Making Your Own Furniture

I think that maybe the hardest part is the start. The start is believing in yourself that you can in fact actually do this; especially is this so if you’ve never made a piece of furniture or woodwork in your life before. That unbelief is compounded by the additional unbelief that somebody will actually pay you for work you do or indeed be able to use what you make or have it in their home as an object of beauty they might appreciate. Phew!

I vividly remember the first pieces I made of my own accord when I was a teenage apprentice – to supplement my meagre wage working for myself in the evenings and weekends. Six bench stools for my sister’s boss was no small ask. They took much longer than planned to make because they were tapered in both directions and had scalloped seats. It was all hand work simply because I didn’t have access to any machines and especially the more specialist mortising machine or a tenoner. There were 16 sets of each in the six stools. I had no bench so worked on the concrete floor at my parents front porch. I was just 16.

The thing is I was in my own zone. Though I had never made anything resembling such a thing before, I owned the tools I needed and my confidence levels were such that I didn’t know I couldn’t do it so I did it. My sister’s boss owned a Lamborghini and another expensive Maserati. He turned up at my parents council house to pick up the stools and could only pick up two at a time. It was a bit of a laugh for me to see such a wealthy man with so little common sense. White leather seats and still ever so slightly sticky polyurethane was not a good combination, but despite my warnings, he was as enthusiastic as me to see the stools in place at the repair shop he owned. As he tore off up the road I followed on my home-built bike made from parts I salvaged from the city dump near my house. I confess that the angled tenon shoulders were far from perfect, but I learned so much and the boss man was as happy as Larry. He peeled off the 13 quid pay from a wad one at a time. I’d never held so much money before. At that time I earned £4 a week for 48 hours. I was rich but it wasn’t the money that made me so. I could now earn money by what I made. This was a game changer and I knew it. Selling my first pieces made me both rich and proud. When my boys each grew, and at about the same age or even younger, they started selling workbenches and mallets, layout knives, dovetail templates and such. They made their own things, beds and tables, violins and cellos, woodworking tools too, purfling tools from steel and wood, for inlaying purfling, callipers for thicknessing and such. Now they can make whatever they need. I think that if you’ve made a cello you can make anything.

I made my first rough drafts of the living room last week. I needed a floor plan because we have not one stick of furniture for it yet. The big questions for me are will there be such things as televisions in five years time? If I make a TV stand can it be used for alternative use if I don’t have one? I confess I rarely watch TV; perhaps no more than an hour or two per year!

Anyway. I say all that to say we can do this and we are going to do it together!

20 Comments

  1. Ken on 12 June 2019 at 5:23 pm

    One of the things on my to do list is a television stand that doesn’t look like one. My current plan is a small, three drawer chest, the top “drawer” will be a shelf behind a false front that tilts down to provide access to the electronic boxes. I can build another drawer for that slot if it ever gets repurposed.

  2. Brent on 12 June 2019 at 5:28 pm

    I still use a mallet that Joseph made.

    • Keith on 13 June 2019 at 7:34 pm

      What material is it made from?

  3. Mark Peterman on 12 June 2019 at 5:46 pm

    I must admit I had to Google ‘as happy as Larry’. And now I know.

  4. Tad on 12 June 2019 at 5:49 pm

    I was about a year younger than Paul when for my sisters wedding my mother told me (more like demanded) to make a Lattice Jewish wedding arch. I really had trouble getting my head around the whole thing. You see, we weren’t Jewish and I really didn’t know how to build anything. Of course, my mother knew what Paul found out, I could do it and it would empower me for a lifetime. So that summer I learned how to make lattice (actually very easy, if you are not a stubborn teenager who wanted to go to the beach). And the frame structure was also simple enough. But once finished and painted it actually looked ok (it only had to hold up through the wedding and reception I thought). My mother and her friends used it for a few years before we lost track of it.
    What I learned from the experience has lasted a lifetime. Thanks Paul for sharing, I can picture you in my mind’s eye working away on the front porch. I was the kid working in the driveway.

  5. Mike on 12 June 2019 at 5:56 pm

    Paul, I recently donate a small box to my employer’s activity club for an employee craft fundraiser auction they hold each year. I used some 2×4 cutoffs from a remodel I am doing on my house. I used only the hand tools I’ve acquired and skills I’ve learned from you through this website and your YouTube channel. Needless to say I have work to do to compete with your fine joinery. The small box garnered a $25 bid. Not sure I can consider this the first item I’ve sold, but even with less than perfect joinery, someone bought it. I put about 1.5 hours of work into it and used about $2 in materials, so I would call this a success at the minimum. I hope its also a step forward in what I plan as a third career when I retire from the business world in a few years.

  6. Nicholas on 12 June 2019 at 7:18 pm

    One of my very first pieces of wooden furniture was an entertainment unit. This was before flat-screen TVs took over the market. As a result, it’s a very big piece of furniture that we didn’t want to get rid of once the TV it had housed became obsolete. It’s now a combination china cabinet/wine cabinet, so the effort was far from wasted.

  7. sla on 12 June 2019 at 8:29 pm

    When I had 16 I’ve made 3 windows for my neighbor, he payed in $. The first $ we’ve seen in my family, and my first money. Great times!

