Canadian Woodworking

Learning to Woodwork (The Sequel)

Author: Don Wilkinson
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: April 2010
Learning to Woodwork
Learning to Woodwork

In a previous article I left you anxiously awaiting the astonishing revelation of how I came to be such a phe­nomenal woodworker. Well, sorry, but you’re not going to find out in this edition.


In the last article I left you anxiously awaiting the astonishing revelation of how I came to be such a phe­nomenal woodworker. Well, sorry, but you’re not going to find out in this edition.

As matters became abundantly clear, it was, or at least should have been obvious that no institution of indifferent learn­ing had leant any assistance in regard to my education. Indeed, other than teach­ing me how to read or count higher than the sum total of my fingers and toes (just under nineteen and a quarter by this point) there was precious little learned in any of the seven schools I attended. Admittedly, this may have been almost as much my fault as it was theirs.

No, everything I ever learned about woodworking was gleaned from books and through trial and error. Truth be told, almost everything I have ever learned about anything was through trial and error. Not least of all, driving a car, marriage and raising a family. Just ask what’s-her-name and the wee beasties.

After (voluntarily) leaving employment with the Yukon government I set about establishing myself as a woodworker extraordinaire, not really giving two hoots that I knew virtually nothing about woodworking. I had a vague idea that it probably involved wood and hopefully making big wood things out of smaller wood things but that was about it. How the processes worked was completely beyond me.

I realized early on that although a bed or a set of dining room chairs could indeed be built with little more than a chainsaw, a big hammer and a few handfuls of assorted screws, it was quite likely that the result would not be overly pleasant to look at. I won’t even mention what they would be like to sleep or sit on. Knowledge greater than mine was clearly needed if I was going to be a success at woodworking.

Unfortunately, hav­ing already been a graduate (twice) of the local college, I had first-hand knowl­edge of what it could offer. And I was not impressed! To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I wouldn’t attend any college that would accept me as a student.

Thus I was left to my own devices if I was to learn how to wood-butcher suc­cessfully. A quick trip to the library taught me one very valuable lesson – I owned twice as many books as the Whitehorse Library. Admittedly, several of the books I owned had previously been owned by said library. In fact, several of them may still belong to it. The second les­son I learned was that between me and the local library we owned almost three books about woodworking, two of which had been written prior to the invention of the table saw, planer and possibly even kiln-dried wood. And none had even mentioned the advent of the screw other than as a possible future invention.

It was clear that newer material was needed but the closest bookstore was in Edmonton, about 2000 kilometres down the Alaska Highway.

Can you say: “road trip”? After con­vincing my wife that “of course I had to go,” we headed for the bright lights and big box stores of Edmonton and Calgary. Three stores actually, Lee Valley, House of Tools and Chapters. I have no idea where she went. I just know how much it cost me.

If anyone wishes to spend a minor fortune in an extremely short period of time then tool stores and bookstores are the ideal ways to do it. I bought so many tools – some of which I had previously heard of, if not known what they were used for – that they had to be shipped via tractor-trailer caravan. Plus enough books to restock the ancient Library of Alexandria.

We spent a few days basking in the balmy (-27C with the wind chill) Edmonton weather before heading back home to the frigid north (-46C without the wind chill).

Now all I needed to do to become a master craftsman was read a few dozen books. And maybe practice with my new toys … er … tools.

And so began the edu­cation of a woodworker.

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