Fine Woodworking, Modern Woodworkers Association, Process Improvement
Comments 3

My Biggest Woodworking Stumbling Block

So I am driving to Cullman, Alabama today which is about an hour worth of driving from my home office. I decide to fire up my iPod and listen to the latest podcast from the Modern Woodworkers Association – Dyami and Chris are interviewing Matt Kenney while at Fine Woodworking Live.

There is a lot of good back and forth between the three of them and Chris and Dyami begin to close out the podcast with the basic five questions they ask all their guests. One question had me day dreaming how I would answer it. The question posed to Matt Kenney went something like, “What has been your biggest stumbling block while woodworking?”

As I thought about how I would answer this question, I went all the way back to my early days of woodworking. I began woodworking during my last semester at the University of Alabama. I completed a woodworking shop class which was centered on basic power tool knowledge – no hand tools. I built a nice writing desk receiving a 98 overall. This desk was made from standard lumber yard pine and today it resides in our guest bedroom where it serves as a computer desk.

After graduation and setting up my first woodworking shop, I never took another woodworking class. Norm Abram began teaching woodworking via his New Yankee Workshop television show and that was good enough for me. Norm was almost exclusively a power tool woodworker, in fact he would sometimes joke that if he could not come up with a process which was accomplished with power tools, he did not attempt the process.

And that became my stumbling block – I never got exposed to hand tools and I was often stuck in a pattern of buying lumber at the home center. You might say, “Nothing wrong with home center lumber.” But where I live, furniture made from home center lumber is not going to win any awards for fine woodworking. Not being exposed to more premium grades of lumber has hurt my ability to break into more creative furniture. And never being exposed to hand tools and the precise work which can be achieved through them has hurt as well.

I was on Fine Woodworking’s website recently and saw a slide show presentation on the work of Garrett Hack. He is at the height of his craft and I wondered where he and I went in different directions. First, I never pursued woodworking as a career which is a big part of it. I have always seen my woodworking as a hobby and the furniture I create is pretty good, but it is not fine woodworking. Plus, I was never personally exposed to the level of work Garrett is creating. It is just the way my woodworking has unfolded.

But, I can always change, and that is what I have been doing at a snail’s pace. I think it is time to crank it up a notch or two or four. Thanks the MWA for podcast and asking the questions you ask. One of them may provide the push I need to take some big steps.

Also, I have on occasion thought about writing a blog post offering advise on what I would have done differently after 30 years of woodworking. I guess this is that blog post.


  1. Believe it or not, you more or less touched on what will probably be my next blog post, and that is lumber selection. I luckily have a world class lumberyard a roughly 45 minute drive from my house, unfortunately, I can rarely afford the lumber. But nice stock, more than anything else, can transform a project from average to special. It’s a shame it costs so much.

    • “But nice stock, more than anything else, can transform a project from average to special.”

      Absolutely right. I said to a friend that lumber is the fastest way to improve a project. Funny thing, I was talking to my mom tonight about a bookcase. She basically told me to dumb it down; to whip something together. Which brings up another subject – how good do people want and need furniture to be?

      I have a pretty good lumber yard about 30 minutes away, but I am impatient and sort of dread running stock through a thickness planer – a jointer is a piece of cake. But I got to quit settling for lesser materials.

      • Absolutely. If I had more time, or a dedicated room to store lumber, I would surface my own lumber and just let it sit until I needed it. More often than not, when you surface your lumber, you need to let it acclimate yet again, before you can use it. The time situation is bad enough, but I barely have enough room for my table saw and workbench, let alone a stack of acclimating lumber.

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