Monday, February 24, 2014

Why I Work Wood

How much wood could a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck could chuck wood?
He'd chuck what wood a wood chuck could chuck if a wood chuck could chuck wood.

I've always liked that little rhyme. But, onto the real reason for this post. Why do I work with wood. The reasons are many, and looking back in time, they are a lot different then I initially thought. Let me start with the reason I went full 'bore' into woodworking.

The event that drove me into eventually sinking investing thousands of dollars on tools was when we needed to update the beds we had for our oldest two boys. As all good consumer driven people do, my wife and I went shopping! And so, we went looking around at the various furniture stores, trying to find a set of bunk beds that appealed to us. What ensued was what essentially ended up being an exercise in futility. Maybe we had too high of expectations, or maybe we'd been conditioned to expect cheap prices for decent quality, or maybe it was something else. What we felt we were finding were overpriced pieces of shoddily built things passed off as furniture. We even tried going to an "Oak" furniture store, thinking maybe at least the structural construction would be better. The prices were even more outrageous, and there were no bunk beds to be found. So, given the can-do spirit of my upbringing, I decided to build my own. I purchased a contractor table saw, benchtop drill press, benchtop jointer, and a few router bits. With tools and a set of plans in tow, I went forward with building the beds.

This is where the looking back says my interest started earlier than this point, as I already had a few tools such as a router and other miscellaneous tools. But this project spawned a much more focused thought process. I had it in my head to never walk into a furniture store again. So, far, I've been able to completely avoid them.

One of the things I learned from that first major project is to never buy hardwood from a box store (Menards, Home Depot, Lowes, etc). Granted, the wood was fine to work with, and I probably saved a lot of time as I didn't have to mill much of it, but my goodness was it expensive. I think I spent around $800 on the lumber alone. I think I've been able to build similar beds for half that cost by milling lumber purchased from a local sawmill. But, that point doesn't really fit into this narrative. Oh well, moving on.

When I completed those beds, I have to say I was quite pleased with myself. They were sturdy, they looked great, and I couldn't help but think that for around $1500 (tools and materials) I had created two beds that would sell at a furniture store for thousands of dollars each. Although I've also come to realize that I'm using time in building furniture, so the 'savings' are somewhat debatable.

That project started a string of projects that never cease to end, as well as a spending spree on tools. I might be able to count up all the beds I've made, but I really haven't tried to keep track anymore. In fact at this time, I have three more beds I really need to get done soon. I've made a dining room table to fit our family. Numerous cabinets and shelves. Night stands, knick knacks, and quite a few toy swords and other miscellaneous toys for the boys to play with.

When I was thinking of writing this post, those beds were what I thought drove me to woodworking. They definitely catapulted the time and money invested, but I think the desire was from much further back, and from much deeper within. Looking back, I think I started down this path much earlier.

When our first son was born, I had the urge to build something for him. So, with some pre-cut pine boards, a drill, circular saw, and a router, I put together a changing table. Currently it is being used as the base for a desk for our boys.

In college, I designed and built my loft. The lumber I used went through a few transformations depending on the location and type of bed. But, between studying, chasing girls, working, and chasing girls, there wasn't much time for building stuff.

And growing up, I always seemed to be wanting to build something. A playhouse using the lumber laying around the farm. A tree house. A go-cart. With ample tools, materials, and time available during the summer, that is usually what I tried to do. Most of my creations only got half built. Most were pretty ugly. But I definitely learned how to appreciate doing something yourself. It has been very hard over the years to realize that I can indeed do anything I want, but I don't have the time to do it all. I have to be choosy and prioritize.

I'm guessing that this drive to build things was what led me to engineering. And for a while it used to surprise me at how many engineers that I work with are also woodworkers. Not so much anymore though. We engineers need to build things, and the environment for engineers at Rockwell Collins where I work is more about paperwork than design. Woodworking provides that outlet to build and create for us desk jockeys.

This has been more of a philosophical history lesson then anything else. Therapeutic in some ways. Maybe that is the point of this blog altogether.