Canadian Woodworking

Is COVID “good” for hobby woodworkers?

Blog by Rob Brown
Gluing loose tenons

Before even starting to answer that question, I want to make one thing very clear; I’m not trying to downplay the tragic effects COVID has had on our society. What it has done to people from all backgrounds isn’t pretty, and I’m certainly not celebrating this ugly virus. My question has more to do with the unique situation we woodworkers and DIY enthusiasts find ourselves in. Perhaps there is a tiny silver lining in this situation that we’ve all been thrust into.

Woodworkers come in all types, but so many of us are more than happy to walk into our shop, close the door behind us, mute the phone and spend an evening tinkering, building, organizing or preparing. By its nature, woodworking is usually a hobby performed alone. In the past I’ve often wished there was less going on outside my shop doors so I would have more of an excuse to keep the door closed and finish the joinery I’d been working on. (Joinery is great, isn’t it!? Is there anything in the woodworking world better than a well-made mortise and tenon joint?) With all the bad things COVID has brought my way, now having more shop time is one of the few positives, and I’ve heard from others that I’m not alone.

A year ago, our team at CW&HI was concerned that a few of our valued business partners might not make it through the pandemic, and how this might affect the magazine. Turns out we were worried for the wrong reasons. A few businesses temporarily reduced advertising during the past year, but it’s generally because they’re too busy — a good problem to have — to handle the increase in sales they’ve had over the past few months, and couldn’t imagine trying to do even more. Woodworkers and DIYers like us are spending more time in our shops, which means we’ve been making more woodworking-related purchases. Now, we’re starting to see new advertising campaigns, because they’ve partially caught up, and want their products and services seen by our readers. It’s still a situation where they’re looking into the unknown, but they’re adapting, as we all are.

Obviously, the far bigger problem is COVID’s impact on our physical or mental health, as well as the economy, but at least we have woodworking and DIY to bring us together and give us something productive and enjoyable to do, as well as talk about virtually. We’ll eventually get back to having woodworking friends over to chat (and show off) joinery, and we’ll get together with local turning or carving clubs, but until then we can enjoy working wood and improving our homes. So many others don’t have this luxury.

I was searching for a woodworking video on YouTube the other day, and from over my shoulder my son pointed to a video preview and said, “That looks cool!” I agreed, it did look cool. The preview showed a very complex, tightly made shape of some sort, including many pieces of intricately fitted wood. “Let’s check it out,” I replied, wanting to encourage his enthusiasm, and also give into my curiosity about whatever the heck it was that I was looking at. Grandpa Amu had done it again, this time with a Luban lock.

If you’ve never heard of Grandpa Amu, he’s a bit of an online Chinese woodworking god. Using hand tools to create traditional Chinese woodworking projects, he’s amassed quite a following. The videos are simple, but very well done, and include techniques woodworkers and DIYers can relate to.

As my son and I watched Grandpa Amu turn a handful of wood into about 100 intricately cut pieces (turned out it was 129 pieces, to be exact) with only a few hand tools, it was his level of precision that impressed me most. I wouldn’t even consider this project without a thickness planer and table saw. Even with my powerful and accurate best friends, I can’t imagine completing this project with anything that would resemble the results Grandpa Amu was getting.

About 13 minutes into this 15-minute video my son turned to me and said, “I think he’s done this before.” I nodded in agreement, and we both kept watching. Fun times, learning about new woodworking projects with my son.

Joinery…What Could Be Better!?

With some extra shop time, I’ve been able to make a few things for myself. Mortise and tenon joinery is a traditional favourite of mine, and it comes in many shapes and sizes. Here, three standard floating tenons in the ends of each of the uprights in this table will keep these offset legs supporting the top for a long time.

Gluing loose tenons

Not-So-Standard Tenons

Due to the nature of this angled joint, I wanted to widen one end of the floating tenon to offer more surface area for gluing. It’s still the same old floating mortise and tenon approach, except that the tenon isn’t rectilinear. In this photo the joint is dry assembled, but a floating tenon is shown beside the joint so you can see the tenon’s shape.

So-standard tenon

Dovetail Tenons

Just a modified form of a mortise and tenon joint, this sliding dovetail joint will solidly fix the table’s aprons to the legs. The dovetail tenon is at least 3/4″ wide at its widest part and 3/4″ deep. Between mechanical and glue strength, this joint is nearly bombproof if machined to fairly tight tolerances.

Dovetail tenons
Last modified: May 15, 2022

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