Recently, I’ve been getting into woodworking. I’ve just completed my first real project: a bench to do said woodworking on — I think it’s pretty good for a first project. It was hacked together in an afternoon, it’s made from cheap lumber and it’s built in a very function-first way around the kinds of thing I envision myself doing with it. There’s a joint where the top meets the legs that’s messed up and it haunts me a little, but that can be fixed in the future (or perhaps left as a reminder).
So why woodworking?
It’s peaceful — if my mind is elsewhere, I lose a finger or (worse) I ruin the piece I was working on. When I’m out in my front yard in the sun with my tools and some lumber, my mind is on the craft and nothing else.
It forces you to be patient. For me this is the most important point. In general I’m a pretty impatient person — and I don’t think my job/lifestyle has made that any better, given that I can update a design in seconds, talk to friends across the globe instantly or watch any TV show I want with a click of a button. I don’t like that I’m impatient; it’s something I’d like to improve about myself. I like to see a result right now and woodworking doesn’t work like that.
You get rewarded with little victories. When you’re planing and there’s no tear-out and a perfect curl of waste; when you’re cutting a joint and it fits perfectly. Overall, however, it’s a slow process. If you rush, you fuck it up. If you fuck it up, you start again. It forces you to take your time. If you don’t keep your tools sharp & in good condition, you mess up. If you force it, you split the wood and you start again. If you measure incorrectly, you go and buy a new piece of wood, because that piece is ruined. There’s no Ctrl+Z in the workshop!
That joint on my workbench that haunts me? You guessed it; I tried to cut a corner. If you mess up, it’s visible to you and anyone else who looks at what you made. Woodworking keeps you honest. You get out what you put in.
It can be as techincal as you want. There’s a bunch of techniques, joints, tools, glues, finishes required to produce good results — it’s a whole new universe to dive into and learn & that’s exciting. There’s always another tool I want, another technique I’d like to learn or a project I’d like to try. I can do everything by hand or I can use an electric tool (not that I have that many right now, but I’m working on it!) I can make something complex with difficult angles or I can make something simple. It’s great for beginners, because there really is something for every skill level.
The skills you learn are transferable. My dad was really handy, and since I could walk I’d help him out decorating & updating our house. As a result I’ve always been handy, and I’m really proud of the fact that I could fix pretty much anything in my home.
It’s incredible watching how inept some of my friends are at things I’ve always taken for granted — it’s even more incredible how some people don’t have a screwdriver; a drill; a hammer. Using tools in general & creating something gives you the confidence to say “yeah, I’ll try and fix that”. I’m not going to be one of those people who calls the guy every time something breaks.
You create something everyone can appreciate. My family and most of my friends don’t really get what I do as a designer. It’s hard to describe what I do and why it’s important, because good interface design is about getting out of the way and letting you get stuff done rather than ramming a design down your throat.
Mama Humphreys appreciated this:
Not everybody is going to look at a website I made and appreciate that it’s well designed. I’m certain however that almost everybody could look at a piece I’ve crafted and know whether or not it’s good. I can build something and people can understand exactly what I’ve done, and see that it’s taken time and effort. Even better — I can build something people can use for years.
When it’s done, it’s done. You’re finished, and you move on to the next project.
It’s not playing on my mind like a design would. I could improve this, I could change that. I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy with a design project as I was when I finished my bench, because it was an immediate release. I’m finished.
Woodworking is a fantastic hobby. It’s not going to make you rich — quite the opposite, tools & wood are expensive! — but it’ll clear your mind and improve your practical thinking in general. Oh, one more thing: sawdust smells amazing.
Where to start
Here’s a great place to start exploring:
The Wood Whisperer
Frank Howarth is an infinite source of inspiration to me:
Matthias Wandel (aka Woodgears.ca) makes some crazy, crazy stuff:
Ultimately, just.. start! You'll screw it up the first time, and the second, and probably the third. But it'll be worth it. Get started — I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.