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Forum topic by David Craig posted 11-13-2012 06:57 PM 1626 views 0 times favorited 21 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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David Craig

2137 posts in 3313 days

11-13-2012 06:57 PM

Topic tags/keywords: mechanical skills mechanical tools question

I think that there are some skills you assume you will have to learn and others that came unexpectedly when becoming a woodworker. Some folks have always been around tools since they were young, others developed an interest later in life without ever having this background.

When I started, I assumed sharpening would be a skill set I would have to develop when I purchased a lathe and picked up hand chisels. But was a little naive and did not really expect to find myself with a file working on how a frog sets on a plane, making micro adjustments on wheel guides for a bandsaw blade, setting trunnions on a table saw, using a machinist dial on an insert, etc. Each new or used tool introduced a number of machinist or mechanical tasks that I did not intend to learn. I feel that these challenges improved my woodworking, as I got to fully understand the tool, but found it frustrating at times because I did not immediately understand that such a wider depth of understanding would be required.

Have any of you folks been “surprised” by the new skill sets you had to acquire? Were there any that posed a special challenge for you? And what more technical skills would you advise a new woodworker to be prepared for if one expressed to you an interest in woodworking?


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

21 replies so far

View poopiekat's profile


4387 posts in 3939 days

#1 posted 11-13-2012 07:12 PM

Great question!
It seems that most of my metal-working knowledge has come in handy when applied to my woodworking activities. Welding, brazing, fabricating of brackets and missing parts, and of course tapping threads, and extracting broken screws. Use of calipers and micrometers is a great ability to have. Electrical stuff like finding shorts in electric motors, and bending metal conduit for rewiring is common, as well as making new pigtails and switches on newly acquired vintage tools is an ability I frequently call upon. Not to mention, the occaisional leather-work, pipe-fitting, and stained glass fabrications! Woodworking in general is really a component skill within a range of other disciplines. I want to learn how to operate a sewing machine, buy my own metal-working lathe, and develop some fundamental metal-casting skills as an adjunct to my woodworking craft.

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View teejk's profile


1215 posts in 2889 days

#2 posted 11-13-2012 07:15 PM

I was an A student in geometry in my early years…but due to lack of use, I sadly forgot most of it before woodworking became a hobby. I “tinker” on lawnmowers, tractors, snowblowers etc. so I have the wrenches and feeler gauges and most of that stuff (required for servicing the woodworking tools). And I guess I know now why consultants get paid so much to lay-out shops for material movement and storage.

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3313 days

#3 posted 11-13-2012 07:25 PM

I can definitely see where the tools and knowledge in the machinist trade would be a god send PK. Has there ever been times when someone asked for advice on restoring a tool and as you relayed the steps you would take you found yourself stopping for a moment and saying to yourself “Oh yeah, this person isn’t a machinist…?”

teejk – Funny you should mention geometry. That was a subject I had few memories of taking in HS but found great satisfaction in discovering that I had retained in adulthood. I was making mitered flower boxes one time and had a ball making different geometric patterns because I remembered that all angles equal 360 and all I had to do was divide the quantity of angles by that number to come up with the proper degree on my miter saw. Very basic but still produced a moment of glee for me :)

-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

30068 posts in 2542 days

#4 posted 11-13-2012 08:32 PM

My work in the machine shop greatly improved my woodworking skills. Especially safety. However, a year of LJ’s has improved them even more.

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View MrRon's profile


5203 posts in 3448 days

#5 posted 11-13-2012 09:29 PM

I have worked with both wood and metal working tools all my life. I don’t know where the interest came from. I guess it was because I grew up at a time when technology was at it’s peak and before TV and video games took the spotlight. Magazines like Popular Science and Popular Mechanics were filled with DIY projects, from building one tube radios to building your own metal lathe. This exposure to a wealth of information I think stirred up interest in youngsters. I started with woodworking and gradually got into metalworking. I could perform most metalworking tasks and became proficient in the use of precision tools. I never really gave up on woodworking, but when I tackled a wood project, I found that my skill at precision measurement was a plus factor in woodworking. Today I combine the skills of both while building large scale locomotives. They require precision and wood and metal skills. While many will struggle with 32nds of an inch layout, I am perfectly comfortable doing layouts to thousands of an inch. Although not necessary in woodworking, my reply is; “I do it because I can”.

View Sandra's profile


7207 posts in 2279 days

#6 posted 11-13-2012 10:43 PM

No machinist experience here whatsoever but I have developed some unexpected skills since starting this journey.

Not sure what to call it other than the ability to visualize a finished product. I call myself spatially challenged, because unless I had instructions, I couldn’t picture in my mind how parts related to each other or why an angle would be needed in a particular place. For example, when I first started thinking about making an end grain cutting board, it wasn’t clear to me which cut was for the height of the board, and which cut was for the width.

After a few ww projects, I’ve noticed that things like that ‘make sense’ now. I have a pattern in mind for an end grain cutting board, and I’ve thought through how I’ll have to do the cuts.
WW has definitely caused me to step outside of my comfort zone and exercise a previously neglected part of my brain!

-- No, I don't want to buy the pink hammer.

View REO's profile


929 posts in 2278 days

#7 posted 11-13-2012 10:57 PM

|My dad graduated from school as a tool and die man. the cost of the equipment landed him in woodworking. He had come off the farm with an outstanding mechanical aptitude to boot. I grew up learning cutting tools and relief angles special grinds for cutting tools etc. Dad got into specialty equipment needs for many of his products and I would watch him work for days bolting bits together to create the tool he needed. Eventually I learned to weld and bought a milling machine and a lathe that were used for some of the fabrication. I learned to determine when it was necessary to be on the money or when it needed to be “Close enough”. I cant say there are particular studies that one needs to know, more like a harmony of understanding. Being able to think in 3D and visualize what you want to accomplish. Determining when to use a particular tool or not.

