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Furniture Basics


Furniture Basics

Part one

 Making fine furniture starts with the basics. Practicing basic techniques, just to improve on them, is not only a very good idea, it is a necessity.

When I'm in the shop, and either don't feel like working on a particular project, or just need a break from the rest of the world, I will follow along in the path of previous master craftsmen who, while training apprentices, would have them repeat the same task, sometimes for weeks or months at a time, until they master it. The only difference is there is no master to guide me. (or beat me).


Practicing the Basics of Woodworking.

I have spent hours planing boards, for no particular reason, other than to push my abilities to the next level. The same is true for cutting dovetails, with different tools, or carving boards into submission, or sharpening tools. Not only is this very relaxing, it is also the absolute best way to learn. Learning in this fashion, not only improves your proficiency with a given task, it improves proliferative skills in the process.

For instance, while planing with a hand plane, you'll notice little things, like adjusting the throat opening, changes the results. Or that sharpening the blade on a different angle, will change it's effectiveness. Or giving the plane blade a slight curve on both sides, will prevent ridges when flattening a board. Or planing the board on an angle across the grain, known as skew cutting, will result in easier cutting. There is much to learn from your tools. If you "listen" to them, they will teach you how to use them. Every tool you own, has something to say.

A very dear friend of mine, Bob Caughie, who has recently passed away, was a third or fourth generation plasterer. In addition to being a fine person, with an incredible sense of humor, this man was truly a master of his trade. When I last used his services, he was in his early seventies, but looked to be in his late fifties. A powerful man. As my main business was general contracting, we often contracted with Bob to make plaster moldings, or medallions, or any number of complicated plaster items.

Since I am the boss, and could get away with not working, often I would pull up a chair and listen to his jokes, or comments on life and watch this master work. Sometimes he would make a metal template of the existing plaster molding, and "run" it out on a bench, after having me build him a form, to run his template against. Other times he would "run" the molding out on the ceiling itself. Only experience could give him the knowledge to decide the best way to go.

One Saturday he came to a jobsite to run some molding out. I meet him at the job, and pretty much acted as his helper, and kept him company. While he was working, I was keeping myself busy with sharpening my jobsite planes and chisels. Then I would test the results on scraps of wood we had laying around. After about four hours, he said to me, "you are the most patient person I ever met". I said, "what do you mean". He responded by saying he had been watching me sharpen and test my tools for several hours, without complaint. I laughed at him, at that point. He said "why are you laughing?" I said, "Bob, the whole time I've been sharpening and testing my tools, you've been working on the same four feet of molding, and I don't hear you complaining".  At that point he said yeah, I guess you're right. 

The point to this little annotate, is it's part of the process. You can't get around it. It needs to be done, if you want to get to that "Master Class".

Even new tools, in the process of setting them up will teach you. When I bought a shaper for the shop, I was very disappointed with the fact that every edge on the tool would cut you. The cast iron table was top quality, except for the edges.

I spent about five hours, filing the sharp edges, and corners, which while I was doing it, really irritated me, as it just doesn't seem right to pay for a piece of equipment, and have to spend time cleaning it up to make it safe to work with. On the plus side of this, is the fact that after those five hours, the shaper and I were pretty good friends. (I told you I have problems). Actually the truth of the matter is during this time, you do become familiar with the machine, and it becomes less intimidating.


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