This book evolved from the Basic Woodworking workshop that I began teaching in 1981 and still teach to this day. Class participants range from absolute beginners to experienced woodworkers who are competent with machinery but still need to master the hand skills so essential to fine craftsmanship. Like the course, this book presents indispensable information on wood characteristics, joinery, and tools, and then leads you through a series of projects that build upon one another sequentially. We begin by milling a piece of wood four-square and end with construction of a handsome side table that incorporates a drawer and a frame-and-panel door. These exercises have worked well for my students over the years. If you read this book and carefully work through the projects, you will establish a solid foundation in woodworking craftsmanship that will enable you to build beautiful furniture with confidence.
Although I have taught graduate and undergraduate furniture design at a university and still give courses for intermediate and advanced furniture makers, Basic Woodworking continues to be my favorite teaching experience. The excitement with which beginners approach the most mundane skills revitalizes my own sense of wonder. We begin with nothing more tangible than intent and end with a sensitive, sometimes beautiful object that will be an intimate part of daily life. What comes in between is craftsmanship.
To understand craftsmanship, we must ask not only "What has been made?" and "How has this been made?" but also "Who made this and why?" Craftsmanship is a relationship between the maker and the process of creation. It is not simply a set of skills one acquires, like the ability to read or drive a car. More than anything, craftsmanship is a matter of attitude: why we choose to devote time to such a demanding endeavor, why we choose to make a certain object of a certain appearance, and how we go about it.
In this context, craftsmanship is first and foremost an expression of the human spirit. I choose to work as a craftsman because the process answers a need of my spirit; the object I make is the physical expression of the interaction between spirit and matter. How is this different than the work of the artist?
The artist is not concerned with the utility of the created object; the craftsman is. I care that a chair be comfortable, sturdy, and durable, that it look inviting to sit in, that its presence in a room be neither overbearing nor withdrawn. This care is implicit in every step of making the chairin drawing up the plans, choosing the wood, maintaining my tools, milling the rough lumber to size, cutting the joinery, planing, scraping, sanding, and applying the finish.
Craftsmanship is both attitude and skills. This book offers a foundation in both. Individual character will determine the pace of your growth as a craftsman and the nature of your work. In return, the practice of craftsmanship will affect your character.
There is no one right way to do anything in woodworking. The right way is the way that works best for you, and what works best is a balance between the time something takes, the tools available, the pleasure you seek in the process, and the quality of result you are looking for. In my shop I prefer hand tools over machinery for joining and smoothing surfaces; I like the quiet, the control, and the communication between my hand and the work. Time is not as important to me as it is in a commercial shop. My personal concerns are quality and joy.
The methods and explanations offered in this book are understandings I have arrived at through 30 years of practice. I offer them not as the truth, but as one truth, as a starting point for your own journey into craftsmanship. As you continue learning, you may seek out teachers who will provide deeper insight into many areas of expertise, but always remember that the most valuable teacher you will encounter is yourself. Practice is the most essential component to mastering craftsmanship. Learn from your mistakes and successes, and, above all, learn from your hands.