet I came across a couple of places that listed their "woodworking wisdom" lists.  In reading their lists it inspired me to come up with my own.  Don't expect some deep thoughts here, most of these are common sense.  Let me know what you think and if you have your own personal list, share it with us.  And yes, I have to re-read this list frequently to keep myself on track.

Woodworking Truths


1)  Wherever You Are, Be There

I once had a manager that I worked for who would always tell us, "Where ever you are, be there", a quote credited to Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Now the first time I heard this I didn't think that it was all that profound, but he went on to explain what he meant.  "What ever you're doing, where ever you're at, focus completely on that.  If you're at work, be at work, if you're at home be with you're family, completely." 

When you're in the shop, be there.  Let that time be your time to relax and do what you enjoy doing.  Shut out the rest of the world and concentrate on becoming a better woodworker.  If you're a hobbyist then leave your job behind the shop doors.  In fact, leave the world on the other side of your shop doors and make some sawdust.  Life is short, work wood.

2)  Finish What You Start

You know how excited you get when you first start a new project.  The plans are all laid out, the tools are tuned, the wood is all bought.  It doesn't get better than this.  Now, fast forward, you've been working on this project for weeks and its lost some of its luster.  In fact, you've started thinking about a new project to start that you're suddenly excited about.  All that's left with the original project is stuff that you aren't crazy about doing anyway.  What if I take some short cuts and just hurry through it so I can get on with a new project? 

Does any of this sound familiar.  Don't do it.  Resist the temptation to leave a project unfinished or even worse, half way finish it just to be done with it.  Every time you go back and look at that piece you'll regret not giving it your best effort.  Remember, finish what you start, and finish strong. 

3)  If It Doesn't Feel Right, Don't Do It

You know the feeling you get when you're about to make a cut and something in your gut says, are you sure about this?  Stop and re-think what you're about to do.  Chances are there is a much safer way to perform the task.  If it's a cut that you've never done before, walk through each step with the tools unplugged.  Ask yourself, is this the best way to do this?  Is this worth the risk of having an accident?  The best thing to do anytime you have an uneasy feeling about a task you're about to perform is to walk away and come up with a better way.  No piece of furniture is worth getting seriously hurt over.

4)  Don't Go It Alone

Learning to work wood can be very intimidating if you try to learn on your own without any help.  With so many places to get help there is no reason to learn this wonderful craft on your own.  Woodworking used to be a secretive craft that had to be learned at the feet of a master craftsman.  While this is probably still the best way, it's not always feasible.  So where can you turn?  There has never been so many places to learn woodworking as there are today.  There are many places that you can go a take classes from a day long to two weeks long and even longer if you have the time.  Books, books, and more books.  You can learn a great deal from simply reading woodworking books.  But how do you know which classes to take or which books to purchase?  This leads to my next recommended way to learn woodworking.  Get plugged into a local woodworking guild.  This is an invaluable source of information.  Woodworkers are a friendly bunch of people who are willing to share the knowledge that they've learned over the years.  Pick their brains, ask questions, they will be happy to help you avoid making some of the same mistakes as they did when they first started working wood.  OK, my next place to look for information on learning woodworking should be obvious.  The Internet is full of great websites to help you get the most out of learning to work wood.  Just do a search of what ever topic you're looking for and you'll find a mind blowing amount of information.  And as always, if there's anything that we can do to help, just let us know.

5)  Tool Catalog Envy

I know, I've went from preaching to meddling on this one.  Don't get me wrong I LOVE tools!  I can drool with the best of them over a good tool catalog.  Keep in mind however that tool manufactures and tool catalogs are very good at their jobs, which is to make you think that you can't possibly build even a stick figure without the tool their selling.  

When you're first starting out you may feel you have to have all the "must have" tools before you can build anything.  First you need to know what you are going to be building.  Different projects require different tools.  So how do you know this before you jump in with both feet?  You don't' positively, but there are somethings to do that will help.  Do your research first.  What interests you the most about woodworking?  What would you like to make?  How much room do you have to set up shop?  What's your budget?  Finding the answerers to these questions will go a long way to figuring out which tools you need. 

