Are you looking for a hobby? There are lots to choose from these days, but this may be the time you consider taking up woodworking or woodturning as a recreational pursuit.
How I Became Interested in Woodworking
My personal woodworking journey began 20 years ago, not long after my wife and I were married.
One of my wife’s favorite songs is “Simple Gifts”, a Shaker hymn. The Shakers were a religious sect that flourished in the 1700s and 1800s. The Shakers became known for their simple ways of living and for the understated pieces of furniture, boxes, and other woodenwares they created.
In fact, a Shaker woman, Tabitha Babbitt, has often been credited with inventing the circular saw in 1813. Some now dispute this claim, but what is not challenged is that the Shakers were true craftspeople who did invent such sundry items as the wooden clothespin, flat brooms, and their iconic chairs, boxes, and other pieces of furniture.
To learn more about this industrious group, my wife and I took a weekend trip to Pleasant Hill, Kentucky to stay at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, the largest restored Shaker settlement in the U.S., where we stayed in a restored Shaker dwelling. We also took a Shaker box making class taught by the pre-eminent Shaker box expert, John Wilson. (In addition to teaching box-making classes, John sells Shaker box making plans, tools, and other related supplies on his website, shakerovalbox.com.)
That weekend, John taught us how to build a set of stacking Shaker oval boxes. We shaped blanks for the box tops and bottoms out of maple and cut the box sides and lid bands out of cherry, which we then steamed and bent around forms until dried. We then joined the sides, bottoms, tops, and bands together with copper tacks that John made on his 150-year-old copper tack making machines. After we sanded the assembled boxes, John gave us advice on types of finishes we could apply when we returned home with the boxes.
They are far from perfect, and photography is obviously not one of my hobbies, but here’s a photo of the Shaker boxes, my first ever woodworking project 20 years ago.
That weekend was my introduction to woodworking and when the woodworking bug bit me! Although my wife escaped being infected (pity her!), she saw my enthusiasm and encouraged it by giving me my first woodworking tool, a small bench top table saw, a couple of months later as a Christmas gift.
With that saw, I began to build hideous looking birdhouses and other small craft items. But from that starting point, I slowly built up a respectable tool collection and increased my skills by reading every woodworking book and magazine I could get my hands on, and by watching television shows like Norm Abrams on The New Yankee Workshop, The Woodwright’s Shop with Roy Underhill, and Scott Phillips on The American Woodshop.
I began building Adirondack chairs, cutting boards, clocks, tables, boxes, and a bathroom vanity, among other creations. Twenty years later, I still have a still-growing desire to learn as much as I can about the great hobby of woodworking!
Why Should You Start Woodworking?
You are probably asking why I think woodworking is such a great hobby. After all, isn’t it time-consuming, noisy, dusty, expensive, and dangerous? The answer is that it can be all of those things…if done haphazardly or without thought. On the other hand, woodworking provides so many benefits to body and mind. Let’s talk about some of those.
A Dedicated Workshop Is Not Required
You don’t have to have a stand-alone workshop to enjoy woodworking. Actually, the majority of home woodworkers practice their hobby in the same garage they park (in theory!) the family car. Other woodworkers use a basement or cellar or even set aside a room in their home as workshop space.
Obviously, that last option may be drastic, but the point is, if you want to do woodworking, you can find a space for a small scroll saw or lathe. These tools will allow you to start crafting small wood projects. You can then scale up your workshop space and tools as your budget and available space allows.
Woodworking Is Productive
A lot of hobbies require a lot of time and money, but at the end of the day, you have nothing to show for it except the experience. Don’t get me wrong; the experiences we have in life are important. But perhaps you’d like to spend your time making something with your hands other than a bad golf swing or fishing cast.
Woodworking allows you to be creative. Even if you make every project from a plan and never create a unique plan yourself, you are still building something that can become an heirloom passed down from generation to generation.
There is just something indescribable about working with your hands to take a raw board and turn it into something that possesses beauty and utility.
