Learning Craftsmanship from the Library
by Jared Richards, Public Services Manager
The majority of my checkouts from the library recently have been about woodworking, joinery and furniture-making in particular. I recently finished a small table for my wife and now I’ve got it in my head that I want to make a couch. There will be several random projects between now and the couch, because I tend to get lost in the planning stages, and it takes a while to get psyched up enough to make that first cut. But all of that planning pays off in the long run, and luckily for me there are no shortage of books at the library for me to peruse for ideas.
One of my favorite books has been “Joinery” by the editors of “Fine Woodworking” magazine. My main goal for the couch is that I will be able to easily assemble and disassemble it, so that when it needs to be moved I will be moving parts of a couch, not a couch. Couches are heavy and, despite the fact that you might find people willing to help you move one, no one is sitting around waiting to be asked to help move a couch. I have recently settled on using knock-down hardware to accomplish this goal, but I originally aspired to rely solely on joinery.
I like “Joinery,” the book, because it packs so much useful information into a relatively small book. As can be expected, it’s filled with various types of joinery, with instructions on how to make each one, including the jigs that will make it easier. They also stress-test eighteen different types of frame joints to see which are the strongest, information that will be useful for the couch build, even if I do use hardware. Spoilers, the half-lap joint was the clear winner, withstanding over 1,600 pounds of racking force.
The last thing I really like about “Joinery” is that, along with the tips and tricks mentioned throughout the book, they also have a section devoted to quick fixes for joinery mistakes. I’ve come across a lot of tutorials that do a good job of showing you how to make the joint, but don’t spend much time showing you how to fix the inevitable mistakes that come about when trying to create something with the precision that some of these joints require. This book has assured me if I end up with a gappy dovetail or an unintentionally loose tenon or a miter that doesn’t quite come together, there’s a fix for that.
One joint I really like is the tusk tenon, where one piece of wood passes through a hole in another piece of wood and is held in place with a wedge. The wedge draws the piece of wood together and is easy enough to knock back out when you want to take the pieces apart.
A popular feature of Arts & Crafts furniture, think Stickley or mission style, is the mortise and tenon joint. “Authentic Arts & Crafts Furniture Projects” by the editors of “Popular Woodworking” magazine and “Furniture of the American Arts and Crafts Movement” by David Cathers are both packed with good reference material and plans for this type of furniture. This style is a little intimidating for my first large furniture project, but for anyone interested in individual pieces or even a whole room in this style, these books would be a great start.
As mentioned before, there will be random projects in between now and the couch, and one of those projects is small wooden toys. Although it’s not necessary, sometimes wooden toys look better with a bit of color. “Natural Wooden Toys” by Erin Freuchtel-Dearing has a section just for this purpose. They mention kid-friendly, non-toxic paint, of course, but they also give instructions for, and examples of, natural dyes like berries, spices and plants. Anything made for small children, and a lot of things not made for small children, are going to end up in their mouths, so I like the idea of natural dyes, like paprika, spinach, turmeric and blueberries.
Woodworking is a hobby that requires a decent amount of time. A large part of that is the physical act of building a project, but there’s also the planning and research phase. I have found our collection of woodworking books at the library to be invaluable for this phase. You’ll find everything from the basics of how to get started to instructions for more advanced techniques that will take you years to master. Come on down and browse.