Canadian Woodworking

How it all Started

Author: Don Wilkinson
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: February 2010
How it all Started
How it all Started

Many times over the course of my woodworking career I have been asked how I got into woodworking. My usual answer was, “Uh … no idea.”


Many times over the course of my woodworking career I have been asked how I got into woodworking. My usual answer was, “Uh … no idea.”

People have made all kinds of assumptions, mostly wrong ones. Some assumed that my father must have been a skilled craftsman from the ‘Old Country.’ Ha! Dad could barely identify which end of the hammer to use, a saw was designed to make weird noises and a screwdriver was mainly intended to open cans and stir paint. Once he even used it to tighten a loose screw – that one was an accident, I believe. He could box really well though, preach even better and scare the be-jeebers out of us with a casual glance. He also managed a 12-year career in two different armies during WWII (both on our side). Dad taught me a lot, but not about woodworking.

Other people assumed I learned woodworking in high-school. Double Ha! The only thing I learned in high school was that every single vice-principal is an egomaniacal #@*%!$. Plus, they all hated me.

Grade 9 woodshop was spent building a working scale model of a guillotine, complete with tilting/sliding table and an incredibly sharp blade more than capable of slicing a finger off. I intended it as a gift for Mother’s Day. I pictured dear old Mom putting carrots on the little table, tilting and sliding them onto the guillotine base and then gleefully releasing the blade to chop the carrots into pieces.

She didn’t like it! “What is wrong with you?” she said. Not the first time I had heard that. I failed Grade 9 woodshop.

In Grade 10 wood shop I fared even worse. I got into the wrong crowd that year and sad to say, they led me far astray. We spent more time behind the wood storage shed drinking, smoking tobacco and performing other nefarious deeds than we did in the shop. That year I managed to plane, joint and sand to a phenomenal finish … a single board! It was a piece of maple six feet long, one inch thick and eight inches wide. It was sanded to such an incredible finish that I could actually see myself reflected in the surface. It may have had something to do with what we were smoking and drinking behind the woodshed.

At the end of the term I was gracelessly asked not to sign up for Grade 11 woodshop. Wouldn’t you know it, that was the year one guy was scalped when his long hair (this was the early ’70s) caught in the drillpress and another guy sliced a couple fingers off on the tablesaw. Someone else had a 1×4 kickback on the table saw and flew the length of the room before impaling itself in the overhead doors and I missed it all.

I certainly didn’t learn any woodworking skills in the army either. The only things wooden were the lame jokes of the drill instructors and the heads of most of the officers. Maybe also some of our tanks and a ship or two but they wouldn’t let me near those things.

Years passed, as they often do, and I eventually found myself in the Yukon with a young wife, a much younger daughter, 15 acres of forest, a chainsaw and a wall tent. Necessity is often said to be the mother of invention, which never made any sense to me. Really? Frank Zappa?

Anyway, it was winter and we needed a place to live so I bought a book and I built a house. It’s amazing what can be done with a chainsaw if you really need a bed, table, chairs and an outhouse. Later I began replacing the furnishings with somewhat better constructed and somewhat finer, more finished pieces as I gradually acquired other tools and books.

But for that you’ll have to wait for the next issue.

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