The art of woodworking is one of the most ancient and widespread. From the earliest days when humans first experimented with the many uses for wood, our civilization has had a connection with this material, in all its varieties and forms. And the growth and advancement of mankind has been closely intertwined with our ability to improve our woodworking skills and to develop new uses for wood.
Primitive civilizations used wood as material for building shelters, tools, weapons, utensils, and other items necessary for survival. As time went on, they began to expand the use of wood to include the creation of creature comforts such as furniture and decorative items. They also built boats and rafts for exploration, travel and trade.
As skills and knowledge continued to develop, and woodworkers began to understand the wide variety of properties of woods from different tree sources, wood became one of the most widely used materials, found in nearly all areas of life, from home to work, production to pleasure. Those who had a talent for working wood became important artisans and craftsmen, and guilds and workshops were developed to help document and preserve the art, train apprentices, and represent the interests of those involved.
Different specialties within woodworking began to develop, each with their own tools, projects, and techniques. These categories included:
- Wheelwright - A person who makes wooden wheels and spokes.
- Cooper - A person who makes barrels and related goods.
- Turning - Using a lathe and cutting tools to create symmetrical, round or curved pieces such as table and chair legs, pedestals, and candlesticks. Some wood turners, called bodgers, focused specifically on making bowls, cups, and other household utensils.
- Carving - generally refers to any woodworking project that involves removing pieces of the original wood to create a finished product.
- Carpenter - historically a wagon maker but over time the term has come to be associated with woodworking in general and more specifically with home and commercial construction.
- Cabinetmaker - Someone who specializes in making cabinets, shelving, and some pieces of furniture, such as chests, curious and other storage items.
- Shipwright - professional shipbuilder, often assisted by craftsmen from other areas of woodworking.
- Parquetry and Marquetry - Creating beautiful and often complex patterns with different wood veneers. Originally used as decoration on furniture and some homes, but now has expanded to include artwork and picture making. Parquetry typically involves the use of geometric shapes, while Marquetry draws from life images and scenery.
Today, some of these categories have become obsolete as steel, plastic, cement, and other compounds have replaced wood in many situations. While wood is still used in numerous important applications, including home and commercial construction and furniture making, woodworking has become an activity practiced less for necessity and more for pleasure, challenge, satisfaction, and honor.For some, woodworking is still a means of making a living, but for many, it is a fun and rewarding hobby. In addition, the tools, techniques, and applications have become more advanced and sophisticated. A person just getting started in woodworking could soon become overwhelmed with the amazing number of choices.
Most experienced woodworkers would agree that the art is still a progressive experience, taking many years to learn and advance in skill-level. The knowledge needed to create a stunning and functional chest of drawers, grandfather clock, desk or other fine piece of furniture for example, takes time and practice to develop. And the skills needed often overlap the different areas of specialization in woodworking.
Not knowing where to start or how to focus their interests, many people new to woodworking become discouraged and frustrated and soon give up. In addition, taking on projects that are too difficult or trying to work with inadequate tools can also lead beginners to decide that woodworking is not for them.
Luckily, tips and ideas from expert woodworkers can help those new to woodworking get off on the right foot. In an effort to provide a comprehensive overview of woodworking we have done the work, travelled and talked to experts in their fields, and grilled them over their secrets, their challenges, all their experiences, and their key advice for beginners. Those interviewed include fine furniture makers, master carvers, seasoned shop teachers, and several other skilled craftsmen who have been working with wood for decades.
One of the most common suggestions given was to start with the basics of general woodworking and the use of common tools used, and to avoid getting too complicated too fast. There was strong emphasis on building a solid knowledge of different woods, using key hand tools, starting with simple projects to develop key skills, and learn about safety.
As one expert toy maker, shared, "Getting a good working knowledge of woods and basic hand tools is the best thing a beginner can do to ensure future success. You need to know what type of wood works best for different projects, and if you know how to measure, cut, shape and join with hand tools, you'll be much better at it when it comes to using power tools and woodworking machines."
Taking the experts' advice, comments, and tips to heart we explored those beginning, foundation skills in a manner that is easy to understand and does not intimidate beginners. You will learn about:
- common woodworking terms
- the traits and uses of some of the most popular types of wood
- general woodworking safety
- different types of hand tools and their proper use and care
- basic types of projects for beginners
- introduction to woodcarving and the tools needed
Also provided is a resources list with details on different publications, websites, and other sources of information for beginning woodworkers.It is important to note that the field is filled with talented and skilled craftsman of both genders. Women are active in all aspects of woodworking and have established reputations for quality work. We spoke with several women in gathering material and their input was an important contribution.
That is one of the beauties of woodworking; it is a field that is open to people of all ages, genders, races, backgrounds, educational levels, etc. Anyone willing to learn and to take the time to practice can become skilled.
Woodworking is a vast and interesting realm with seemingly endless applications and opportunities to learn. Enthusiasts can take their skills to many different levels and interest directions, and even make a living with their woodworking abilities. By mastering the basics and establishing a solid foundation, you take the first, and perhaps most important steps to becoming a successful woodworker.
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