Real Value in Creating Fine Woodworking

In creating fine woodworking, I look back on my life and see where the real values and highpoints in life have been and what have been life lessons that have helped to make me what or who I am today.  At this point I would usually start a discussion on spiritual things but not this time.  I believe everyone born has the ability to create something when given the opportunity to exercise that gift in them.  On a larger scale, see what man has accomplished just in my lifetime (middle 1930’s) because of man’s ability to mentally explore.  Marvelous works have been done in medicine, communications, transportation and many other things all throught up and created by men and women who put their pants on one leg at a time.

I have not created woodworkig projects that would on a scale survive the test of public scrutiny outside of my family and friends.  My pleasure came in mentally starting with a woodworking project that seemed achievable to me and then putting a rough drawing on paper.  I woud gather the tools and materials that I needed to complete what I planned to start.  It would be in the mind that the started project would take on new form and shape and the longer the project took to complete the greater the changes would be.


Trial & Error

Lessons can be painful when the mind isn't engaged


The true value that I found was in the exercise of the mind and training the body to use tools carefully.  When full mental attention is paid to a project, the cares of life seem to diminish.  It is my belief that all have some artistic abiity and as long as this ability is put into play to some degree the better a person’s life is.  I like creating fine woodworking projects because it teaches me I can do woodworking, not to professional standards, but pleasing to my family and me.

Types of Wood for Woodworking Projects

When creating fine woodworking pieces the outcome is often determined by the choice of wood used in the making if it.  Many choices are made according to the characteristics of the wood; determined by whether it is soft, hard or manufactured wood, its color, grain, durability, and whether or not it is readily available.  Also, it would seem reasonable to believe that the cost, skill level of the woodworker, the project itself, and woodworking tools on hand would also influence the choice of wood.  Some woods are only to be found in larger lumberyards, not in your local home center.  Most hardwoods can only be found in specialty stores.

Some commonly used soft woods are cedar, fir, pine, redwood, spruce and hemlock.  For the most part, soft woods are used in home construction and for some furniture pieces and outdoor projects.  Soft woods are generally less expensive than hardwoods, are easy to work with and don’t require expensive woodworking tools for good results; making it a good choice for the beginning woodworker.  One thing to remember when using soft wood in making furniture is that, being soft wood, it can be easily damaged.

It is more difficult and time consuming to work with hardwood than it is to work with soft wood.  Hardwood lumber requires drilling a pilot hole before driving a screw into it.  Extremely sharp cutting and planning tools are necessary for cutting into hardwood.  This adds to the already high cost of the hardwood and takes up more time in the construction.

Finding certain hardwoods is becoming more difficult, Brazilian rosewood as an example, because it is being cut down without regard for its sustainability.  Thus the cost of the wood is so high that many woodworkers can’t afford it.  Ash, birch, cherry, mahogany, maple, oak, poplar, teak and walnut are all commonly used hardwoods.  Out of all these hardwoods only red oak and poplar are stocked in home centers and lumberyards as a general rule.  Ash, birch, cherry, mahogany, maple, teak and walnut are more likely to be found in specialty stores.

There are numerous exotic woods which are imported from other countries.  Lace wood, granadillo and African mahogany are three examples of exotic woods.  Lace wood comes from Australia.  Its unusual grain structure creates a hammered copper appearance.  It’s used mostly for accent or in veneered tabletops.  Granadilo is from Mexico and is suitable for all furniture applications.  African mahogany is imported from Ghana and is also used in making furniture.

Plywood is made of an uneven number of alternating layers of wood.  Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) and particle board are both made from wood particles combined with glue and bonded under pressure.  MDF has finer particles; therefore it makes a smoother and stronger product.  The problem with MDF is that it is very heavy.  Hardwood veneer is used to hide the edges of plywood and manufactured woods.  Since the veneer is so thin, care must be taken when cutting or sanding it.

This article discusses the more commonly used woods and how they are used.  Generally speaking soft woods are easier to work with and less expensive.  It is best used for outdoor projects.  Hardwood is not so easy to work with but because of its durability it is often used for making furniture.  So, think carefully about the characteristics of the wood, the project, your skill level, etc. before choosing the wood for your next fine woodworking project.

Types of Wood for Woodworking Projects


Refinishing Fine Woodworking

Refinishing fine woodworking pieces that I find at garage sales and thrift shops is something that I enjoy.  My approach to doing this is not scientific and probably not what an experienced woodworker would do but so far it has worked for me.

