Two half-lap dovetails combined with two housing dadoes, all in oak, together with running the 1/4″ grooves to the sides and front and fitting the plywood bottom, how long to do? Now we are talking from milled stock not rough-sawn but then all hand work from that point on.
Tongue in cheek, I’m asking the question because even practiced woodworkers often do not realise how efficient hand tool woodworking truly is; how much more new woodworkers finding their feet. Of course those new to woodworking don’t walk into skilled work or ability straight off, but then, conversely, they can think it takes decades to get to the level I’m talking about because people advising them think that that’s the case too. I think that that is also true of those experienced machinist woodworkers too. It’s not boasting on speed, just an attempt to help everyone understand the misconceptions. As the closing generations of apprenticed woodworkers in a range of fields die off, we face a period that’s no longer steeped in the skills and era I speak of. That’s why I do and have been doing what I feel I now do best for this period in the world of woodworking. I’m sowing seeds as it were.
As we approach the new era intent on producing the houseful of furniture for the new house, I find myself considering the patterns by which I gained my knowledge for designing and building the pieces I make. Patterns for this, designing and then actually working to create what’s on my drawing or sketch, I know the thing that made the greatest difference was to recognise the essentiality of order to bring absolute efficiency to my working.
Procrastinate on sharpening a chisel exactly when needed and the wood is bruised, more effort is needed and frustration causes slippage to where damage happens and then too injury often follows. Of all the things I have ever taught others in woodworking throughout my life the single most important thing is developing sharp edges. Moreover, just how do you sharpen those edge tools and saws? When do things vary; the bevel to the chisel, the pitch to the saws you use and only you at that, and what about the burr to your scrapers, the presentation of the tools to the wood. Spokeshaves are diversely different and you can establish your own idiosyncrasies if you know what you’re doing. I am talking accuracy on a different level here. A total putting in order and then more, your putting in order.
Accuracy is mostly knowing. Knowing is accepting. When you accept that you MUST sharpen and that you MUST sharpen at the right time and periodically rather than once a month a week or even an hour, then you begin to understand. If you refuse to sharpen as needed, which will always be more rather than less than you expect, then you’d best go buy some machines. The beast will go for a little longer and you have powerful motors to replace your insensitivity and the unwillingness of it. Of course, you will soon learn that machines rely on sharpness too, but when you are depending on your own strength you soon see that sharpness means less effort, much less. I’m always happy that machine power often takes longer to set up than the 1 1/2 hours it took me and that I get a certain quality result I cannot get with machines and jigs. I’m happy more that my muscles are still willing to pull and push in flexing to the task of making my designs and that when I stop I feel incredibly fulfilled. We are getting up speed by volume as new woodworkers too are gaining the insights and abilities I speak of. Now I see how they are getting what they were originally searching for when they started their own adventure into woodworking before they were distracted by a sales operatives. They go into sales outlets empowered by just simply knowing what they are looking for. Mentioning dovetails, the sales person is redirected when our woodworkers say, “No, no! I just want a dovetail saw, not a router and bits, a jig as a guide. No thanks! There in is my success.
So this week I start my first attempts on new turf. I’m in drafting mode. Measuring rooms and looking at light from windows. North facing or south, east or north east, who knows? Why is there a need to know? Some woods are susceptible to major colour changing when exposed to light. Some change almost not at all. Some woods will look washed out and some will darken dramatically before losing all colour. I’m so hopeful being in the design consideration phase for the houseful of furniture and that’s why I am so excited. Are you joining me on this new and exciting venture? I do hope so. We could be making a new generation of designer makers!