The “Why” and “How” of Woodworking

What is the “why” and “how” of woodworking from my point of view? Well, I’ll do my best to explain. Let’s start with a simple example.

In most ways, I am a purist.  When I order a steak at a restaurant, I don’t want any of the half dozen or so steak sauces they often try to bring to my table. 

If I wanted to eat a bunch of spices, I would order a bunch of spices.  I am the same about wood. Who am I to try to improve on the distinctive creation of God? And I think our children should learn about it. 

The Color of Wood

Cruising through the forums, I am constantly seeing questions about staining and getting one type of wood or another to 1) look like some other type of wood, and 2) get whatever wood someone is working with to obtain an even color.

God made oak to look like oak, cherry to look like cherry, and pine to look like pine.  If you want something to look like oak, try oak, it looks just like, well, oak.

God also made wood have variations in color and consistency.  Who are we to try to make it all one color and consistency?  Might as well be using MDF or particle board to make stuff with, then paint our own wood grain on it.  Or maybe buy some of that uniform wood grain plastic laminate and glue it on if we want the uniformity.

Furniture factories, I think, are responsible for this idea that the wood should have a nice homogeneous color, the light colored parts should all be the same hue, and the same with the dark colored parts.  

They do that because they don’t have the luxury of choosing pieces of wood that enhance each other.  

They get these great loads of wood into their shops and they just grab pieces off of the stack and feed it into the mill.  These pieces are legs, these are table tops, these are skirts.  

Then it all gets dyed so that it all has the same color and is glued and screwed together to make a piece of furniture.  

One good bit of news (or maybe not so new) is that the furniture factories are using less and less real wood.  Wood by-products and plastic laminates are the order of the day.  That’s good news to me because it leaves more real wood for me to use.

The Why and How of Woodworking

We as hobbyists and small wood shop owners do have the luxury of first sorting through the stacks at the wood store for the pieces that will become this or that part of a piece of furniture or some other nice thing made of wood.  Then we also have the luxury of picking those pieces we selected for a particular part.  

We can pick out pieces with similar grain patterns to glue up for our table tops.  We can pick a piece with some nice figure to be used in a very visible part of our project.  

I like the variations in the color and grain of the wood.  I like an occasional knot in the wood. It adds character to the wood, and to the piece I make with it.

I also like the natural color of the wood. If I want something to look like oak, I want it to look like real oak, not some manufacturer’s idea of what oak looks like.

I’ve never seen any unstained red oak that was the color of the stuff that comes out of a can.  The only way to make another wood look like oak is to paint it and I am not artistic enough to paint oak wood grain onto a piece of pine.

When you get right down to it, pine is really not much cheaper than oak, or cherry or most other hard woods. When you consider the time and effort that goes into making something, that price difference seems to devalue quickly.

A project you see in a magazine or a plan you have picked up one place or another can not really be made to look like the picture if the piece in the picture is cherry, and you make it of pine. And you will not be as happy with the pine piece as you would have been with it made of cherry.

So, when it gets right down to it, I leave the homogeneous, even colors to the furniture factories, and I choose my wood carefully, often times picking a piece with a nice knot in it to be highlighted in an obvious visible place. 

The walnut for this box had a large, semi-loose knot in it, and rather than working around it, I used the knot on the front of the box. A bit of sawdust from the walnut and some epoxy and the knot was solidly part of the wood.  I think it adds character.

On Joinery and Hardware

I like the wood. I don’t particularly care for metal. As such, I avoid hardware when it is practical.

I prefer not to use screws or brads or nails. When working off of someone else’s plans, if I have the time, I will make changes to the plans to negate the necessity of screws or scrollsaws called for in the plans. 

Mortise and Tenon joints replace butt joints, or I will add a rabbet to increase glue surfaces. I will also use loose tenon joints for added strength instead of adding screws or other metal hardware. I use clamps so I don’t have to, “shoot a couple of brads to hold till the glue dries.”

I also do not own a biscuit joiner since I don’t do biscuits. I use other stronger joints. Wood glues are stronger than the wood around them, so I don’t need biscuits for edge joining. If the piece needs additional strength I will use a tongue and groove joint.

I like doing stuff by hand.

And that, my friends, is my personal definition of the “why” and “how” of woodworking.

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