Immersing Yourself in Woodworking Changes You

Immersing yourself in nine days solid woodworking produces results


Another day immersed in woodworking for everyone yesterday, and today we started a new project. Dovetailed boxes come from raw beginnings and I watch shavings climb in piles at the foot of each bench. I’ve taught this workshop for 20 years, one a month, and it’s never failed to impress on me the significance of what my foundation does to people. DSC_0005 There is an order to every craft no one can sidestep no matter the craft and no matter the person or the era. It’s developed, emerged and comes to us as a full-orbed alternative to industrial processing. Such specific conclusions have evolved to perfect hand tool methods over several centuries and, amazingly, remain unchallenged by modernity. No new tool has come to the woodworking world that didn’t exist a hundred and more years ago that isn’t a mere adaptation of what existed before; often in a more advanced state. No new joint replaces what existed 300 years ago either that isn’t an industrial method no one wants to see or know is in their current work. DSC_0002 Tools too are unchallenged also. Nothing new under the sun except a few plastic  resin cast handles and backs that don’t alter the way you slice it (pun intended) if you think about it. Brass backed saws and wooden handles beat  plastic any day and wood must be cut, converted and seasoned before processing further for joinery. Joinery by hand is practical, economic and inexpensive.

It is surprising how much opposition there is to the work I do in promoting hand tool methods of woodworking and yet the results speak for themselves. Mostly it’s the professionals within various aspects of the industry of woodworking that disagree with what I say is possible and usually that’s because they never developed skills in woodworking but practice an alternative method or write about it but don’t really do it as lifestyle. Here in my classes I don’t have to fight the industry because it doesn’t exist. Everyone believes they can absorb the traditions without compromising the quality they strive for. By the time this course is over, everyone will know that they can build boxes, bookshelves, tables and go on to build a mass of other projects ranging from custom workbenches to drawers, cupboards, doors and much more. They know they can build things for themselves and family, their homes or do some of it for a living income. I think that that is neat. They didn’t come to me looking for mass-making methods but skill. true skill. Their own skill. Just as the boxes emerged from pieces of wood, so too their skills emerged the raw them.

It’s a simple box with hand cut dovetails that speaks of the woman who made it so carefully


Seeing the shavings tells me a lot about the character of men and women willing to step into the unknown to pursue their ambition to become woodworkers. It’s impressive. The chisels cut and sever the waste cleanly and the boundaries to every joint are gapless and well defined. They use saws by different makers old and new. DSC_0100 They feel the wood respond to the tool’s edge and feel content when the joints slip into place slightly compressed. I think back to my days when i started working wood. My poor results were blamed on the tools and the wood. I persevered and soon a small wooden boat began taking shape. I strung up the same and sailed it on the pond. It tipped and I added a steel keel. Then it slipped through the water like the Cutty Sark.

This afternoon the shelf units started coming together with more tight joints and not one bit of a buzz from a power router or tablesaw. The surfaces are all planed by hand to a smoothness no machine can give and before I left we filled yet another bag with shavings. As I said, the shavings have meaning for both me and for them. I look forward to using oak in two day’s time.


  1. I still have my orginal box, A gift to my wife. But have made dozens more for friends. Texas 2002.

  2. The benefit of being able to attend this class instead of watching it is that, as a student, I would have instant feedback from the instructor to correct any errors I am making. It could be something as small as angling my saw slightly as I am cutting pins. My dovetails are getting better, but are loose. That means more practice for me. Better chisels would probably also help. Any plans of teaching in the western US?

  3. The Lady did a real nice job on the Box. My first attempt was less than stellar, but are coming along nicely now, they are so much fun to make.


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