A Week of Many Projects

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Helping Doug and his wife Sandy create a display for their booth

Last week was a bit shorter than usual. Over the weekend Doug had attended an artisan craft fair where he sold his work at a booth. He asked me to come help him at the booth because he thought his wife had to be somewhere else. It turned out that she was able to stay so there wasn’t much need for me. I stood with them at the booth for a short while anyway. Unfortunately no sales took place during the time I was there; I was really looking forward to seeing a transaction happen. Doug put a lot of work into the fair by preparing the items and spending the entire weekend selling them. He did really well overall and got second place for his beautiful display. So he decided to take Monday off to rest, which meant I got Monday off too. Well, sort of…

For my day off, Doug gave me the task of designing a small table that I will be building. I had an idea of what I wanted the table to look like so I started playing around with sketches. I designed a nightstand.

The next day I brought my design in to show Doug. He gave me a few ideas and standards that would make my table better proportioned and stable. He then showed me how to make a scale drawing with an architects ruler then had me make a scale drawing of my table for homework.

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Scale Drawing of nightstand

I worked on a lot of different projects over the week. I worked a bit more on the trays, I helped build some quick cabinets for Doug to transport and display some of his products, I changed the table saw blade to a dado blade, and I milled the boarders for table runners.

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Quick cabinet for storage and display of products

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Changing the table saw blade

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Putting on a dado blade

The dado grooves I made for the table runner boarders this time didn’t work out so well. I had made them before, the same exact things made the same exact way but this time something really wasn’t working out. The board was lifting up and not cutting as deep as it needed to be and was just awful. Doug thought it might be his blade becoming dull so he decided to give it a try himself. It worked perfectly. So the conclusion was it was something I was doing wrong. However, from watching Doug do it I realized that he was putting pressure on the board right above the blade and he had me keep my hand at a distance. I pointed this out and he said it was better for me to be on the safe side. Doug is an very experienced woodworker and therefore the line between safe and unsafe is quite different from where mine is as a beginner.  This just means I need to find alternative ways to get the job done well and yet maintain that level of safety. I got the done, not the best job but they’ll do. Next time I’ll just have to play around with the process and find something that works for me. I’m still baffled as to how I managed to make them the first time without messing up though.

I did a lot of odd jobs this week but it is always a learning experience especially because I’m starting from the beginning. I have very little experience with woodworking and tools and most of the experience I have is recent so every bit I do is important. No matter how big or small, simple or complicated, brief or repetitive the task, it is training my muscles and my mind for this kind of work.

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From Start to Finish – Part 1

Doug had gotten a request from a previous customer to make some wooden trays. She had purchased some from him a while back and loved them so much she wanted a few more. Doug decided this would be a great start to finish project for me that I would be in charge of and work on by myself. In doing so I would get to make a few extra for myself to keep or give away as gifts. Doug would also have me make extra that he would be selling. We decided on 12 trays in total. The trays will have poplar edges and a plywood panel bottom.

We figured out the dimensions of the trays based on what the customer requested. Then we went on a hunt through Doug’s shop for the materials. Doug liked poplar wood for the trays so we sorted through his large stash. Doug would take out his measuring tape and rapidly spout out numbers easily breaking down the sizes in his head and figuring out how many tray sides we could get out of one board. It was far too fast for me to follow along. He had to stop and break it down slowly for me. I got it just not as fast as he does; he has had many years of practicing. He then went on to explain how important it is to learn how to figure out what you want, what available material you have, and how to make it work.

Once we had all the dimensions figured out and the poplar ready Doug had me set up the table saw and cut all the edges. When setting up the table saw you need to set the width (which is measured from the outside of the blade to the fence) and the blade height to make sure the blade isn’t set too high (which can be dangerous) or too low. The table saw is a serious tool and needs to be respected and used safely. Doug is very adamant about safety and I really appreciate it. If the space between the blade and fence is less than 6” a push stick is to be used. When I am running a board through the table saw I am to be focusing on where my hands are and where they are putting pressure in case they slip; where are they going to go? I also need to focus on the board, make sure it is flush against the fence and flat on the table otherwise I won’t get a straight cut. It takes a bit to get used to and sometimes it was a bit tricky because some of the boards weren’t straight so I couldn’t get them flush against the fence. I did my best though. It also took a bit to get used to where to place my hands and fingers to get the right pressure to keep the board in line, I got little nicks and shallow cuts on my fingers from the sharp corners of the boards rubbing against them.

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Poplar boards cut on table saw for trays

After all the boards were cut to the right width it was time to sand them all smooth. It was so much sanding! It took me an entire morning plus half of an afternoon to sand all the boards. My shoulders and neck were cramping and I had to take several breaks to get feeling back into my arms that would go numb from the vibration of the orbital sander. This was not my favorite part of the process.

Eventually I finished sanding and got to move on to making dado grooves that the plywood panel will fit into. I used the table saw again for this. I am getting tons of good practice and added a few more small cuts on my fingers as well as a nice blister on my pointer finger. To make the dado I made three passes over the normal blade moving the fence just slightly over each time until the desired width of the dado was reached and the 1/4 “ plywood fit nicely.

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Dado grooves

The next step was to round the edges with a router. Doug liked the idea of having all four edges rounded. He showed me how to set up and use the router and jig. He clamped a board down that was centered on the router that would act as a fence to keep my work straight and even and provide some safety. He had me use a push stick for this as well to be extra cautious.

