Woodworking Fundamentals

I’m focusing on basic skills in PW. Know that this isn’t news from the mountain top, but rather my very real commitment to fundamentals in my own shop.

“Fundamentals” could mean different things to different people. Here’s what the word means to me: My goal is to:

1) Be able to measure and mark rough stock to allow me to get the most project out of a piece of wood.
2) Process rough stock into acceptably finished boards QUICKLY. “Acceptable” means different things to different people. Certainly it’s got to function. Mating surfaces need to be good enough to not drive other parts to be fettled. As for speed, hand tool work will never be as fast as power tool work. But I strive to produce work in reasonable amounts of time. This is part of being craftsmanly in my opinion.
3) Execute joinery that is fit for purpose. Doesn’t have to be picture perfect. But it should be neat and above all, functional.
4) I’m learning more and more about wood, how it works, moves, and lives on. Part of preparing stock and executing joints is selecting the right bits of wood for the right jobs. Of course keeping only the fillet and discarding the rest of the beef is wasteful. This applies to marking and waste as well.

I dislike the corporate sounding “goals and objectives” here, but it probably is a decent idea to think about your own goals. Have anything to add to my list? Of course there are 1000 skills inside each of my fundamentals above. But what about design? finishing? Would you add those to fundamentals?

I never understood why we don’t see more of this in print. There must be machine tool fundamentals. I’ve never seen articles about how to safely push tools through machines. Is this just something that’s amazingly obvious? Are there great manuals that tell you all the tricks that come with the machines from Grizzly? You could write volumes about hand tools and not cover it all.

6 thoughts on “Woodworking Fundamentals

  1. Ixzed13

    I am interested in doing more with less. Less tools, less work and less finishing. It might sound anti-crafty or lazy but there are numerous examples of simple functional furniture that I don’t want to make too fancy because it is going to be abused by use.

    1. GunnyGene

      That’s a legitimate concern, especially in a production/business sense. But, I’d caution that “fancy” should not be confused with good workmanship. I’ve seen many “fancy” items that were poorly made. Much of woodworking – especially joinery – is considered ‘fancy’ (dovetails for example), but is really a very structurally sound method that offsets “use abuse” to a great degree. Form follows function, and durability against abuse is part of that equation.

  2. msiemsenmsiemsen

    I was just musing on this question this morning. What is the primary skill a woodworker should learn? I decided it was, ironically, metalworking. If you can’t file, grind, hone, whet, strop or otherwise sharpen your edge tools you are dead in the water. Being able to make and modify and repair tools is also a major advantage, especially if you refurbish old tools.

    Learning how those tools work is of course essential, as is learning the properties of our material, wood, as those two go hand in hand.

    Then comes layout. I have been actively working with wood for a good 40 years and there is always more to learn (or unlearn) than you can shake the proverbial stick at.

    I hope this finds you well,
    Mike

    1. Adam CherubiniAdam Cherubini Post author

      Thanks Mike. I agree that these are necessary skills. You can’t work wood with hand tools if you can’t sharpen.

      And just a plug, your hand tool Olympics really highlight fundamentals. I hope you and Dean can keep it up.

  3. GunnyGene

    One of the things that should be on your list is building a library of woodworking related literature. Chances are that anything you want to do has been done by someone already.

    If you’ll forgive the link to another site, here’s a list of downloadable free books to choose from. All were written prior to 1929, so copyright protection is not an issue. http://www.wkfinetools.com/mLibrary/mLibrary_index-1.asp

    I have everyone of these on 5 CD’s . As well as many being enjoyable reading, they are a terrific reference. Of course, supplementing these with modern books that discuss the use of modern tools and techniques is an ongoing adventure.

    1. Adam CherubiniAdam Cherubini Post author

      Hi Gunny, I’m not sure if that’s a fundamental skill or not, but I agree its the right place to start. Part of the reason I got involved writing was because I was dissatisfied with many of the (contemporary) books written on the subject. I think I read every ww text in my large local library. I wanted to “set the record straight”. I read Anthony Guidice’s book and was enthralled by his treatment of bowsaws. I started hand sawing with them, having no habits or preferences. I worked with them for years before realizing Guidice was wrong. Bow/frame saws possess few or no advantages over traditional western saws. There may be a few cuts where they can out perform panel saws. In his defense, Guidice didn’t have saws like mine available to him.

      So your advice to read old books is sound. Frankly, I have my problems with some of them as well. As far as hand tools go, I guess my approach is to read everything, and trust no one. Everybody, including me, reports from their own perspective. We’re all blind men examining an elephant.

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