Woodworking Theory and Approach: A beginner’s mindset.

Woodworking as a discipline provides countless hours of fascination and discovery. Its examination of joinery and structural concepts connects us to our past, and lets us learn how modern day infrastructure has echoed those concepts over time. As you proceed to grow your skill sets, it’s important to awaken your observation skills and revel in the accomplishments of past artisans and masters. Not to judge their work, but to take it in, accumulate knowledge and let it grow over time.

Many friends and family members have oftentimes complained at how I “linger” or “fall behind,” when taking walks through architecturally sophisticated sections of metropolitan cities. The same can be said when I visit rural towns that exhibit subtle woodworking infrastructure. The building process is fascinating! I’m constantly caught up in the aesthetic and technical details, mathematical influences, and real world problem solving strategy that’s used around us all the time. Next time you come across a building or chair that catches your eye, ask yourself: How did they build that? What kind of joinery does it employ? When was is made? What kind of wood was it made out of? These “details” are usually not accidents; many times adept artisans use materials and building strategies for a reason. It’s your job to investigate the “whys”.

The art of building from scratch is a universal language. One that that speaks volumes, and becomes more exciting the more you learn. For example, take a look and some antique Windsor chairs, a shaker trestle table, or Japanese timber framing. These pieces use joinery, finishes, and negative space that will tell you about the skill level of the craftsman when they were alive. Their work is a recorded history that is just waiting silently to be discovered.

Tiger maple succulent plant holder. Simple design, made to organize certain elements intellectually, so your brain reacts calmly to their order. If you’re into that kind of thing .

Hans Wagner influenced reading chair, built out of solid sapele. The math on this piece has jumped by several orders of magnitude compared to the planter; but the lines and clean geometry produce the same effect. Your brain can appreciate subtly and complexity as long as the pieces exhibit elements that make the piece appear strong and elegant. (Not my design; I wish I was this talented as a designer! I just built and finished it. )
Here is a historic building in the mountainous village of Saas Fe, in Switzerland. Look at half lap joinery that connects the sides of the structure like a large box. The posts on rocks were supposed to deter small rodents from climbing into the structure. This structure recorded the skill, mindset, and pertinent aesthetic of the local builders who made it. Simply fascinating.
Close up of the half lap joinery.

The entire structure was enclosed, and placed on top of the rocks. This construction adds a certain degree of 3D complexity.

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