Simplicity in Woodworking - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Simplicity in Woodworking

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The form is simple. The jig was massive ... but that's another story.

The form is simple. The jig was massive … but that’s another story.

Here’s what I like to see when I look at something I’ve built, something someone else has built or someone in the process of building. Ease. I like to see the simplified result – in form, product or technique – of what I know is not so simple.

I don’t mean it has to be modern, and I don’t mean it has to be pure (whatever that means). What I’m saying is that I love the pared-down thing. If it’s a process or activity I’m observing, rather than a product, give me only the necessary motion. Give me the casual but effective moves of a pro ballplayer at the annual family reunion game. Woodcraft, at its best or by the best, is like that. Even static objects will come alive when their lines are easy to follow with the eye and brain.

The teacher I had in the production cabinet shop told me to always do the hard part of a build first. That takes some discipline, though when a deadline and money are involved, you learn that it’s by far the most efficient practice. For the hobbyist, it’s often harder to acquire that discipline because it’s more enjoyable to complete a series of basic, habitual woodworking moves than to take on a difficult project or technique. Also, in your typical garage shop, there aren’t five other cabinetmakers standing around to offer tips, ideas and the occasional well-meaning jab.

In any case, whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional, the questions are: How do you make this stuff look easy? And, how do you know when you’ve reached that level of success?

The second question is probably impossible to answer. Hemingway’s famous quote on writing was, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master,” and I think some of that applies to woodworking. But the first question is something we can tackle. How do you go about simplifying a design or a job? Who are the teachers and writers that do it for you? And, when it comes to finished products, what do you like to look at? What are the forms or styles that appeal to you?

Frank Klausz makes dovetails look easy.

Frank Klausz makes dovetails look easy.

For me this week, it’s Frank Klausz on dovetails. I like looking at the ones he’s done, and I like his simplified approach to cutting them. Share your current favorites in the comments section, or by e-mailing me.

Dan Farnbach

p.s. – we have Frank Klausz’s writing in our store, if you’re interested. There’s a nice joinery book available in both digital and print formats. Visit the product page and consider picking up a copy.

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Showing 13 comments
  • BillW

    Hey Dan,
    Great article! I was just talking with a fellow cabinetmaker in our shop the other day about doing the hardest task first. Typically when we install some cabinets we do the crown molding as soon as possible so we don’t have to rush that part of the install at the end of the day.Sure it would be easier to install the baseboard first, but what a stress relief to get that part out of the way.

    On another note, I have seen Frank Klausz cut dovetails in person, it is quite impressive and he does make it look simple. Pratice ,Practice Practice. Frank said he asked his father how he could cut dovetails so fast ,he told him after ten or fifteen years you’re gonna be a pretty good beginner yourself.

    Looking forward to reading your blog in the future


  • Dan Farnbach
    Dan Farnbach

    I know that the entire magazine really appreciates everyone’s support. It’s my pleasure to write these articles and share thoughts. Many thanks, all, for following and commenting!

  • rellison

    How elegantly expressed!

  • WoodguyCo

    Dan, Great article.
    Here is a quote I think is appropriate. Leonardo de Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”

  • Jay Elton

    Based on this first post, you are a welcome and well fitting addition to the PW staff. Thanks for the inspiratoion and the great looking piece of work. Looking forward to further reading your thoughts in the future.

  • keithm

    I saw Frank’s dovetail video years ago, when it first came out. I tried to follow him with disastrous results. I started out too fast.

    I found “accuracy first” a better learning tool. Speed will come with experience.

  • shepparg

    Dan, welcome to Popular Woodworking. It seems to me that the graceful design and execution that you are advocating is a choice for elegance over fanciness. I think you achieved that in this piece. If this column is a taste of what we can expect from you, I’ll be a fan.

  • Stillpoint

    He Dan
    Found what you say with me. Tend to gravitate toward simple. Though most people at this level (and yours) would say my work is crude not simple. Or curde and simple. Looking forward to your contribution to Popular Woodworking.

  • cheffelisha

    Dan, please tell me about that beautiful fruit bowl. How did you make it, process, etc… I love it!!!

    • Dan Farnbach
      Dan Farnbach

      We made it in a shop where I worked. I wish I could say I was responsible for the design, but that was the guy I worked with, Matt Steckley. He had also built a massive jig for doing the work on a table saw. It was a frame stationed over the blade with a swinging sled that carried the wood in semi-circular, consecutive passes. The rest of the work was removing waste, smoothing, and finishing!

      • Megan Fitzpatrick
        Megan Fitzpatrick

        Just a note on that process: We’ve a similar technique article, by Mario Rodriguez, on scooping a chair seat at the table saw, scheduled for the August 2013 issue.

      • cheffelisha

        Thank you so much Dan. This is truly inspiring design.

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