Things I Cannot Teach About Woodworking
The best things about the craft of woodworking – the things that bring pleasure in the work – are beyond my skills as a writer, teacher or friend to explain.
Example: Powered jointers are – in my opinion – the most sensitive machine ever invented. They are like Phil Donohue with an induction motor. Beginning woodworkers struggle with where to put their hands, where to apply pressure, how to move their bodies and how to listen to what the machine is telling them.
Oh, and they need an excellent understanding of how wood behaves in different cutting environments.
This morning I was dealing with some case-hardened white oak that I had prepared for chair spindles. Even after one careful round of machining, the spindles were cuppy. As I was redressing the stock, I started wondering how I was going to explain this operation to my daughter Katy.
I had no words. I had only hints. Jointers are backwards machines.
The most important control surfaces are behind the cutterhead on the outfeed side. Pulling the work through on the outfeed side is more critical than the pushing part. Too much pressure, and your stock will never get flat. Too little pressure and pressure applied at the wrong time, and you will lose control.
Oh, and keep your hands away from the cutterhead.
Handplanes have a lot of the same challenges. The amount of pressure forward and down can radically change the cutting action or spoil the work. The only safeguards are to keep the iron sharp, start with light cuts and plane, plane, plane.
Which gets me to my point: The wood will teach you what you need to know – if you shut up, stop trying to always be in control, listen and feel.
Oh, the eye is important, too. The problem is we all see different things.
As I started sketching out these Welsh chairs I became enamored with the tapered octagons I was preparing in advance of the lathe work. They reminded me of old tool handles. And then something clicked.
These two chairs are destined for a toolmaker, and so I decided to lean a little into the tool handle shape. I started trying to give the tenon shoulders a bit of a ferrule-like appearance.
Will anyone else see this? Will they even think to look? I look up at the pile of discarded furniture parts in our shop and wonder what it is that I cannot see.
— Christopher Schwarz
A Shout-out for “The New Traditional Woodworker”
If you like to think about the craft, to become “craftier” perhaps, I recommend Jim Tolpin’s new book “The New Traditional Woodworker.” The book is a lot about how to do the work with your hands, but it also is a lot about how to use your head.