First I clean the piece; using whatever cleanser I have on hand (usually soap and water) and on old rag.  Then I enlist my husband’s help in making any necessary repairs.  Actually he makes the repairs, he has the power tools, and I try to help by offering suggestions.  This is the time changes are made, if any.  After removing any hardware and stripping the old finish from the wood using liquid or gel stripper or sandpaper, and sometimes steel wool; it’s time to sand the surface smooth.  All the sawdust must then be removed with a tack cloth so the paint will go on smooth and even.  I can see some woodworkers cringe at the thought of painting wood projects, my husband does, but honestly some wood pieces just need to be painted.  And that is my favorite part.  Choosing the paint and design, then completing the project.  Now that’s exciting.  Once the painting is done, deciding what to do with it begins.  Do I give it away, sell it at a garage sale, donate it to a worthy cause or keep it?  So far, I’ve done everything except sell them.

No conversation about woodworking projects would be complete without discussing safety.  I know…women worry about being safe but men are made of tougher stuff and can’t get hurt.  Oh, yes you can!  So, think first of all the hazards involved in your project then take measures to prevent them.  Proper tools for the job and good ventilation in the work area are essential.  Proper gloves, safety goggles, ear protection, long sleeves, and proper respirator, especially when dealing with lead paint, are all important items in your arsenal of safety equipment.  This is a safety tip I read recently for properly disposing of rags and newspapers used in stripping: allow the solvent, mineral spirits or whatever to completely evaporate before discarding them.

I would say that in creating fine woodworking projects, repairing and refinishing fine woodworking pieces are the ultimate “green” in recycling.  What fun.

Refinishing Fine Woodworking



Restoring Fine Woodworking

Plant Stands and Foot Stool

There are different ways of creating fine woodworking projects.  My husband prefers to build new woodworking projects.  He does very well and generally works without a woodworking pattern or plan.  His accomplishments include a desk, book shelf, toy box, foot stool, dresser, scenery for church play, tool box, jewelry boxes, and some things to aid working with power tools, just to name a few.  My preference is restoring old, ugly and beat up pieces, not to their former beauty, but to a newer modern look.

It is here that I must call on my husband for help (I don’t do power tools, etc.) which he freely and patiently gives.  I look for treasures at garage sales and in thrift stores.  He comes along to offer advice on whether an item can be fixed and is worh the money and effort it will take to do this.  Then he painstakingly puts the pieces back together as sturdy, usable items.  Actually, my only contribution is to strip and paint the piece and upholstery if needed.  Some of our successes are four dining chairs with rounded and spindled back (cost $5) the seats were split, legs were falling off, very unstable; several plant stands in stages of disrepair ($2-$15 each), oak dining table weathered and worn ($20), and other items I can’t recall.  This was done with the thought of selling them at a garage sale.  The dining table was donated to the church, the four chairs were given to a needy family and the rest are scattered about our house because I can’t bring myself to let them go yet.

There is a restful sense of accomplishment about taking something old, broken down and ugly  and making it useful and attractive again.  So, although my contribution to creating fine woodworking is small, it gives me joy in each new woorworking project I complete.


New Woodworking Projects

Starting new woodworking projects can be hard.   I admire people who decide on a project, gather the materials needed and BAM! They’re on their way to creating fine woodworking projects. I comfort myself with the thought that they already have plenty of experience in starting and creating new projects and are confident that they will succeed.  I also tell myself that there are many who, like me, have no idea of what they are doing but are determined to try anyway.

Starting a new project is like hard labor to me.  In fact, hard labor sounds like a lot more fun.  I usually know what I want to do but convincing myself that I can do it is where the trouble begins.  I agonize over all that can go wrong.  My imagination goes off in all directions.  Even when I have a pattern and instructions I hesitate and allow the smallest things to interfere with taking that first step.

Some things that interfere with starting new projects are cost of materials, having a clear picture of the finished product in mind, does the level of expertise match up with the skill required to do a good job, how much time will be involved in completing the project, and the space and tools needed to do the work.

The cost of materials is mostly dictated by the family budget.  Getting the rest of the blocks to starting new projects out of the way is easier taken on one by one.  That being done, I am well on my way to starting on a new fine woodworking project.  And the real fun bigins!