Wednesday, January 16, 2008

It's like having a personal woodworking tutor

Ever have a question about something, and you wish you knew an expert in that area, so you could ask him or her about it? Like a car repair question, or something about a medical procedure, investment advice, or even choosing a mover?

I've been volunteering for a long time with an online service called All Experts, it's a wonderful place to find answers to various questions that you might have. Once they've answered your question, you can rate the volunteer on a variety of things, from knowledge, clarity, and timeliness, to politeness. And you can nominate the person for volunteer of the month, should you be so thrilled with their answer.

I'm listed a volunteer in the "woodworking" section, with cabinets, furniture and woodworks as my area of specialty, and over the years, I've answered hundreds of questions, in fact, I just learned I've answered 1071 questions since I signed up to volunteer. I finally wised up and started saving my answers on my computer, because many of the questions I receive are similar. I've probably answered "how do I get rid of the greasy film on my kitchen cabinets" at least a dozen times, and the second most common question is about removing white water rings from furniture. So when I receive those duplicates, I cut and paste from my old answers, since usually the same information will apply.

And my third most common question from people on the All Experts site is about becoming a woodworker and making money from it. Apparently, people are under the impression that wood workers are wealthy! I liken woodworking to owning a boat. What's that line that a boat is a hole in the water you pour money into? A woodshop often becomes the black hole for your hard earned dollars.

Not too long after you become an "expert" woodworker, you'll want to buy those Beall wood threaders, Incra Jigs, Leigh Dovetailers, and so on.... and you'll probably use them probably once a year. OK, maybe that's an exaggeration, but there are a whole lot of gizmos out there you don't need, and it's easy to get sucked into purchasing them.

So those questions about "how do I get started in woodworking?" always make me smile. I usually list the necessary stationary power tools they'll need (tablesaw, planer, joiner, drill press, sanders, mortisers, router tables) and then casually throw in all the incidentals that you can't be without (clamps, bits, hand tools, supplies like sanding disks, glues, dowels.... well, you get the picture. A decent woodshop is expensive, and learning how to use everything properly is important.

Which brings me to my old buddy Tage Frid.

We met a long time ago, at a workshop he was giving in Atlanta, at Highland Woodworking. There were about 30 of us in his class, and he was charming, and a great communicator of woodworking techniques. In fact, he demonstrated how to make a curved raised panel, which was an amazing technique to learn. After the demo, I asked Tage if I could have it, and today, it's still sitting on a bookshelf in my office, reminding me of that special week learning with him.

OK- so where is all this going?

When I graduated from college, one thing I knew for sure is that I still had a lot to learn about being a woodworker. It's a never ending education. But one of the best ways I learned about woodworking was to take Tage's book- Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking: Joinery: Tools and Techniques into my woodshop and use it as a visual guide for learning how to cut joints in wood.

I opened that book up on my tablesaw, and proceeded to cut every single joint in his book, from dovetails to fingerjoints, mortise and tenons to compound miter joints. It was like having Tage right there with me, at every step.

By the way, the second most popular boat quote is "The two happiest days in a boaters life is when he buys his boat and the day he sells it." Luckily, this doesn't hold true for woodworking. Most people I know enjoy it well into their golden years. It's a shame so many people wait until retirement to take up woodworking, it's a shame to miss all those years of enjoyment.


Robert said...

Thank you for your suggested reading for woodworking. I have ordered the book and I do look forward to learning something new.

rodney said...

The day after I read this I found the combined first two volumes on the half-price table to Woodcraft. "Is this really supposed to be here? Score!" :-)

Jamie Y said...


I'd forgotten they combined the first two volumes into one. You DID score!