  8. Richg on 12 June 2019 at 8:38 pm

    I am always amazed when people say they never watch TV. While I am in IT and sit in front of a computer for at least 8 hours a day. When my day ends I still am drawn to the TV. I also read a lot of books three at any one time. I still enjoy a good movie, and I have found watching Paul’s videos on my TV is a lot more fun than on my iPad. I know Paul is very active and spends a lot of time on other things, so TV is not high on his list. As I just thought I would throw my two cents out there on the comment. Thanks.

    • BobH on 17 June 2019 at 3:07 pm

      For the last 2 months my activities have been greatly curtailed due to a sciatic nerve problem. I’ve spent hour after hour watching Paul’s video on my smartTV where I can access YouTube and other Internet content.

      I watch some TV because for 20 years my schedule was not conducive to network programming. I have only seen 2 movies in theaters in the last 45 years, too. Now, I can selectively choose the TV programming I want via streaming channels; but mostly I watch instructional videos on YouTube and Paul’s Woodworking Masterclasses.

  9. Greg on 12 June 2019 at 9:16 pm

    Paul,
    Get a wall mount for the TV and then you can use any kind of case to store things in or even a bookcase that would fit under the TV. If it is mounted to the wall there would be no hazzard of the TV tipping over. I am still using the spokeshave that Joseph made in Texas.

  10. Carole Burns on 13 June 2019 at 6:39 am

    Paul, How proud you must be of your sons, even in this small article two references to Joseph and his early work.

  11. Ken Dalgleish on 13 June 2019 at 11:59 am

    You want the horizontal centre line of the TV to be level with your eyes as you sit to watch. And you want your sofa or chair to be square on to the screen. That way your head is in a natural position. I cringe when people mount them high on a wall like a picture – can’t be good for their necks. The difficulty is that in many rooms this means that the best place for the TV is already occupied by a fireplace! On my list is to make a fire surround with a matching low detachable base that takes the TV and its associated gubbins. The idea being the TV sits in the best place but can be wheeled into a corner when you want to use or show off the fireplace. The wheels would also give easy access to the back to manage the cabling. With modern large TVs the movable base part would likely be around a foot high. Challenge of course is coming up with a detailed design that works and looks good in each configuration. If you size the TV carefully it should be possible to make the mantel and sides “frame” the TV.

  12. Colin on 14 June 2019 at 7:28 pm

    I must confess that it seems right that YOUR house should have the things that YOU want & need inside it…but since you ask for input;
    #1 I think that if you want the broadest appeal to what you make it should be very adaptable. Size & shape, choice of material, style. So maybe your oak hall table could become a pine coffee table. Maybe with different shaped legs. Maybe with / without a drawer. Maybe all kinds of things. I guess you already plan something like this.
    #2 Most of us have a TV even if we don’t watch it 24/7. My best guess is that most of us will still have a flatscreen not a million miles from today’s design 5+ years from now. TV manufacturers keep trying to push their new great thing but whilst flatscreens drove a major shift, nothing since then has transformed the market. I don’t really see a reason for that to change.
    #3 Current vogue (in Europe at least) is a low unit that can sit below a wallmount TV or indeed stand a TV on it. Low because as someone already said here, you don’t want to be looking upwards whilst seated. I think such a unit could easily be repurposed should TVs become redundant. A design with open spaces for AV gadgets could easily be modified to add drawers or cupboards instead. Back to my point in #1 really.

  13. Paul Oram on 17 June 2019 at 11:04 am

    An hour or 2 TV a year!

    Well, I’m not there yet, but I have become aware that I watch less than I used to now I’m busy in the shed making stuff.

    • Paul Sellers on 17 June 2019 at 1:57 pm

      It was when I arrived to live as an emigrant in the USA that I stopped. I found it too confusing to see news anchors dressed like puppets on strings followed seamlessly by advertisements with more puppets and then the actual show with even more puppets. My brain just could not compute what the difference was, whether any of it was reality or false and now I’m older I realise that every bit of it was and still is for the main part fake or fear mongering.

      • Ismail Nuri on 17 June 2019 at 4:01 pm

        My great-great uncle Jim watched about 5 minutes of TV back in 1948. He said he didn’t believe they were real people because they were too small. How could they be in that box! He was 90 at the time and never looked at a TV again! Must have seen your “puppets”!

  14. Terrence OBrien on 18 June 2019 at 12:57 am

    I’ve had a notion Paul’s Leaning Wall Shelf could make a great TV stand. Modify one shelf and put the screen between the uprights, or modify two and let it extend beyond the uprights. I’d probably just make two versions of the two shelves. If TVs stay, we have a great TV stand and shelf. It They go, we have a great shelf.

  15. O. P. Holder on 18 June 2019 at 2:15 am

    Paul
    I would like very much to see a video, sketch or something else on how to make a purfling tool, I have not been successful at this.
    Thanks

  16. Adriano J. M. Rosa on 23 June 2019 at 11:27 am

    Thank you to share your life with us.
    Thank you to say “You can”.
    My dovetails are coming better every time and my wife is asking me some stuff.
    Thank you.

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