Since the dawn of civilization, humankind has carved objects from fallen trees; from the simplest and most utilitarian items to elaborate works of art. The earliest forms of the transportation were created from wooden elements such as the boat, the wheel, and the carriage were all conceived and created from wood. And throughout history, hundreds of other important items that we still use today were built from wood. Take today’s jet planes, for example, the Wright Brothers successful wooden airplane made aviation history, along with other wooden prototypes and designs of the period, and set the stage for construction of our modern aircraft. Men, who sailed here in boats made of wood, as it was known, discovered the “New World”. The voyage of Christopher Columbus made a successful landing in Massachusetts, over 500 years ago – the majestic Mayflower, constructed from wooden timbers, made the discovery possible. And who could forget about those famous Viking longboats? At least one of these mighty ships crossed the North Atlantic about a thousand years ago, and made a successful landing at L’anse Meadows, in Newfoundland, Canada. These longboats, called “Drakkars”, featured impressive and innovative designs, and utilized a unique, oaken ‘plank-lap’ design. It’s been estimated that the planks used to build some of these Viking longboats, came from oak trees over eighty-feet tall! It would be hard to argue that lumber was history’s most important building material right up until the widespread use of steel and Portland cement, in the mid 19th Century.
But wood still holds an enormous market today, with the use of wood for framing lumber in homes, expensive cabinetry, exotic woodcarvings, and the bustling furniture industry. Of course, there’s the use of wood in crafts, hobbies, and other projects, collectively referred to as woodworking. Fine Woodworking is a long-cherished tradition, enjoyed by young and old. As a hobby, woodcraft takes on many forms from carving artful figurines, to building patio furniture. It used to be that woodworking “secrets” and tricks of the fine woodworking trade were handed down through the generations, from master craftsmen to apprentices. To some degree, many of these secrets are still passed along, from master to beginner.
Fine woodworking is an activity that requires patience, precision, and attention to detail. That’s n something you can acquire from reading alone. Though woodworking can be quite pleasurable, it’s also serious business. For many, working with wood is more than just a pastime, it’s a way of life. Serious craftsmen and women are deeply involved with furthering their knowledge about fine woodworking, by studying the methods and techniques of those who came before them. The serious woodworker tends to aspire to becoming a “master” craftsman, focusing on creating useful and valuable items, like furniture and cabinetry, while the hobbyist tends to spend a few days, here and there, doing “craft”-type work at a leisurely pace like carving whimsical figurines or making a simple book case or spice rack. If you do live in an older house, you can learn a lot about woodworking simply through careful observation of the existing woodwork throughout your home.
Study the woodwork in places like the stairs, the kitchen, and even in the basement, and you’ll likely get a glimpse into the past. Some of the fine woodworking methods practiced by early craftsmen and carpenters are still used today. If you have young children in your family, or grandchildren, and you would like to build them a swing-set for the backyard or how about building a nice, sturdy picnic table, for your summertime family cookouts and gatherings? Every household has books, some have lots of books but there never seems to be enough available shelf space. Why not build your own bookcases? A handsome, custom-made bookcase always looks better than a store-bought unit. There are a countless number of woodworking projects you can do around the house, and with your newly acquired knowledge, you’ll gain the confidence needed to tackle those projects, and put your skills to the test.
Woodworking can be a most enjoyable and fulfilling activity. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of seeing your finished project put to use. Like anything in life, improving one’s skill comes through plenty of practice and woodworking is no different. Learn all you can about fine woodworking. Read journals, watch those who do it for a living, and take advice from the professionals. Be patient, and learn to become detail-oriented. Follow the old rule of “measure twice, cut once.” Those four words of wisdom are timeless and true, and you will remember them every time you goof on a measurement. In time, you’ll be building all those items that you never dreamed you could. Above all, be safe, and have fun. That’s what it’s all about.