Growing up my dad always told me how important the basic fundamentals were to be successful; he was usually referring to baseball but I think it applies to just about any situation. How can I become a successful furniture designer if I don’t understand how basic joinery works? I mean, Cal Ripken Jr. would never be in the Hall of Fame if he did not take the time to learn how to properly field a ground ball. A few weeks ago I was able to go to a workshop at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship taught by Peter Korn and Reed Hansuld. I spent two weeks learning the basic fundamentals of woodworking.
As important as they are, fundamentals can be the worst when you are starting out. Especially when the person teaching you has been doing it for 30+ years and makes it look like the easiest thing in the world to hand cut a mortise and tenon. Then when you try it you start to wonder how you managed to do basic things in life, like brush your teeth, since what you are claiming is a mortise and tenon looks more like you took a dull axe and just hacked away at the wood in an angry fit for an hour.
Eventually I got it. Spending a good portion of an afternoon practicing sawing straight lines on a piece of scrap definitely helped. I went on to learn how to hand cut through dovetails and half blind dovetails. I even successfully hand planed a piece of rough cut cherry which made me thankful for electricity. It took two hours and a lot of muscle for me to hand plane a relatively flat board maybe 10” x 24”. I could not imagine hand planing all the wood you would need for a dining room table.
By the end of the course my fingers were sliced and diced from continuously sliding chisels over them or pulling out splinters. One seasoned woodworker assured me that eventually I would develop calluses and would not have to worry about it anymore. Talking to him I realized how encouraging it is to see a seasoned woodworker with all their fingers attached and still functioning. If you have ever seen a table saw blade in action you know this is an accomplishment.
I met a lot of awesome people during my two weeks at the school. The last two years my main focus has been on photography and its history. Now that I am looking to include woodworking into that focus, the opportunity to take this course was huge. I was able to learn some of woodworkings history and talk with professional woodworkers that have different styles, backgrounds, and are working in different places all over the world. Although I am still learning the basic fundamentals, I am really looking forward to my future as a furniture maker.
As always, thanks for reading.
If you have time check out these sites:
And just in case for some reason the Cal Ripken Jr. reference went over your head because you either live under a rock or are not American you should read his bio here.