Mark (TheCraftsmansPath.com) on September 7th, 2007

Every year at this time things start to change: the weather begins to change (at least here in the Northeast it does), kids return to school with high aspirations of a new year, if you are a hunter then that season begins, and Autumn of course signals the start of Football season!

For me this time of year marks the beginning of another period – Woodworking Season! What, you might ask, do you mean by a season for woodworking?

Well for me, activities in the wood shop take place primarily between September and April. The simple reasons for this are:

  • I have a basement shop and the weather here is conducive to working in the shop during the Winter months rather than spending the short Summer months there.
  • During the Summer months there are many other things vying for time – some of which are good and others (read - yardwork) that are, shall we say, just required.
  • Because of this, when I do spend “off season” time in the shop it’s usually to do things like sharpen a lawn mower blade or do some house maintenance that requires some complement of shop tools.

I usually spend the off months working through my reading on woodworking and design and coming up with potential projects for the new season. Often during this time off I also consider potential shop upgrades and/or changes, as well. The upside to this is that I usually go into the season with grand plans for projects, shop changes and maybe even new tools! The downside to this is that because of sporadically “using the shop” in the off season, one of the first events of the “pre-season” is usually cleaning the shop!

Really, I can’t say that I mind the pre-season events – they get me back into the shop on a regular basis and allow me to fully immerse myself into projects there. Even cleaning the shop at the start of the season is rewarding because it paves the way for the future good work to be done.

You may or may not have a season for woodworking but I’m sure that at least some of what I described is true for you too. For me, this year is no different from those previous. I have the shop cleaning task ahead of me as well as a list of shop upgrades that I’d like to accomplish. I also have a few major projects that are on tap that I have to prioritize and get through – at least a couple of those are for my wife so, those get top priority!

In future posts I will be covering the shop upgrades as well as the design and woodworking projects that I have planned. I would like to go through the entire process of designing and building a piece of furniture here on The Craftsman’s Path. Along the way, I will try to detail each step as I complete it and I’m hopeful that will bring more opportunity to communicate with readers for feedback, suggestions and questions as things progress.

In the meantime, please feel free to e-mail me at thecraftsmanspath@gmail.com with questions and also please leave comments here using the comments link at the end of the posts. Above all else, go enjoy Woodworking Season!

Mark (TheCraftsmansPath.com) on September 6th, 2007

Whenever I start thinking about a new furniture project I start with a sketchbook and pencil. I find that armed with these simple tools I am best able to explore all the potential design ideas that may surface.

Because there’s no shortage of paper, I can keep drawing potential ideas for the project at hand. The sketches don’t have to be award winning, they just have to present the basics of the design and have a relative sense of scale and proportion (if the sketches don’t at least relate a basic sense of proportion, potentially good ideas might be dismissed early because they are not pleasing to the eye). In the pictures you can see a couple of quick sketches that I did for a sofa table that I am building. You can see that these are nothing special, but they do convey the basic elements (for example the style of the legs and aprons) of each potential design.

First_Sketch_1.jpg

First Sketch 2.jpg

Sometimes I will break off on within a page to explore specific elements or details of the design (i.e. maybe a closer look at the legs of a table or the molding of a cabinet). This helps me to brainstorm and eventually capture some design details to eventually be transferred to the final project. Eventually I hit on a design idea or detail that interests me enough to explore it further. At this point I usually move beyond the pencil and paper to the computer to complete the design.

Because I have limited CAD skills, a while back I went looking for a more straightforward tool to use. I wanted a tool that could be an extension of my simple hand sketching with the ability to create the appropriate detail and dimensioning necessary to build a project. The other thing that I wanted was the ability to see the resulting design in 3-D. A little over a year ago I found a tool that met all of these criteria with one downside: it was pretty expensive to purchase for the average woodworker. The company offered a demo program that I tried and liked – the software met all of my criteria, and then some. Luckily for all of us in the woodworking community the original company was acquired by Google. The software is called SketchUp and Google now offers a free version that I use (there is also a Pro version that you can buy but I have not yet found a need for the extra features that it provides).

SketchUp works as an extension of my original drawings while allowing me to detail as much or as little of the design as I would like. Generally, I use the tool to capture the necessary dimensions to create a working drawing from which I can build the project. The tool allows you to actually design every Mortise and Tenon joint or Dovetail if you want to. However, I only occasionally use it in that fashion if a particular aspect of the joinery warrants the extra study. The real benefit of SketchUp to me is that I can continue to evolve my design electronically until I have something that I am ready to build. The 3-D modeling capabilities allow me to see the project from all angles before I cut any wood. Because the drawing is to scale, the visual model provides a very good representation of what the project will look like when it is built. In the picture (click to enlarge) you can see the how the design of the sofa table that I showed drawings of evolved with SketchUp.

Sofa_Table_2.jpg

There is currently a lot of buzz in the Internet Woodworking community about SketchUp and how it can help woodworkers and designers. If you try it and have questions or want to learn more, you can browse to a couple of the many sources of SketchUp information on the Internet. Sketchucation is an online community devoted to all things SketchUp. You can also visit the official SketchUp Online Help Center where there are tutorial videos on the use of the software.

I am by no means an expert on the use of SketchUp. However, by it’s basic design and with with all of these on-line resources available to help the program is fairly easy to learn. I plan to continue to evolve my skills with this tool and I think that my future projects will benefit from it. If you are serious about improving your design capabilities or you want to improve your ability to communicate your designs to someone, you should really give SketchUp a try. What do you have to loose, it’s free!

