3 important lessons from one project

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Forum topic by hasbeen99 posted 12-15-2009 03:38 AM 1378 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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183 posts in 3564 days

12-15-2009 03:38 AM

Topic tags/keywords: humor construction grade lumber crafts beginner douglas fir

Last spring, my mother-in-law (who has always been wonderful to me—seriously!) asked if I could make around 20 tabletop Christmas trees for her winter boutique craft show in December. I agreed, not knowing what a pain it would be, nor how much time it would actually take. Because of unforeseen events, I didn’t get started on it until late November. I did manage to get them finished in time for her show, but in the process I learned 3 important lessons that I think many amateur woodworkers like myself could benefit from:

1. Construction grade lumber is contruction grade for a reason. I picked up a jointer and a planer this year, so I thought, “Hey, now I can buy cheap lumber and mill it up nice so I can save a ton of money!” Well, I bought cheap lumber, and it milled up nice, but learned the hard way that douglas fir does not like to be flush trimmed—not one little bit. I had chunks breaking off right and left. Not only that, but I now have pitch all over half my power tools, and I went thought a set of blades each on my planer and jointer milling everything down. I could’ve bought poplar or white pine and the overall cost would’ve been close to a wash. The time and frustration saved would’ve been huge.

2. I do not want to do this for a living. As much as I love my recently-found hobby of making sawdust, the introduction of deadlines, budgets, and projects I’m not really interested in has tought me that I only enjoy woodworking as long as I’m doing what I want to do, in my own time. That’s an important lesson. Even my wife noticed the difference, and has forbidden me from taking any side projects for a while so I don’t risk losing my passion.

3. I am not set up well for mass production. After doing only single-piece projects during my relatively short woodworking experience, this was my first project that required a large number of repeated pieces. Some of my tools fared well (table saw with a stop block on the sled, etc.), but others didn’t. Cutting out Christmas tree patterns individually on 40 pieces of wood with a jigsaw was a MAJOR pain (not only in the rear end, but literally in the hand and back).

Overall, I’m glad for the experience, and I’m grateful for these lessons learned. It’ll help me narrow down the kinds of projects I want to do in the future, and keep my enjoyment at a nice, high level. I guess at the end of the day, what’s true of so many other areas of life is true in woodworking:

Know yourself.

-- "The only thing that counts is faith, expressing itself in love." --Galatians 5:6

9 replies so far

View Webb's profile


46 posts in 3311 days

#1 posted 12-15-2009 03:53 AM

Those sound like sensible lessons. I’ll try learn from your experience; we all know how that goes though – I’m sure I’ll be trying it at some point :-)

View WhittleMeThis's profile


125 posts in 3398 days

#2 posted 12-15-2009 04:11 AM

Ah number 2 is an excellent point, most think working wood for a living wood be a blast / easy money, but you hit the nail on the head. Work is work and when you work 12 hours a day (on your feet) to get a project out the door, fight with budgets, delays, tools down time etc., etc., well it can take its toll. Often the most injured is the passion that got you started in the first place.

But I still rather be my own boss ;)

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

10535 posts in 3454 days

#3 posted 12-15-2009 03:12 PM

I find that the optimum number of multiples for my attention span and work ethic is 1 and 1/2. :-))

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View Greg3G's profile


815 posts in 4111 days

#4 posted 12-15-2009 04:11 PM

Ah…I know what you went through. I was asked this summer to cut the pieces for 100 birdhouses for our church’s day camp. Not realizing what I was getting myself into I said sure, how hard can it be.

My first clue should have been when a guy from church showed up with the wood….100 pressure treated 1×6 fence pickets. That’s what they wanted to use.

I pulled out the cheap saw blades that I have stashed for such occasions (I won’t use my good Ridged Carbide blade for something like this) I put one on the Miter saw and one on the table saw.

After cutting a few out, I quickly came up with a system to batch cut them and used stop blocks for the rest. In the end it took me a full day. And yes, it does tend to wreck you back.

The end results were great. The kids had a blast putting the houses together and decorating them. There were 6 of them even entered them in the local county fair. The best cure for a sore back is the smiles of those kids. Would I do it again, In a heart beat yes.

-- Greg - Charles Town, WV

View CharlieM1958's profile


16275 posts in 4244 days

#5 posted 12-15-2009 04:14 PM

My sentiments exactly.

People are always telling me I should make things to sell at craft shows. It is difficult to make them understand that creating one-of-a-kind projects for fun, and making mass-produced widgets for profit are two totally different animals. One is my idea of fun…... the other is NOT!

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3490 days

#6 posted 12-15-2009 04:36 PM

i definitely hear you, lol. i made about 60 pieces (total) of 3 designs as gifts for the holidays this year, and about 20 of them were heart-shaped ornaments that i cut on the jig saw and cleaned up with a pattern and flush trim router bit. mass producing is definitely NOT fun. i think i would hate if i had to do woodworking as a job.

next year I think i’ll do fewer but more intricate designs and give them to less people. when you know who each individual piece is going to it makes the work much more meaningful. “milling” is for machines.

View PurpLev's profile


8536 posts in 3674 days

#7 posted 12-15-2009 04:44 PM

yup, good lessons to be had. there are some other lessons that could be extracted from those you learnt though.

for example: construction grade lumber can be selected to get decent workable lumber just like any hardwood, you just need to know where to look, and what to look for (for my workbench I used const. grade lumber for the legs, and milled them all to size with no issues – other’s have done the same).

your point about mass-production hits the subject of why we are all so obsessed with jigs and fixtures :) makes some things easier, but not all.

:) peace.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 3911 days

#8 posted 12-15-2009 04:45 PM

You are so right!!!!! I made 13 mantel clocks for Christmas last year, never again. To make it worse SWMBO wanted each one out of a different kind of wood so each would be personal…....never again! ;-)

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View DannyBoy's profile


521 posts in 3891 days

#9 posted 12-15-2009 04:53 PM

I’ve learned similar lessons in the past. As time goes on you learn more and more, which makes the hobby fun. But, then some of the lessons you learned start to be contrary to what you already learned. For instance, I now wish I could do this for a living and my shop has improved to the point where I can mass produce some things (on a small scale).

I’ll give an example: for Christmas this year I’m basically manufacturing several chairs (outside) out of construction grade cedar. I chose the material due to cost and I haven’t been unhappy with my choice. The lesson a long time ago on this for me was you can use construction grade but you have to be extremely (almost annoyingly) picky. (I just had to remember that Lowes should be ashamed that I had to pick through every one of the bunch to find the ones I wanted, not me.) I figured out a process to where I can produce about four at a time using templates. Now, I’m thinking of making up a few more to sell at a local market come spring. (Kind of a toes in the water experiment.)


-- He said wood...

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