This is a section from A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects, which is available on Amazon. Over the next couple months, you will be able to read the entire book, and I hope that you like it enough to get tour own copy. Enjoy.
Chapter Eight – Advanced Woodworking Concepts
I wish I knew a lot of these things earlier in my woodworking career, so I would have been able to spend more time learning and getting to understand them better.
Woodworking is like any other hobby, or study, or discipline. Over time, certain things start to click, and you find out what is important. You also find out the things that are not important, and you make some connections from all of your experiences.
As your personal journey twists and winds through the map, you will inevitably make different connections, and see things in your own way from your own unique experiences.
This is where you start getting into the more advanced woodworking concepts, because you are no longer learning how to make a straight hole, or how to rip a board and leave a clean edge.
Now, you are thinking about bigger picture concepts, how to use your new skill, what you can make that’s your own, and how to contribute to the craft that you so love. This is also where keeping some habits, and seeing some of the things that are coming your way can help you keep moving forward on your path.
The following concepts are a bit more abstract in some cases than the previous material, but they are some of the most enjoyable parts of woodworking in the later phases.
Since you are no longer concerned with the physical and mechanical side of woodworking, and understand how to make things work, it’s now time for you to start the journey towards finding out what it is that you really want to give back with your skill set.
This is also a time for using all of that experience and knowledge to take some steps that were not possible before you acquired it all.
In order to make the connections that you need to make, you need to have a large body of work, and enough knowledge that you can start seeing woodworking in a different light.
It’s not about hammering nails and building bird houses. It’s about making someone happy with what you make. It’s about bringing joy to other people, sharing your wisdom, and developing ideas that advance the craft farther than where you found it.
It’s about teaching someone that is just starting out, and hopes to one day be as good of a woodworker as you are. Now is a time for sharing, knowing when to say no, and deepening your study of a craft that has enchanted human kind for thousands of years.
All of the following concepts can be implemented as they start to make sense, but don’t feel as if you need to rush any of them. Learn from these ideas, just like any other ideas so far, and you can advance your woodworking even farther.
In particular, pay attention to the very last one, and bless the world with your knowledge.
Over time, you will eventually start to see points where you can combine ideas from different disciplines of woodworking.
It takes time, because you have to make a lot of different things in order to find places where the methods and concepts can cross over.
However, like anything else that takes time, they will eventually come. It is up to you to make sure that you are keeping your eyes open for opportunities that are hiding right in front of you.
We tend to compartmentalize things that we do, so sometimes taking a process from a different project and using it on the current project is not quite as apparent or even something that you might be thinking about.
All of woodworking is compatible with all of woodworking, so the odds are that if something works really well for knife scale making, that you might be able to apply it elsewhere, like maybe for making drink coasters or some other smaller project.
There will be either materials, processes, finishing techniques, or all three that are trademark for one certain type of woodworking, but can really enhance another project type.
As you learn these trademark ideas, always be looking for ways to transfer them into a different woodworking realm where they are not as common, or have never been done before.
This is one of the ways that over time you can help push the craft of woodworking forward and introduce new ideas and design concepts. By taking a tried and true practice from a different discipline and using it to enhance a new project, you bring forward a new idea that other woodworkers can see, be inspired by, and run with.
This leads to these other people thinking about their own ideas, and they in turn add more to yours. Over time, the idea follows a path and can eventually become a standard of woodworking.
For example, if you ever make a tobacco pipe, you will learn about buffing wood. This is nearly the same process that you would use to buff metal parts for a car, and it uses polishing compounds and buffing wheels. From the outside, the equipment looks nearly identical.
A tobacco pipe is not really finished in the traditional sense. It’s buffed to a shine, which polishes the wood on a micro level, making quite possibly the smoothest surface that you will ever feel in your life.
Then, a layer of carnauba wax is buffed over that, to seal the wood and give it a bit of a shine.
The whole process takes several minutes, and is super quick when compared to a traditional finish. Also, you can handle the project immediately after it comes off the buffing wheel.
