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Woodworking Skills…The Shape of Things to Come

Woodworking Skills

Woodworking skills - The beginning stages of the walnut maple vase.

The beginning stages of the walnut maple vase.

Ah! The importance of woodworking skills. Take a moment to think back to when you originally became interested in working with wood. What was it that sparked your interest in the wood craft? How did you feel when you picked up a woodworking tool for the first time? For what reason did you become a woodworker or carpenter? Was it to make furniture with tight fitting joinery? Could it be that you were drawn to hand tools or power tools? Let’s take a look to see where our woodworking skills are today.

“You become what you think about”
Earl Nightingale…American motivational speaker and author (1921-1989)

For some of us woodworking or carpentry may be or has been our livelihood and it continues to be our hobby in the workshop as well. Some of us have other jobs outside of woodworking and yet working with wood and a furniture plan is one way in which we enjoy spending our time. There’s just something good about having a wood shop where we can take our time and focus on our craft to build the things that we want. It’s just nice to be able to have an idea in our heads, to be able to work with our hands, and see a wood project being created. We are as much a part of it as it is a part of us. Perhaps as much as we make a project out of wood, it in return is making us in some way. The better our woodworking skills, the better our woodworking projects become.

Woodworking skills - Segmented Vase of Maple and Walnut

Segmented Vase of Maple and Walnut

This article is as much for the beginning woodworker as it is for the experienced woodworker. We all started this journey on day one with few if any tools or woodworking skills. Perhaps, there are of us that received some sort of training or maybe we just learned on our own. In either case, our woodworking skills define where we are in the wood craft today and what we are able to accomplish at any given time. As a result of improving our  skills, we are able to advance our woodworking tasks. Woodworking skills allow us to be able to create more and for a woodworker this is a sense of freedom. Simply put, woodworking skills is where it’s at. For a new woodworker this may mean learning how to sharpen a chisel, whereas for an experienced woodworker it may mean having all of our plane irons honed and hand planes ready for use when needed.

Woodworking skills - Wood Finish applied to a wanut and maple segmented vase.

Wood Finish applied to a wanut and maple segmented vase.

Together, we have many different levels of woodworking skills. However, something many of us do have in common is the desire to constantly improve what skills we do have. Perhaps there is something inside of us that continually reminds us how and why we first got involved in the woodcraft. Maybe it is the sense of pride that comes when we know that we are doing the best we can with the skills we currently have. It’s also knowing and trusting that we can and are improving towards our potential with each and every new woodworking challenge.



1.) Name one woodworking skill that you would like to improve upon.
2.) Why?
3.) What would it do for you?

The Apprentice and The Journeyman University

Koa Wood for a Woodworking Project

For this new woodworking project we have created the challenge for ourselves to build a jewelry box using a limited amount of material on hand. The Koa wood for this woodworking plan was purchased on the Hawaiian island of Kauai three years ago while on vacation. Since the wonderfully grained exotic wood is in limited supply we have saved it for the building of fine woodworking projects. This is the remaining material. So, in order to complete the wooden box we will need to focus on accuracy from start to finish while practicing a variety of woodworking techniques. We will need to keep our workshop skills honed to make it happen. Join me as we learn how to make koa wood veneers to build a decorative jewelry box.

Slicing Koa wood veneers on the Band Saw

Recommended Video…Let’s Build a Jewelry Box…Part 1

Woodworking Tips and Techniques include:
Slicing wood veneer on the Band Saw.
Laminating veneers and using a Vacuum Press.
Cutting 45 degree miters using a Flat Board Miter Sled for the Table Saw.
Cutting miters using the Dedicated Miter Sled for the Table Saw.
Using a Sacrificial Fence and Dado Blades to cut rabbets on the Table Saw.
A Glue-up Technique simplified by using tape.
Wood Turning on the Wood Lathe.
Creating a Wedged Tenon Joint.

The Apprentice and The Journeyman University

The Practice of Woodworking

How often do we practice the craft of woodworking? Perhaps this should be restated as “How often do we take the time to practice our craft in the woodworking shop? So, what if we could perfect our woodworking skills by mastering practice? Afterall, everything we do in woodworking revolves around our set of skills.

Most of us probably think in terms of what we want to do for our next project and then we draw or obtain woodworking plans in preparation. From there we may need to pick up woodworking supplies or materials as well. It seems so often we as woodworkers talk and think in terms of the next woodworking projects or the woodworking jobs in which we are currently involved.

Wood Lathe practice

Practicing spindle techniques from a beginning woodturner.

However, when do we make time to practice with our tools and focus on woodworking techniques? When do we find the time to experiment and test a woodworking idea or a method. If we are not setting aside the time to practice and allow for mistakes we wind up taking chances and possibly making the errors during times when there is no margin for error.

Many of us are sports fans. How often do the greats of the sport practice? In football they generally play once a week and the rest of the time the team is preparing for their next game. In sports you will see teams have tryouts and training camps before the season opens. In baseball when a relief pitcher is going to come into the game you can bet he has already warmed up in the bullpen. How many hours do professional golfers spend at the driving range? The list goes on and on.

Using these examples one can clearly see that if you want to be good at what you choose to do then all you really need to do is get in some practice. Yet again, if you want to excel at your craft, how much practice do you really need? Perhaps to answer this question the answer lies within the individual woodworker. Maybe another question reveals itself. How good or great do we want to become? How much effort do we want to put into it? Again, these are questions that only the individual woodworker can answer for themselves.

Through practice we learn more about our strengths and our weaknesses. We may find that we can cut a perfect tenon on the table saw, but then we have difficulty producing the same tenon with a handsaw. By practicing we can work out the bugs that occur when we are in the middle of a project. For example, have you ever been in the middle of a glue-up of a woodworking project where you’ve spread the glue on the material and the glue is starting to set up, but you find yourself missing woodworking clamps or a caul? Perhaps if we play out and practice this scenario prior to the glue up there would be less margin for error and less stress involved.

Just like watching a great athlete, it’s great to watch a seasoned woodworker go about the wood craft. When your eyes follow the repetitive movement of a skilled craftsman while he is hand planing a board with thin shavings falling to the floor, your mind senses and instinctively knows that this woodworker is experienced, confident, and well practiced. You can spot these features if you are 10 feet away from him or 50 yards away.

The chances are that if you have read this far into this article, you will listen to and understand the value of practice. A good woodworking school will point this out. The practice of woodworking basics will elevate your personal growth in the wood craft while at the same time improve your skills. As a result, you will feel more comfortable and in tune with the craft. They say that golf is 90% mental. If so, the remaining 10% must be physical with a reflex action due to muscle memory. We know that the golfer’s physical performance is directly proportional to his practice. So, why would woodworking be any different?

The more you practice woodworking, the more fine woodworking you will create. Relax and stay focused as you practice on scrap material. If you make a mistake now it’s OK. Learn from it. It’s better to make the mistake now. Just as we hone our chisels and plane irons we need to keep our skills sharp as well.

Gary Rogowski writes of Joinery practice in a Fine Woodworking article. Gary also did a video of the Five-Minute Dovetail.

How often do I practice?
When beginning woodworking, how much do I need to practice?
What woodworking techniques should I practice?

Just a Thought:
The 100% theory…If we were to improve our skills in woodworking 1% a day, how much would we improve after 100 days?

Be your best!

The Apprentice and The Journeyman University

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