I started out thinking this is pretty easy but soon found it to be strenuous. My body has a way to go before it adapts to the specific ways I need to use it. My hands started cramping badly, like a charley horse, especially the big muscle under my thumb. I needed to put quite a bit of pressure on the board to keep it against the fence so my edge would turn out nice. I must have tried half a dozen different ways of holding my hands, and none of them were comfortable for very long; they all made my hand sore. I suffered through it, kept going, and finished!

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Routered edges

The next morning I hand sanded every board to get any marks the router made. At first this task wasn’t so bad but after a while I was tensing up. I finally discovered that if I relaxed my muscles while I did this it was a lot less strenuous. This meant playing around with different ways of holding the board and sandpaper. I find that with everything I do in woodworking I need to have a firm grip on things yet keep as many muscles relaxed as possible. I also need to make sure I am in a comfortable position otherwise things get uncomfortable real fast. After mentioning to Doug that I was sore from tensing my muscles he said, “Welcome to woodworking!” By this he meant woodworking is a physical job and it takes the body a while to get used to it. I know as I continue I will find comfortable ways to hold tools and position my body, and the specific muscles used for these tasks will get stronger and have more endurance.

That afternoon Doug had me sort the boards into groups of four that would make up the four sides of the tray. He said this was where the design element came in. I got to go through all the boards and pick which ones went together best. I spent a long time deciding which pieces to put together. After a while Doug came over and told me I was probably over thinking it. I probably was but I enjoyed it.

Once I had them grouped together to my satisfaction I started cutting the miter joints on the chop saw. Doug had me make a miter cut on one side of every board first then go back and make the cut on the other side. He showed me how to set up a stopper by clamping a board down a certain distance away from the chop saw that I can push one end of the board against. This makes sure all the boards are cut to the same length. It’s a bit of a process to set it up and it takes a little time but if a lot of boards all need to be cut to the same length this can be very time saving and accurate.

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Using a stopper to cut miter joints

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Miter cuts

On Friday I finished the miter cuts and chose which sets of four I liked the most for my own boxes. Doug chose which ones would be made for the client. The left over ones would be for Doug to sell.  We also decided on what types of handles the boxes would get. Some of them will have routered handles, some of them will have cherry wood handles, and some will have no handles.

I am really enjoying having a start to finish project to work on. The first week I was just plugged into whatever Doug was working on. It was fun in it’s own way but I think having a project to work on is best for learning. I still need to design a small table that I will build for myself; I’m really excited for that!

I didn’t get to finish the trays last week so stay tuned for part 2!

Working with Doug

Monday I started a new, two month long internship with Doug Adams, owner of the Spalted Wood Gallery. I took a class with him at MUM and absolutely loved it. I learned so much in his class and knew I wanted to learn more from him. He is a high-energy, humorous, honest, and kindhearted man who is incredibly conscientious about safety. He is meticulous and efficient. He used to specialize in custom furniture and cabinetry but more recently has migrated into gift items such as trivets, salt and pepper shakers, napkin holders, lazy susans, utensils, etc. as well as mosaic art work. Doug’s work is stunning and he has a wonderful and unique style that incorporates beautiful spalted and exotic woods.

My internship will be split into two categories: the first category is production; I will be learning and helping Doug produce the items he sells, the second category is my own projects; I will be choosing and designing my own projects that will teach and refine a variety of techniques and skills.

The first day at Doug’s was sort of an orientation day; He showed me around his large, two-story shop he recently built next to his house out in the country. He showed me his work and all the different projects he was working on. We spent a little bit of time getting his shop organized, tidied up, and ready for me to work in. Doug went over the different tools and safety rules for all of them. We also talked about the goals and expectations each of us had for the internship and what the structure of it would look like. We came to consensus of a few days a week Doug would teach me techniques on my own projects and the rest of the week I would work on production for him. This gives a nice balance for both of us to get something of value out of this experience.

Doug had invited my family and me over for lunch on the first day and his wife, Sandy, made a wonderful meal. So, after an information-filled morning, my husband and son came out to their house to eat and enjoy. It was a wonderful chance for us to get to know each other better. Doug and his wife are so incredibly kind and this gesture just shows how warm and open they are.

The rest of the week was packed. I got to use the chop saw and table saw a lot which made me progressively more comfortable using them. With the table saw I got to cut both very large things, like a sheet of plywood, and very small things, like small borders for books and lazy susans. I also used the table saw to cut rabbet and dado joints. The wide variety of sizes and shapes I got to cut was valuable for both confidence and skill. With the chop saw I cut 90, 45, and 22.5 degree angles for boarders on lazy susans and table runners. I needed to be very accurate with my measurements and cuts so I got a lot of practice at being very precise with the chop saw. Every time I would use a tool Doug would stress safety and show me how it can be dangerous and what I can do to stay safe. Always safety first. I learned how to mark certain pieces certain ways to make sure my cut was in the right place and the pieces would fit together properly. I also learned a few techniques for gluing these pieces together.

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I got to learn all this and more though helping Doug make his products. I had a lot of fun and am looking forward to next week. Even though I haven’t started any of my own projects I am already learning so many valuable things. I’m getting so much more comfortable in my ability and equipped with the right knowledge and skills. I am one step closer to feeling like I’ll be able to do this on my own some day.