There is no waiting, and you can finish multiple pieces in less time than it would take to finish one with a traditional finish.
Taking this concept from the tobacco pipe maker, the tool maker now has a quick, effective, and truly beautiful way to finish their tool handles and wooden tool bodies that brings out the grain, and makes the piece of wood look much more poppy than it did before.
This is also such a fast process, that the tool maker can now make and ship the items much faster than waiting for a traditional finish to cure. Touch ups are very easy too, and any customer that also has a buffing setup (which are not expensive by the way) can easily repair any small dings or scratches that happen over time.
This means better looking tools, and happier customers that can keep their tools looking newer, longer. The best part is this all came about because of a technique that you picked up from making a tobacco pipe as a random project one day.
A tool maker that never learned about buffing wood might be using a good finish, and they might be happy with the results. However, if they never know about buffing wood, they will never have the opportunity to compare them and pick out the one that makes the most sense for what they enjoy making.
Another example is learning about different materials that are available, because different crafts have different trademark materials. For example, pen turners have access to lots of different materials that they turn on the lathe and make into their projects. One of these materials that sticks out is called Tru-Stone.
Tru-Stone is a designed material that has the look of really high end marble and other natural stones. It has the look, weight, and feel of stone, but it is entirely a processed material, and cuts far more easily than it looks.
A pen turner might use this all the time, but someone that makes jewelry boxes may never have heard of it. This material is perfect for inlay work, decorative accents, adding weight to the lid, and lots of other things.
Combining ideas by taking a material rarely if ever used in jewelry box making and adding it to the design choices opens up far more options that will set apart those particular jewelry boxes.
As you learn more and more about woodworking, and you spend time learning how to make different projects, pay attention to the unique features. Watch for a specific material that is used, a certain process, or a combination of both that creates a trademark look.
Then, see if you can move that look into other types of projects to make them better. This is how you create something new, and advance the craft of woodworking.
Over time, you will just start to do this naturally. Do not worry in the beginning if you are not the best at this concept. The whole premise of the exercise is that it takes a while to get enough experience and projects under your belt that you have the scope of material needed to draw from and make these connections.
You will not be able to do this in the beginning with your woodworking skills alone, but you might be really good at something else already that you can add to your woodworking and create something even better.
The same idea applies to combining ideas in woodworking as it does to combining ideas from other disciplines. Nearly anything where you work with your hands can combine nicely with woodworking if you find the right opportunity.
It’s really about keeping your eyes open and drawing from your past experiences to enhance the project that you are currently working with.
For the brand new woodworkers that are excited about this eventual experience in woodworking, start thinking about what you already do well. What hobbies did you have before woodworking? What hobbies do you still have that can be used as a source of knowledge to add your own personal touch to your wooden creations?
The answers to these questions are going to help you as you combine ideas and learn how to make woodworking your very own. Don’t worry too much if your past hobbies were not creative.
People that tend to fall in love with creating things with their hands pick up information and start making connections quickly. They tend to have shiny object syndrome a little too, but that means you will rapidly learn a lot of different projects in a short amount of time.
Enjoy the learning process for each new project that you take on, and make some good notes in a notebook for anything that really stands out. Then, you can refer back to these notes as you work on new and different projects.
As time goes by, you will find opportunities to combine your processes and materials to advance the craft of woodworking farther than it has gone before. This will be where you start to create your signature style, and this is where woodworking goes from a mostly physical exercise to more of a mental exercise.
Take On a Big Project
If you are at a loss for your next project, and you have made several already, you might need something that offers you a challenge and builds your confidence. This is where taking on a big project can be the huge hit that advances your skills even farther.
Bigger projects are more difficult, because they can force you to learn new things, and also test your ability to stick with something until the end. A big project sometimes seems like it has no end, and that can be a real motivation killer.
If you want a challenge, and you really want to see what you are capable of both for your skill set and your mental abilities, take on a big project.
