I follow a few of the popular woodworking you tube channels and I’m a little disappointed in the general direction of their work. I don’t mean to put down anyone else’s process or style, I admire anyone who takes it upon themselves to make something rather than using the run of the mill particle board disposable junk you assemble yourself with an allen wrench. However, and it’s a big however, I seem to have drawn a line in the sand delineating the difference between what have become a few different kinds of woodworking.
1. Paper as wood, Sheet goods and veneer.
Recently I came across two different walk-throughs dealing with two completely different pieces of furniture that peaked my interest. The first was an amazing shaker chest. The chest was close to 8’ tall and I started to get high hopes while the host walked me through the joined solid wood back and the hand beveled raised panels making the bottom of each drawer. Not 20 seconds later the host started going through his plans for the rebuild and mentioned he would be using plywood instead of solid stock to replace just about every part of the chest that made it the centuries old work of art that it was.
The second was a piece I became interested in while looking into methods of cutting perfectly complimentary curved joints. The small end table was composed of an upper part and a lower part that joined at a curved and almost fluid like joint that matched up perfectly with highly contrasting colors. Once again I clicked on the build instructions with the high hopes that it would walk me through such impressive craftsmanship. Right off the bat the maker starts cutting MDF and my hopes were dashed. I scroll through the instructions and realize it was nothing but MDF covered in paper thin exotic veneer.
My question on both fronts is this: Why would both of these men, who were master woodworkers by any standard definition, do this? They both have the industrial scale shop capable of anything they could dream up, and yet they take shortcuts. Why spend so much time appreciating the fine craftsmanship of a 200 year old shaker chest just to use plywood when you have the time, the expertise, and the tools to do it with its original outstanding qualities. Why use toxic paper quality MDF that is more indicative of Ikea than fine furniture? I think the late Hunter Thompson had it right when he said “Anything worth doing, is worth doing right.”
2. The Difference between assembling, and building.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a process for every level of expertise. However, there seems to be a resurgence of kit building among otherwise experienced craftsman. The whole concept of going to a store, buying a kit of pre-cut wood packaged with included metal hardware and screws, putting it together, and finishing with something that is practically a purchased product confuses me. Again, don’t get me wrong I respect the need to build in itself, but why build someone else’s creation? You have the need to create, so create. Create something uniquely yours. The only way to build on your skills is to do, and building from kits only breeds knowledge of how to build from kits. Build from scratch and build your knowledge on how to do so.
3. All the pretty colors, straight from the third world to your doorstep.
I agree that bubinga, mahogany, purple heart, and so on are downright beautiful but at what cost. With the skills of woodworking you have the ability to go from one of the rawest materials offered to man and create a finished combination of art and function. Having researched the inspiration for the bed that will be my next project I found that the similar projects required $2,000 in rough cut bubinga alone. My mind boggles at concept of spending more on raw materials for one project, than I have on any of my shop machines. It is my opinion that any project of equal or greater aesthetic appeal can be created from locally grown species acquired through sustainable methods. Contrary to what the previous statement would insinuate, I am not a bleeding heart environmentalist I seem to be. My environmental concerns usually only go far enough to conceal how cheap I am, leaving me to wonder why I should be working with the outrageously expensive spoils of rain forest pillaging instead of the local cherry tree that was knocked down by a storm?
Having read my complaints and quite possibly become angry at me for what may very well be a misclassification of your efforts, you’re probably wondering what high and mighty methods I deem to be worthy of my pretentious shop. Starting with my materials, every bit of wood I work with has either been reclaimed from other sources, or milled from storm damaged trees. Similarly, the metal hardware I use such as drawer pulls and hinges are either made by me from wood or found attached to disused and discarded furniture no longer in need of them. Whether it is weathered barn wood, old fencing, old decking, the red oak and cherry aging in my garage, or the brass hinges and window handles found in the trash, it all is uniquely mine and will become projects that are also uniquely mine through the experience of finding, acquiring, and personally revitalizing those materials. Regardless of the wood, I avoid using metal fasteners of any sort when possible. I recognize the strength and simplicity of a pocket holes but also vastly prefer to integrate the function of strong joints with the uniqueness of wood joinery rarely seen today.
While my processes may be simple to define they are quite obviously difficult in execution. Yes there is a large pile of failed projects in my shop that would be completed had I just use pocket holes. Yes, I also spend a staggering amount of time finding, milling, drying, and shaping wood. I also spend days resawing, planing, jointing, gluing, and beveling panels when plywood would work, but isn’t that the point? It’s the experience of it that makes us woodworkers. It’s the extra time and effort that make me proud of a project at completion. It’s the pride in pointing out the hand sawn dovetails, or the dowels I cut myself, and doing it in an age where most people don’t care, that makes my work unique… at least unique to me.
-- "If you wait for it to rain, It will"