12-and-a-half warnings for anyone beginning woodworking

CLF - Olmstead ParksIf you’re new to woodworking, or just thinking of starting, then welcome to a world of deep creative satisfaction, personal discovery and the meditative bliss that comes with the sound of a finely tuned hand plane schicking across a piece of finely figured wood. That, and utter frustration, sawdust, splinters, obsession and alienation from polite society.

It’s been just a few months since I set out on the same path. I just wanted to build some bookshelves. And today… well, read on, young traveler, and consider yourself warned.

1: You will never look at trees the same way again.

Who doesn’t love trees? They’re magnificent, life giving monuments to creation. But these days, I can’t pass a tree without wondering what it would look like split open, milled into slabs, planks, crotch cuts, cookies… all waiting for me to shape into objects of beauty and wonder. I have to stop myself from pulling over on the side of the road and trying to hoist fallen limbs into the back of my Jeep. I wonder how long the maple in my yard has to live and what it would cost to have it milled.

2: Wood will become an object of lust.

“Exotic” will take on a whole new meeting. You will find yourself, late at night, hunched over your laptop of tablet, aglow in its light and tingling over the sexy photos in front of your eyes. Photos like this.

bocote lumber

Lust inducing bocote from Exotic Lumber Inc., Maryland.

3: So will tools.

If power tools are your game, then you will find your sense of scale adjusting until $2,500 table saws begin to seem reasonable. But if you fall into the murky world of hand tools then woe to you indeed. You will have started down a road of maddening minutiae and eBay obsession.

4: So will other people’s workshops.

Another new form of porn will capture you… watching videos of other people’s shops.

5: You will begin stealing random household items from your own home.

Whether you’re raiding the pantry for vinegar to make screws look old, borrowing the clothes iron to attach edge banding to plywood, or squirreling away jars and cans to store hardware and paint brushes, you will become a thief in your own home as your shop becomes a ferret’s den of hoarded items that you never touched before.

5.5 You will begin calling whatever unused and uninhabitable area of your house that you work in, your “shop”… to the great amusement of your family.

6: All that time you spent ignoring math, physics and chemistry in high school? Yeah, you’ll regret that.

If you’re one of those people who prides himself on limiting his scientific knowledge to the air-speed velocity of an un-laden swallow, knowing 42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything, and debating the archaeological feasibility of “Ancient Aliens,” then you’re in for a harsh truth. There’s a lot of math in woodworking. And not just plusses and takeaways. There’s a whole lot of geometry and dividing fractions and other hard stuff. You will want to know it, and you will want to understand the chemistry involved in finishing and gluing, the cell biology of trees, the load weights of joints and the metallurgy of edge tools. Laugh now, but you will.

7: Your sense of humor will change.

Butt joint

Butt joint

Speaking of laughing… Butt joint! Crotch cut! Did you laugh? Soon you won’t, and you’ll get annoyed when other people do.

8: You’ll develop man crushes.

Two words: Christopher Schwarz. Or Roy Underhill. Or Norm Abrams. Or Paul Sellers. Or even Steve Ramsey. But not, under any condition, Tommy MacDonald.

9: You will measure the value of time and money solely in terms of tools, timber and shop time.

Shop time is valuable. So are tools. If you are used to spending your “spending money” on clothes or music or just about anything else, you will being thinking things like, “That suit costs as much as a Lie-Nielsen No. 8. I can get this one taken out.” You will also give up things like TV (unless it’s The Woodwright’s Shop) and naps to spend an hour in your shop… even if you’ve got nothing to build. There’s always organizing, and reorganizing, and sharpening, and tool cleaning, and jigs to make…

10: You will hate IKEA even more than you do now.



I have been know to suffer emotional breakdowns in IKEA. Now I can’t even think about it without wanting to hurl my jack plane across the room. I can make anything at IKEA cheaper and faster than busting my knuckles with tiny allen wrenches and going mad staring at senseless inkblot pictograms… all without enduring the sweet stench of Swedish meatballs on the 10-mile death march through art, lamps and housewares.

11: You will, at every conceivable juncture and despite all your arguments that money invested in tools today will pay off in savings on furniture later, spend more money making things that you could have purchased for less. See No. 10

12: You will desperately want Nick Offerman to stop telling jokes and tell you more about his giant router jig and crotch slabs. See No. 4.

Props to Steve Ramsey at woodworkingformeremortals.com and his video “You Might be a Woodworker” for the inspiration for this essay… and my continuing with this whole woodworking thing.


One thought on “12-and-a-half warnings for anyone beginning woodworking

  1. I’m new to woodworking, I look forward to learning with that said the reason I’m responding is your article was wonderfully done. Thank you

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