I’ve been thinking recently about what factors make for good work in furniture making. By good work I am thinking of two things; is the work well made and was the making an enjoyable experience. I can identify four essentials of good work.
Sharp and well set up tools. This is the basis of good work. Without tools that are exquisitely sharp and adjusted to give optimum performance woodwork can become a chore where one is fighting the tools and the material. With well set up tools one can respond to the nuances of the sometimes difficult material we work with. Sharp tools leave a crisp edge and a burnished surface that needs little or no sanding. They also enable an extraordinary level of accuracy. This brings us to the next essential.
Accuracy. “In furniture making you always get found out”. It is important that each stage in the making process is completed with accuracy. We’re talking tolerances of half a millimetre or less. If one doesn’t observe the rule of accuracy it will come back to bite you at a later stage, as inaccuracy may be multiplied by each subsequent process, evident in ill fitting joints, out of square frames or badly running drawers. Inaccuracy will also spoil the work for the maker, having to fudge things to make up for the previous mistake.
Method. I’m not sure this is the right term, what I mean is you should know how you are going to approach the whole of the job before you start. When you embark on a project you should have the path through the job mapped out, either in your mind or on paper. If you don’t have this map then you may find you are lost half way through the project. “Oh dear I can’t get in to make that cut now I’ve glued up that mitre”! Mapping out saves time as you plan the most efficient way of doing things, it also make the work more enjoyable as you are more in control rather than being surprised by unexpected difficulties. Attention to method brings me to number four.
Concentration. I have previously blogged about this on the other site,http://www.christribe.co.uk/blog/in-the-zone/00004.html it is often referred to as being “in the zone”. Woodwork is not something you can do whilst doing something else! It requires total concentration to produce good work. It doesn’t take much of a lapse of concentration to drill a hole in the wrong place or cut a piece too short , yes we’ve all don it! As one gets further into a job concentration becomes more important as there is more invested in it, cutting short a part that has been morticed, moulded, veneered and inlayed is a tear jerking experience! Being in the zone is almost a meditative state where one feels totally in control of the tool and the material and its relationship to the whole project. Really good work comes out of the zone.
These are my four essentials of good woodwork, interesting that only one is a physical attribute all the others are psychological attributes. As a teacher of furniture making I can teach how to sharpen your tools, but the other essentials are more difficult. To some extent I try to teach by example, communicating my enthusiasm for the essentials through my teaching. The only other way to learn them is by experience.
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