You don’t have to build a mahogany highboy chest of drawers that take months on end to build, although you may want to someday. But starting out, you can do like I do and make gifts for your friends and family like cutting boards, Adirondack chairs, birdhouses (even if they turn out as hideous as my first ones did!), wooden pens, boxes, small tables, and the list goes on.
Woodworking Is Relaxing
The main purpose of having a hobby is to do something that allows you to spend your time not worrying about your job, the stock market, or the current state of world affairs. The time you spend in your woodworking shop will take your mind off these pressures and allow you to feel like you’re in your own world with just your wood and tools. You’ll be amazed how quickly time will fly by as you cut joints, assemble your projects, and finish them.
Woodworking Is Physically Rewarding
If you met me you would think I haven’t spent much time in the shop, but believe me when I say woodworking can be a form of exercise. In fact, if you dislike exercising on purpose, then you make want to start woodworking for the physical benefits you’ll obtain without thinking of it as working out.
Carrying heavy boards around the shop, using a hand plane, and just getting off the couch and moving around the shop will provide physical rewards of their own.
Woodworking Builds Family Bonds
Woodworking with your children or spouse can be great quality time spent together. You can create stronger family bonds with the TV and smartphones off and the workshop lights on.
Imagine your family would like a new sofa table. Together, you can pick out a plan or create your own design and then spend time together building the table. It won’t matter if your kid accidentally drops a tool on it and dings it just after the final coat of finish dries because that will just add to the story of how you and your family came together to create not only furniture but shared memories.
Woodworking Can Be Done Relatively Inexpensively
You may be saying that you can’t afford to take up woodworking because the tools are too expensive and you’ll never be able to equip your shop. It’s true that you can spend thousands of dollars for a well-equipped shop. However, just think of the fancy antique furniture you see in museums and then realize that the $25,000 Chippendale highboy cabinet was built with hand tools.
Hand tools like those used to build that valuable antique even today would not set you back more than a summer of golfing and certainly much less than that boat you’ve been eyeing.
You can always start out with a few hand tools or even a small band saw, scroll saw, or lathe and never make another purchase even after years of woodworking. If you do decide to expand your tool collection, you can add pieces as you can afford them.
Woodworking Can Provide A Source of Income
You don’t have to be a full-time furniture or cabinet builder to make money with your woodworking hobby.
You can use your woodworking hobby to generate some extra income by making and selling craft items, like cutting boards, small bowls, decorative signs, and wooden pens at local farmers’ markets or flea markets. This money can be used to fund purchases of new tools, family vacations, or even to pay down some debt.
You’re not going to get rich with woodworking but the extra jingle in your pocket never hurts!
Woodworking Doesn’t Have To Be Dusty
A potential objection taking up woodworking is the dust generated by sawing, planning, and sanding wood. It’s a fact…Woodworking results in sawdust!
But there are ways to minimize the amount of dust that gets into the air and your lungs. Inexpensive dust collectors or shop vacuums can be used to capture the dust from tools. Dust masks and respirators should be worn to keep the dust from your lungs.
In short, don’t let a little dust get in your way of the fun you’ll have in your workshop.
Woodworking Can Be Done Safely
Woodworking tools are dangerous. Sharp saw blades and router bits rotating at hundreds or thousands of RPMs can be scary. However, there are lots of steps you can take to make woodworking as safe as possible.
Wearing safety glasses, respirators, and hearing protection are just the basic precautions. Going a step further, you can now purchase table saws that have flesh-detecting technology that is designed to stop the blade in microseconds. In fact, check out this video about this technology found in SawStop’s table saws.
You need to follow all the safety rules that come with your tools and think twice before even attempting a risky cut you’re not sure how to make. There are many resources online and in books and woodworking magazines that can show you ways to reduce your risk of injuries. There are no promises that you won’t be hurt. However, if you’re careful, you can safely woodwork for years.
I have had a lot of fun woodworking over the years. The hobby has brought me immense pleasure and a sense of pride. I know you will enjoy woodworking if you give it a try and I hope all the benefits of woodworking I’ve outlined in this article will have you making sawdust soon!
Featured image: Brian Goodman © 123RF.com