Don't Start Square


For years, it haunted me: the danger that a piece I was making for a project wouldn't be square, or would shift out of square after I'd carefully put it together. The lack of truly flat surfaces in my shop meant I had to check for flatness all the time, and often the result was disappointment.

The woodworking books I read, whether they relied on power tools or hand tools, assumed that joinery was the primary task. Though not every joint is square, flat and square boards are the foundations of joinery. Of course they started with square!

Leaping to square, though, means that you immediately start out treating wood like any other material, a material that has to conform to certain human expectations about its shape. The appearance of the wood might still matter, but the grain of the wood becomes just an inconvenience to be dealt with. If you can't make the wood conform to those tight tolerances, your project fails.

This makes excellent sense when you're building furniture, but it's a lousy place for beginners to start. It offers little freedom and much failure.

When I first started writing Tool by Tool, Skill by Skill, the list of tools and projects was all about joinery.

It didn't last. Exploring the knife soon brought me to exploring gouges, which reminded me that there is a lot you can do with wood before you break out a square. Working with knife, gouge, and chisel teaches more than just the challenges of wood grain - they teach about form, shape, and shadow. They free you from the world of neat squares and angles and encourage you to explore that dangerous feature, decoration.

I will get to joinery soon enough, but for the moment I'm reveling in wood's many other possibilities.

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This page contains a single entry by Simon St.Laurent published on October 22, 2013 2:10 PM.

Tool by Tool, Skill by Skill was the previous entry in this blog.

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