November 2009 Archives

Classes taken, not taken


Unfortunately, I never took shop after seventh grade. I had a good time making a notepaper holder (which I think my mother still uses) in sixth grade, but seventh grade was pretty much a disaster. I was out the day they handed out wood for projects, so wound up stuck making whatever I could out of scrap. I made a thoroughly useless but extremely sanded little box with a handle. Someday I'll have to find it and post a picture.

That experience pretty completely soured me, and guidance counselors didn't recommend shop for college-bound high school students, so I didn't take shop of any kind again in high school. I did work on building sets for the school plays, though, which gave me some understanding of how all these things went together.

When I got to college, the first order of business for our dorm room was, of course, building a liquor cabinet. My roommates who'd gone to private school had taken shop, so they were the ones who found the art department's woodshop and actually built it, while us public school folks marveled at their master of miter joints. Glass windows, even!

When I first got serious about woodworking, I decided to take a class at our local vocational school. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it turned out that most of the class was there to use the machines, beaten but beautiful Powermatics. The teacher, an artist I think was passing through Ithaca, had gone to the North Bennet Street School and had all kinds of good ideas, and introduced us to scrapers. I think I was the only one, though, who set out to build the table she designed. Unfortunately, the grain of the beautiful maple I'd bought proved too challenging, and my work schedule kept taking me out of town on the nights when I wanted to be in class. I still have the table parts downstairs, and hope to finish it eventually...

I went back to sign up for another class, but they'd apparently stopped their adult ed program, and there weren't any more.

Since there weren't local programs, I signed up for a two-week class at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship... twice. Alas, I couldn't make it either time, and had to cancel.

I did get up to the Central New York Woodturners a few times, though driving to Syracuse in winter could be interesting. In summer, I was lucky enough to be in a small group and meet Bill Grumbine, who made the lathe seem a lot less intimidating and got me turning my first bowl. I also went to one of the last Ponderpaloozas, driving with friends from here to Indiana for a weekend of learning a lot about turning and talking about woodworking generally. Green turning on a Stubby lathe - now that's the way to take a shower!

This time around I'm focusing on a class that'll fill a major gap in my workshop, building a workbench. I've loved Robert Lang's books and articles in Popular Woodworking, and look forward to it, even though it's not until next October. It'll be a long drive back from Kentucky, but that's a good use for the pickup truck, I think! (Update: Alas, I didn't make it to that one either.)

How I got into this


I fell into woodworking kind of by accident. I started with a tiny model railroad under my bed one day, and found myself building more and more to support the train and its infrastructure. After moving from New York to Connecticut, I had time on my hands and a large bay window I could fill with a layout, so I built more complicated benchwork. 2x4s, homasote, and a few Black & Decker tools - drill, circular saw, and jigsaw - made it work.

That fell by the wayside for a few years when I moved again. I still have the trains, but the tools - and their replacements - got more use. Buying a house that needed a lot of improvement meant that I put those tools to work, and learned their limitations quickly. That meant some tool upgrades, which had me spending more time at Sears and then at the now-defunct Woodworkers Warehouse.

Somewhere along the line I'd found an issue of Fine Homebuilding in an airport newsstand, and while it was facinating, Fine Woodworking was even more interesting. That led to Popular Woodworking as I went looking for projects more plausible for beginners, and a lot of other reading. I spent a lot of time on the long-gone Badger Pond as well.

Eventually, I started buying tools and wood and building projects. Household projects determined a lot of the tools, though maybe I'll find a way to use the Sawzall for furniture-making, but over time I definitely shifted toward buying tools for the shop, not just for specific projects. My basement - damp and awful though it was - became a place where I made things. I had a couple of years in 2000 and 2001 when I had (or thought I had) both time and money, so a lot more things seemed possible than probably really were.

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