Once you’ve had the chance to try the software you can try your hand at a recently announced on-line contest over at LumberJocks (co-sponsored by Popular Woodworking) for a SketchUp designed Virtual Dining Table. Who knows, you may learn a new skill and also win some cool prizes!

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Mark (TheCraftsmansPath.com) on September 5th, 2007

It’s almost a religious debate: two camps staunchly divided and ready for battle. Or at least, sometimes the divide between hand tool users and power tool users seems this black and white. It’s either one way or the other, right? Well, not really.

Obviously, the development of powered tools dramatically changed the landscape of woodworking (among other disciplines). Power tools can dramatically reduce the time and effort to required accomplish certain tasks encountered while woodworking. They make many operations easier and more efficient. The obvious example of this is milling lumber from rough to ready. Our woodworking forefathers had to accomplish rough milling the hard way – in fact one of the first things that a budding woodworker learned in an apprentice program was to mill a board four-square with a saw and hand plane. Of course, this task required a significant amount of effort and also a great deal of skill with hand tools. The theory being that only after this skill was mastered could the apprentice move on to explore the real tasks of joinery.

Many wood workers today do not have the skills or the desire to mill rough lumber with hand tools. This is for good reason. Power tools allow us to be much more efficient and to more quickly get to the “real” work of joinery for the project at hand. This may be even more important for the amateur woodworker who may only get a few hours a week to work on a woodworking project and does not want to sacrifice those precious hours of shop-time to these types of tasks (on the flip side, an amateur may only work on one project a year and therefore could have the luxury of time to spend working exclusively with hand tools). For the most part, to the professional, time is money and the more efficient he can be at getting a project completed (without sacrificing quality) the faster he can move on to the next commission. These are all very justifiable reasons to use power tools in your woodworking.

Hand tools undoubtedly require a fair amount of skill to use efficiently. Most hand tools are devoted to a very specific need or operation (i.e. you can’t use a saw to smooth a panel).  So, to complete a project proficiency is needed with a wider variety of tools. The power tool camp would say that nothing can be done as efficiently with a hand tool as with a power tool. Of course, there is a counter argument by the hand tool folks that say that if you take into account machine setup time, etc. you can do the same operation by hand as quick as with power (and a lot more peacefully, to boot). Well, like everything else, there is probably some truth in both of these arguments and the real answer is somewhere in between.

My personal view is that I would never give up my power tools because of the efficiency and productivity that they give me. They allow me to get the most out of my time in the shop and to make quick work of the more mundane tasks such as milling rough lumber for use on a project. Going a step further: I’m not going to be trading in my Table Saw or Band Saw any time soon because these tools allow me to precisely cut joinery with the repeatability necessary to create accurately fitting, high quality joints. However, there are many tasks for which hand tools simply excel. I don’t think I could live a day in the shop without my block plane, chisels and card scraper. These tools make the job of fitting a joint and/or refining a surface so easy and efficient that they have no equal in the power tool domain.

So, I think it’s best to keep an open mind when it comes to these kinds of things. It’s often the case that “you don’t know what you don’t know” until you’ve experienced the alternative. The best way to learn new things is to be open-minded to alternatives and then to try them for yourself. When it comes to the debate over which is right, hand tools or power tools, there is an equal opportunity for both in the shop and in fact a good mix of both is probably the best choice for the almost any woodworker.

For some other reading on this subject, Robert Lang recently shared his views in a good article over at the Popular Woodworking Blog.

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Mark (TheCraftsmansPath.com) on September 3rd, 2007

Hello and welcome to my web site.

My name is Mark Mazzo and I’m a woodworking craftsman/designer living in Upstate New York. Woodworking is something that I’ve always had a keen interest in. I’ve been woodworking and collecting tools for several years now and I find that there’s something very special about creating beautiful and functional things with my hands. At some point I’d like to spend all of my time designing and building things out of wood, but for now I have a day job and I just do woodworking as a hobby. It makes for a good activity in the cold, snowy and sometimes long New York winters. Though, as I sit here writing this today in September, I do not want to think about that change of season just yet!

I’ve worked to develop a reasonable set of skills for this craft in many areas. However, I feel that you never stop learning in anything that you do. So, I continue to learn new skills and techniques on every project that I undertake. In addition to the mechanical skills and techniques required in woodworking, one other area that I am continuing to evolve is my sense of design. In the past, I’ve done many projects that have followed existing plans for a piece of furniture, etc. However, with each new project that I undertake I am further developing the skills to build things of my own design and I am finding this new chapter in my woodworking a very rewarding experience.

My intent with this web site is to chronicle the path that I follow in developing these design skills and to also show the progress as I create finished products from my designs. Along the way, I’d like to share new techniques and skills that I develop and use as well. I’ve learned much that I know about woodworking and design from the Internet (as well as may other sources) and I’m hopeful that I through this site I can impart some of my findings to others interested in the craft.

I am sure that as this site evolves there will be many other things that are relevant to discuss here. We’ll just have to see where it takes us. The woodworking community on the Internet is a fast growing one. It is my hope that with this site I can contribute to that community in some meaningful way – not to mention that I think hearing from others interested in woodworking and discussing designs, techniques and approaches to problems will only serve to help evolve my skills as a woodworker and designer.

So, that’s it for now. Please stop back when you can and send me comments and questions on what you see. I’m looking forward to the journey.