Don't go broke buying tools!  Buy tools as you need them (yes, it was hard for me to write that).

6)  Learn How To Sharpen Your Own Tools

I can't express how important this is.  Nothing is more important to your enjoyment of woodworking than to work with sharp tools.  You'll never understand the true enjoyment of working with a razor sharp chisel, or hand plane until you learn how to sharpen your own tools.  Don't get me wrong I do send out some of my stuff to be sharpen by professionals, saw blades, planer knives and jointer knives to name a few.  But if I had to rely on taking my turning chisels, my bench chisels, my plane irons, etc. to a professional every time they became dull I would A) Go broke, or B) Just not have them sharpened as often as they should be. 

Take the time to learn how to sharpen your tools, it will be time well spent.

7)  A Place For Everything, And Everything In Its Place

If you're naturally a organized person then this one is no problem for you.  Now for the rest of you out there....  Working in a well organized shop is not only more efficient, it's safer.  If you're having to step over cords, wood, etc. just to get to a tool you're asking for trouble.  How much time could you save, by not having to clear off the table saw top every time you need to use it, or look for tools that you need, or have to rearrange tools every time you need to use them?  Shop time is precious enough don't waste time while you're there.  Organize your shop to have more time to do what your there for in the first place, work wood.

8)  Let There Be Light and Electricity And Let There Be Plenty Of It

What do lights, electrical outlets, and clamps have in common?  You can never have enough!  Spend the time and money to put outlets all around your shop (about every 4 feet).  And while you're at it, add 220 to your shop if you don't already have it.  Tools that can run off of 220 volts should be wired to do so.  You'll pull half the amps on a 220 circuit than on a 110 circuit. 

Lights will make working in the shop more pleasant, not to mention a lot better on the eyes.  Arrange overhead lights to reduce or eliminate shadows throughout the shop.  It's dangerous to be making a cut when you can't even see what you're doing!  Spend the extra money on color correcting bulbs.  They will give a truer rendering of what the wood and finish will look like once you move it indoors.

Quick question:  Would you hire a woodworker to wire your house?  NO!  Don't attempt to do any modifications or additions to your shop's wiring if you're not an electrician.  Do some planning on where you're going to position your tools and where to add you lights and outlets and then hire a professional.  Stick to doing what you do best, work wood.

9)  Dust? What Dust?

You won't have to be woodworking long before you realize just how much dust and shavings that you can make in a short amount of time.  Before you know it, everything in the shop will have a thin (or not so thin) layer of dust.  Now here's something to ponder.  If all that dust is covering everything around you in the shop, guess how much of it you breathed in?  More than you should have, at the very least.  Early on in setting up shop you need to set up some type of dust collection system.  It can be as simply as buying a shop vac that can be rolled around to your tools and hooked up individually, or all the way to a 3hp cyclone dust extractor that hooks up to every machine in the shop.  For the times that even a dust collector doesn't get all the dust, wear a dust mask.  It's a know fact that wood dust is a carcinogen.  Take the necessary steps to protect your lungs.

10)  The One Tool You Can't Live Without

Is it the table saw?  Band saw?  Planer?  No!  The most important tool in your shop is a good workbench.  What makes a good bench is different for every woodworker, but there are a few things that all good benches have in common.  Most importantly, the bench should be sturdy and heavy enough not to walk all over the shop when you're trying to use it.  It should also be at the right height for your body.  With your hand held at your side with palms facing the floor, measure the distance from the floor to your palm.  This is about the correct height for you.  A good bench also needs to have a way to hold wood in place on the surface and on edge.  This is usually done with wood vises and bench dogs.  Last but not least, a good bench has to have a flat top.  This is an important reference for gauging how flat a piece of wood is, hand planing a board flat, etc. 

There are many plans on the Internet on building workbenches and books that describe everything you ever wanted to know on benches and building one for yourself.  Do your research first before you jump in and start building.  There are many different styles and sizes of benches that you can build.  Figure out what you need your bench to do and what features you want in one.  The advantage in building your own workbench is that you can completely customize it to your needs.  I promise, after you build your first workbench you'll wonder how you made it without one.