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3313 days

#8 posted 11-13-2012 10:57 PM

Good one Sandra. I have also noticed that I have taken an interest in how things are constructed and being somewhat vocal on cheaply made furniture in big box stores. Joinery, lamination, etc. stick way out there for me now.

-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

11072 posts in 3633 days

#9 posted 11-13-2012 10:59 PM

Is patience a skill? How about tolerance and forgiveness? I can patiently wait for finish to dry or patiently work when exactness is required. I can tolerate almost anything in the shop except crappy tools. And, I’ve learned to forgive my mistakes. And in learning that, forgiving others comes easier, too.
A hands on skill I learned is how to measure without a ruler or tape.
I wish I had a metal working background. I can easily see how such knowledge would help in woodworking.

-- 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 David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3313 days

#10 posted 11-13-2012 11:07 PM

Many real good response. I am curious, though, on what skills one didn’t know they would need at the start and discovered they had to learn that one wouldn’t immediately think they had to know in the beginning. I particularly like the comments made about developing a skill for visualization and measuring without a ruler or tape. Those come by experience and were not immediately accessible at the beginning. I am assuming you are talking about measuring a project by components that are sized against each other Gene? I have a friend that measures by the width between thumb and forefinger. He knows it is exactly 9 inches and could accurately measure out a space for an object by using his hand.

-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View oldnovice's profile (online now)


7337 posts in 3572 days

#11 posted 11-14-2012 01:34 AM

In my opinion, a woodworker is a machinist that uses wood by choice/profession and a machinist is a woodworker that use metal by choice/profession. Again, in my ooinion’ the skills are almost inseperable in many aspects.

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

View 489tad's profile


3473 posts in 3216 days

#12 posted 11-14-2012 02:33 PM

I certainally like the tolerances used in woodworking. “tad” stands for Tool And Die. I incorporate as much machine shop skill into woodworking as I can. Dial indicator on my table saw and thickness planer. Making jigs and there are those measuring tools. I started woodworking around the same time I started my apprenticeship so both skill sets grew together. I personally would have been frustrated in woodworking without my toolmakers background. In both field things have to be correct and true in order to have a nicely finished piece. Not knowing how to properly set up a machine or tool would have ended my woodworking hobby. Hand tool woodworking is a whole other animal for me. Craftsman who scribe a line then work to the line and in the end have a piece that is just perfect blows me away. Gene Howe asked if patience is a skill, Yes I believe so. Some learn is sooner than others. I could never measure from my finger tip to knuckle and transfer that into my work. I’m not that skilled. I need to know that if I cut a 1/4” it is .250” (plus or minus a few).

-- Dan, Naperville IL, I.G.N.

View PurpLev's profile


8547 posts in 3853 days

#13 posted 11-14-2012 02:46 PM

while measuring is measuring, I don’t find machining and woodworking skills that much connected.

machining is about tight tolerances and staying true to given measurements, so you get a plan and you have to make sure you end up at 0.2433” sized part.

woodworking is about matching things more than about meeting pre-given measurements. as long as all the sides of the box are the same thickness, it doesn’t matter if it’s thicknessed at 0.250” or 0.280” or even 0.330” as long as it all matches up and looks pleasing.

I do NOT have nor use dial indicators in the woodshop. I square my table saw with a combination square (as low tech as it gets) and it cuts true. I use the factory tape on the planer and as long as all the parts are thicknessed at the same stage – they are all the same thickness, I don’t care much about their actual measured thickness.

getting to understand the WW machines and handtools is a great value to better understand how they work, and how to use them properly and safely, but I see that more of a mechanical and WW related thing than machining per-se.

keep an eye for detail is a good skill to have and develop, regardless where you are coming from.

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

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3363 days

#14 posted 11-14-2012 02:51 PM

Really good question.

I’ve become a good finisher. This is something I always struggled with, but about 5 years ago I decided that I would really buckle down, test, study, and practice. I get it now. It’s not that I wasn’t capable, but rather there is so much misinformation out there and poor branding of products that it just took a while to see through all the false facades.

My improvisation skills have improved too. I’m often pressed with how I can “MacGyver” things together or work without a plan…just doing things based on solid design and construction techniques. What’s cool is that all my neighbors know me for this trait, so they come to me a lot to solve problems.

Similarly, I’m impressed that I can do things like bending wood now. I don’t have to think in rectangular terms now.

-- jay,

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2452 days

#15 posted 11-14-2012 04:04 PM

I expected it and welcomed it. Unlike woodworking – machine work, repair and general metal work is something I am good at. I’m one of those people others call a “tool nerd”. All of my power tools are tuned and dialed in to ridiculously unnecessary accuracy. I know that is not needed and doesn’t really help me at all, but I have a ton of fun doing it.

For technical skills – I would recommend the following:
Learn how to use taps and dies. You will need one someday. In addition learn to identify or at least how to measure thread count and thread pitch

Get some mechanics tools. Never underestimate the value of a good socket set and torque wrench. The T handle hex keys are also I must. I use them just about every time I am in the shop for one thing or another.

We all know how wood moves, learn how metal is going to react to stresses as well (over tightening, under tightening, heat/humidity changes, etc)

Practice some basic metal work – it’s really not hard! I’ve heard so many stories like “man I would love to install a unifence on my saw, but the brackets don’t line up.” Big deal! It’s really easy to drill your own holes in some off the shelf L brackets you can get at a decent hardware store. Don’t let fear and inexperience guide your upgrade or purchasing decisions.

Things I would like to do
Make my own turning tools and chisels from good quality tool steel. It can be done without a machine shop, I just need some time and some practice


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