Reflections on Learning How #1: Starting From Scratch

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Blog entry by FeralVermonter posted 01-03-2013 05:50 PM 1367 reads 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Reflections on Learning How series Part 2: To Set Up Your First Shop »

Long story short, I’m one of those folks who’s been “hit hard” by the recession. For the last few years, I haven’t been able to find work through the winters. But I’m not writing about that—it just sorta sets the scene. In my better moments, I can convince myself that I’m keeping up the Vermonter tradition of “making do,” but it can be stressful, and frustrating. One of the better ways that I’ve found to cope is to think of my time as a resource that I can “spend,” (a good example here is fixing something rather than buying a new one) and one of the best “returns on investment,” when it comes to spending time, is to learn something new. And not only can there be a payoff or a saving in learning something new, once you remind yourself that you’re not in school learning is usually pretty fun.

This winter, it’s something long overdue: learning to build, and to build well.

Pretty much all my life I’ve been around tools, done a bit of construction here, drywall there, made some picnic tables, a few shelves, even made a few antiques back in my auction days ;) (Take it from a former auction worker: never trust an auction worker. They’re like carnies, but worse.) I can cut a reasonably straight line–but not a perfectly straight one. And I really don’t know how to make what I can see in my head–not even something as simple as a cutting board.

I know, I know: most of you guys could make a cutting board while on the toilet, using only a utility knife, clamps improvised from toilet paper tubes, and a glue made from a combination of shampoo, Bon Ami, and toilet paper… what can I say?

So basic fine woodworking is the goal, novice-level rough carpentry is the starting point, there’s just about zero budget, and all I have to work with is a few old tools that I picked up back in my auction days, all of which are in disrepair. Today, it’s just too darn cold outside to even think about going out, coldest day of the year so far according to the radio. So I’m inside, taking stock–no pun intended.

It’s really nice to find a forum where beginners are encouraged, rather than mocked (a big problem, in my opinion, with a lot of online forums). This morning I’ve been reading about other amateur woodworkers taking their first steps, and it’s both cheered me up quite a bit, and given me a lot of good ideas. So in the spirit of giving back, I thought I’d write a bit about my experiences so far, paying attention to the few good ideas I’ve come up with, and to the many, many mistakes I’ve made. So as not to carry on and on, I’ve decided to make a series of it. Up Next: Setting Up Shop on a Shoestring. After that: my experiences with rehabbing a radial arm saw. Nothing to do today, other than make dinner–so I might just get around to both.

9 comments so far

View pendledad's profile


190 posts in 2117 days

#1 posted 01-03-2013 06:12 PM

Look forward to reading your blog. From a fellow New Englander, you’re right … it is just too darn cold out there today to do anything. You’re right about this site, tons of great members, tons of great advice.

View HalDougherty's profile


1820 posts in 3264 days

#2 posted 01-03-2013 06:35 PM

You’ve made a good start. This website is a complete resource to get started and move from rough construction to the finest and most detailed woodworking project. The first thing I ever built from wood was an aquarium stand that I made from 2×4’s. I had to buy a skill saw and a drill to have any tools at all. I used the stand for 30 years to hold an aquarium and right now it’s in my shop as a small work table.

-- Hal, Tennessee

View Dave's profile


154 posts in 3224 days

#3 posted 01-03-2013 06:38 PM

Great post. I agree100% with your comments about the site. It’s great to be able to share and learn together. It’s also fantastic to be able to mingle with woodworkers further down the learning curve and admire the work of some REALLY gifted artisans! Looking forward to reading your blog, and all the best as we deal with this crazy economy!

-- "I'm not afraid of heights. I'm afraid of widths." - Steven Wright

View JoeinGa's profile


7736 posts in 2034 days

#4 posted 01-03-2013 07:13 PM

Hmmm, I’ve been here just a month and I agree with where you’re comin’ from. The folks here have been very supportive and informative without “talking down” to the new fellas. And yeah, there’s ALL KINDS of personalities here. :-)
I havent see much of “RTFM” spoken here. If a question has already been asked a lot of folks will step up and answer it again, usually without hinting that the answer could have been found in the search function.

Usedta be that folks that know me locally have been telling me how nice my cutting boards and bird houses are, and how I should “Market them and sell ‘em at the fairs and shows and such.” Then I came on here and I see that I’m not NEAR as “advanced” as I thunk I was :-) The stuff I see here quickly put me in my place! In this short month I have learned SO MUCH MORE than I could have on my own.

This week I started on my first endgrain cutting board. This morning I did the final sanding and started the process of oiling it. WOW! The grain really POPPED when I brushed on that first coat of oil. In the next few days I’ll have several coats on it and take a few pic’s.

So WELCOME newbie! Stick around and show us what you got. You dont hafta have a huge shop with all the latest and greatest tools in it. It’s what you bring out of your shop that counts. Like the girls at the bar usedta say “It aint if you got the biggest and best. It’s how you use it that counts”

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View clieb91's profile


3520 posts in 3962 days

#5 posted 01-03-2013 08:42 PM

Welcome aboard. Bring up any questions you have as someone one here if not has been there and can generally give a good answer. I have been here a few years but learn something new almost everyday.
I look forward to your blog


-- Chris L. "Don't Dream it, Be it."- (Purveyors of Portable Fun and Fidgets)

View curliejones's profile


178 posts in 2294 days

#6 posted 01-06-2013 07:54 PM

Welcome to LJ. The amazing thing about this site and woodworking in general is that there are so many different ways to achieve the same end. Some folks use hand tools only, some power tools mostly, but until you develop and refine your chosen methods, make sure you enjoy the process, regardless of what it may be. Planning and looking forward is good to do, but the therapeutic value of accomplishment is what feeds me. I built a trestle table 39 years ago using 2×4 lumber (frame) and 1×8 boards (top). All I had was a hand saw, a drill, and a screwdriver. Lumber was much better back then and so were my back and knees ( I had no sawhorses to work from). We used the table for twenty years then brought it to my brother’s fishing camp. Then a second camp, then to my daughter’s college apartments. She’s working and still enjoys that table in her current kitchen. I hope your projects give you as much pleasure as that first furniture project of mine!

-- Like Guy Clark sez - "Sometimes I use my head, Sometimes I get a bigger hammer"

View mileskimball's profile


97 posts in 2041 days

#7 posted 01-09-2013 08:30 PM

That’s the great thing about working with wood—it doesn’t matter where you start or how many tools you have, there’s always a way. And to my mind, finding the way is the best part of the project.

But the finished product has significance, too. To the maker, like curliejones, the finished object becomes a little story, an anecdote from your life. You look at it and say, “I remember how the grain reversed on that piece,” or “I had to redesign that bit because I cut the board too short (you can’t cut a board longer!),” or “I had to work late to get that finished in time for the wedding.”

What a terrific privilege to get to make things with our hands – and even more so to talk about it with like-minded souls!

-- Miles

View Don W's profile

Don W

18754 posts in 2595 days

#8 posted 01-09-2013 11:31 PM

I’m about 10 miles short of calling myself a Vermonter, but know what you’re Going through. Welcome to lj’s, you will like it here.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View a1Jim's profile


117126 posts in 3604 days

#9 posted 01-09-2013 11:49 PM

Welcome again
I fondly look forward to journey ,The part I really want to see is your very tiny pieces of woodworking equipment balanced on a shoe string ? :))

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

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