Getting back to malleable roots with woodworking

Carpentry is an admirable craft because of the level of creativity that has been poured into the manipulation of wood. There are ways to use trees for just about anything in a home and crafting something from wood seems to be a curious combination of chemistry, physics and art.

Lumber is a plentiful resource and it’s impressive how craftsmen have utilized its versatile qualities. Discerning the different species of trees for the qualities within the lumber is important for the task at hand. One might choose a hard and resilient wood, like ash, that can take machining or a softer wood, like alder, that is easier to cut. I think it’s interesting how these materials are gauged for making things like bows or wheels and why these decisions are made.

Old woodworking jargon is fading out of common English and I think it’s a shame because some of the tools and professions have awesome names to play around with. Coopering is the art of making wooden containers such as barrels and the like. If one needs some casks and kegs all couped up by a qualified cooper then I think they should consider it.

I love the different angles of approach towards shaping wood into curves. If the shape isn’t dramatic, the wood could be carved into form. Thinner widths of wood can be bent but the most interesting method is steaming. By putting planks of wood in a pressurized container with water vapor, they are made maleable and can be bent and warped into the desired shape for the job. It seems kind of like a crude sauna for lumber.

In the days before industrial machinery, country chairs were made by teams of three people. A bodger made the legs and stretchers with a creative lathe that used few metal parts. The wood was turned and the surface was shaved off with detailing tools to give it shape. The benchman made the sawed portions of the chair such as the seat and the back. While the work may seem trivial, I appreciate the care and attention that goes into carving the indents in a flat piece of wood so that it’s comfortable to sit on.

The framer then takes the finished parts and assembles the chair. If needed, the framer makes the steamed parts of the chair. Nowadays, this kind of teamwork is inefficient compared to factory produced furniture but I think that the aspect of community supported craftsmanship is much more meaningful and rewarding.

When a carpenter makes something for a customer, the process is much more personal than shopping online. The piece can be custom crafted so that it is comfortable for the user and the work is done with an aesthetic that is pleasant for the creator and the customer as well.

The designs for the workstations these craftsmen used look simple but I’m pleasantly surprised by the effective use of leverage and elastic tension using other pieces of wood to get the job done. It builds upon previous creations to make the process of creation easier like a 3-D printer building parts for an identical 3-D printer.

Wood working has all sorts of interesting uses. Elizabethan furniture has intricate detailing and hand crafted brass screws. Sashimono woodworking, a variety of Japanese carpentry, uses no metal parts at all and instead interesting geometric shapes to make joints. When they are put together, the joinery is invisible on the surface and can make the wood grains seamless.

There is also an art to making the grains of some woods stand out. People from different cultures use different materials available but a common method is using abrasion. Japanese carpenters use leaves to make the wood shine from the residue left over and Native Americans along the Pacific coast use fish scales to smooth the wooden frames in their canoes. Coatings are also a fascinating way to affect a wooden surface. Choosing an appropriate finish is up to aesthetics.

The seeds from a pine tree can be reduced to an oil to layer and applied to a finished piece in order to deepen the color. The wood grains in some crafts can be accentuated by painting lime on the wood. The coating is corrosive so it burns away the lighter colors of woods.

Buying factory-made crafts online or otherwise is convenient but I think it also makes us dependent. Using a freely available resource from the land and creating the tools and facilities needed is rewarding in my opinion and it produces meaningful and lasting relationships with the craft and customer.