Pick something that is just nuts. Pick out a project that you have never made before, and that you know is going to take you a while to complete. This can be a completely academic exercise, or it can be something that you will eventually use.
Either way, if you are going to use this method, you can’t pick something that you are familiar with making.
The whole point of this exercise of to pick something that you do not fully know how to make, will take a much longer time than normal for you to complete, and that will vault your woodworking skills forward.
Take your time finding this project, because you want to pick something that you will enjoy at least in the beginning. Picking something that you already can’t stand is a bad start.
A practical example of something that is a huge project but something you can use is a new set of kitchen cabinets for your home. If you already make cabinets, this might not be the project for you.
However, if you already have most of the tools, and you maybe make small boxes or furniture, this can be the perfect nutty project.
Another practical example is a complete set of dashboard inserts for your car. In nearly every car there are places that you can pull the plastic and replace it with after market versions.
You can do the same thing with wood, and it will challenge your carving, shaping, smoothing, and finishing skills. Plus, there are so many different parts that you can work with, that you are going to need a while to complete all of them.
Really high end cars tend to have wooden parts in the interior, and the are hand crafted in many cases. This may not be your particular style, but it gives you an example of something that you can do to challenge yourself and spark your abilities.
This will take a long time, and it will require you to fit parts together in a way that you might not be very experienced in doing. As you learn more and more about this process, your skills in other areas of woodworking will advance as well.
For more academic and interesting big projects, that have nearly zero value other than the exercise in making them, you have a lot of things that you can choose from.
A quick internet search can give you a lot of ideas, and you might even find something that has a little bit of practicality but also some fun uselessness too. This kind of thing gives you the fun side, but also gives you something that you can use in the end.
An example of something that is not very practical would be a large wooden ship. These are fun to look at, and the woodworkers that make these as their primary hobby can create some absolutely breathtaking works of art.
The level of detail and ingenuity are something that you have to see in person to understand. For a guitar maker, or cabinet maker, this is about as academic as it gets, but it would look nice in the shop when it’s done.
Something else that is along the same lines as the big wooden ship, and something that is both a hybrid of the two styles and a project that I am personally thinking about, it a wooden doll house.
I have a new daughter, and while I never thought I would make a doll house, or doll furniture, now it feels like more of a reality. In an odd way, I really look forward to learning how to work with much smaller materials, and build tiny representations of real things like sofas, tables, and closets.
I also look forward to making something on the grand scale for my daughter, who may one day pass it down to her kids. This is the kind of project that will test my abilities as a woodworker, and cause me to have to figure out things that I have never done before.
That is why it’s a perfect big project, and something similar can help you learn more just the same. Take your time, and pick out a good one, because you two will be together for a long time.
Make an Instrument
A project that has a particular fondness in my hart, and deserves it’s own category, is making an instrument by hand. This is a huge test of a woodworker, because there is so much more that you have to control.
This is far different than making an end table or a wall sign. While there are challenges in both of those activities, and both need to look good, neither one needs to sound good. That is where instrument making takes on an entirely new twist.
I recommend that you pick out an instrument that you already play, or at least know someone that will agree to play for you in order to see how the project turned out. If you make something that you have no understanding about, you might never really know if you made a good or bad example of the project.
Having played guitar for a long time, I picked up acoustic and electric guitar making, and it’s been a love of mine ever since.
Instruments are different in a lot of ways, but the biggest is in how you need to create balance. You have to construct something that is strong, but also flexible. Sturdy, but also light.
When you see the very narrow window in many of the different process in making even something like an acoustic guitar, you will immediately see the challenge that is before you.
Pick out an instrument if you are ready, and start doing your research. An instrument needs to have certain things done well in order to work, so don’t start too fast.
Part 46 – Wrap Up
I hope you liked Part 46 of A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects.
As you can see, this is a different kind of beginner woodworking book, and I encourage you to get a copy for yourself so you have it all in one place.
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