Patience, not talent, is key in learning to do woodwork

Published March 19, 1995|Updated Oct. 3, 2005

A young man asked me the other day what it takes to get into woodworking, not professionally, but for one's own satisfaction.

Yes, I know I've answered that question before, but I've offered every answer I've got before, several times, whether it fit the question or not, so those of you who've heard this before can go on to the comics.

To begin with, forget about talent. Woodworking requires no innate talent or genius. There is nothing about it that cannot be learned, and it doesn't absolutely require close tutelage. You can learn it from books and videos.

The only character trait it requires is a moderate degree of patience, a quality I think most people can acquire if they don't have it already.

The thing that requires an inborn talent is furniture design. Not very many people have a big supply of that, but a total lack of it is no barrier to woodworking. Copying older designs, from generic Shaker and Mission through Chippendale, is routine.

Unfortunately, woodworking does have serious requirements in terms of space and financial outlay.

Anyone who wants to make furniture of all kinds is going to need a good deal of space. I've read about shops in single-car garages, but they relied on all kinds of tricks, such as facing windows at either end of the jointer so long boards can be run. I'd think something the size of a two-car garage would be about the minimum unless you're willing to go through antics like that.

More specialized areas of the field, requiring fewer large tools, will demand less space, of course. You could turn wood fairly comfortably in a one-car garage. You could carve wood nicely in half that.

Then there is the cost of tools, which really never ends. It can eat you up. A very well-equipped shop _ table saw, jointer-planer, band saw and drill press _ plus a bare minimum of hand tools and portable power tools is going to run $6,000 or more, probably more.

That envisions buying a professional table saw such as a Powermatic 60 or Delta Unisaw, a European-type combination jointer-planer, a small band saw and a standard drill press. You could get by for a good deal less going with a smaller table saw like the Ryobi, a 6-inch jointer and a small portable planer. This equipment would be good enough for small projects.

Carving would be the cheapest route into woodworking; all you need is a bench, a means of holding the work, a means of cutting it _ which could be anything from a hand saw to a table saw _ and your gouges, which can be bought one at a time as you require them.

Turning is in between. An excellent all-purpose lathe will run from $2,000 to $3,000 new. A band saw will cost about $700; a good chain saw $350 to $500, plus a few hundred for basic tools.

There is, of course, the possibility of working wood the old way _ without power tools. This will be significantly cheaper, and you'll never have to worry about joining an expensive exercise club. It requires, however, a degree of historical mania. If you don't make it a virtual religion, you're not likely to stand up to the drudgery.