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Anatomy Of A Woodworking Project
Have you ever thought about the process from start to finish of a woodworking project. There is a lot more involved in the process than you think. Most of us skip thru each process not really thinking about how each step affects the overall project.
1. Fill a need
I believe that in all things we do, we want to fill a need. Otherwise, why do them. The need may be basic or secondary. We also may not understand which need is which. The need may be materialistic. You or someone you know, needs a kitchen table, so you build one. But, is that really the basic need? I doubt it. I believe the basic need is more primal than that. Just as we need food, shelter, and clothing, everyone needs an avenue for self expression and a sense of accomplishment. Otherwise, we would buy the kitchen table. It would, in the end, certainly be cheaper.
2. Getting an idea
Where do you get the idea for your next project? Clues are all around us. Sometimes, ideas come from some of the most unlikely places. One word in a discussion can trigger an idea. For some, it may be a specific problem they are trying to solve. Others may be lucky and have the eye of an artist and have the ability to visualize an object. I will admit that I am not an original thinker. My ideas usually come via a request from a customer or the desire to change something I have seen to make it my own.
3. From mind to paper
The next challenge is to move this great idea from your mind to paper. My first step is usually a sketch. Then, there is a discussion with the customer. All projects have a customer!! It may be you, a loved one, a neighbor, or if you are really lucky, a bonafide cash carrying customer who is willing to PAY you for your hard work. When there is an agreement on the sketch, my next step is a full size drawing. If at all possible, do not skip this step. There was a time when I felt that 1/4 or 1/2 scale would suffice. But, after completing some full scale drawings,I found it much more comforting to know that I have the exact measurements to work with.
4. Selection and preparation of materials
This is an area where I believe much time and thought needs to be utilized to get it right. The last thing you want, is to complete a project, and then realize the wrong materials were selected. Aesthetics, project location/use, material strength, the mix of materials, and grain are just a few of the things that need to be considered. This is also another area where the customer MUST be consulted. For traditional furniture, there are any number of books and other publications that can be used.For an original idea, the world is your pallette. For the first part of material preparation, I use software. This software is called Cutlist Pro. There is a version available to the hobbyist that costs less than $100.00, and you will quickly recoup that cost. By entering your inventory of materials into the program and then creating an accurate cut list, the program will design the appropriate cutting procedure using parametes you setup. Depending upon my needs, I will use either the mode that sets up the most efficient use of material or the mode that sets up the easiest cuts. The first step in the materials preparation process is to bring the material into your shop and let it acclimate for a couple weeks. When you start cutting material, please, cut all material at least 1/4 inch over size and a few inches longer than required. There are many stresses inside a piece of wood and when sawn, these stresses are relieved. You may not see it right away. Let the material sit overnight. You may be surprised at just how much a piece of wood can move. I would also suggest that you consider cutting some extra material to the same dimensions as your parts. There is always the possibility of an error somewhere in the process. Having dimensioned lumber available will reduce your stress level. Please DO NOT get rid of your scraps until the project is complete.
5. Preparation of equipment.
This is one of the most important, but most neglected parts of the project. If your equipment is not maintained and calibrated properly, you will encounter many moments of great frustration. Are your cutting tools sharp? Dull cutting tools cause many of the blood letting accidents in the shop. Inattention to the task at hand has caused many accidents. Before starting a new project, take the time to ensure that your saws are calibrated properly, so you can get that 90 or 45 degree cut exact. Make sure that cross cut sleds are exact. On mine, the thickness of a piece of painters tape makes the difference between failure and success.
This is the fun part. It is also the part where the most mistakes can be made, in material and in you. Never ever work when you are tired, or are unable to give your full attention to the task at hand. Missing body parts are not worth it. As the old saying goes, measure twice and cut once. Make sure you cut on the correct side of that inch mark. It is extremely easy to turn a 5 1/4" cut into a 4 3/4" cut. Believe me, I have done it.
Take time with your tools. Do not push them beyond their capability. Wixey makes an angle gauge that will increase your accuracy when setting up a saw to cut any desired angle. Try to use the same ruler throughtout the project. Minute differences in rulers can cause problems when trying to put a project together.. Do not get in a hurry to start gluing things together. Always do a dry fit to make sure things line up properly. Make sure your joints are not too tight. Glue will make a tenon expand so it is almost impossible to insert it into its mortise. Making mortise and tenon joints properly, takes time and patience. I usually cut my tenons thick and use a rabbet plane to get them to the proper thickness. Make sure you have plenty of clamps, but use them judiciously. Improper use of clamps can rack a project out of square. When it is time for the glue-up, take some time to mask areas that may get unwanted glue on them. Try to use only the amount of glue required. Make every attempt to limit squeeze-out of excess glue. There is nothing worse than finding dried glue that will not take a stain. Remove the tape when the glue gets to a stiff consistancy.
7. Preparation for Staining and Finishing
This is one of the areas that most woodworkers hate to do. But, it is just as important as the construction portion of the project. This is what everyone is going to see. Using progressively finer grits of sandpaper, the wood needs to be sanded until no perceptible swirl marks are found. For most furniture, 220 grit is about a fine as you need to go during this step.
8. Staining and Finishing
The are many many different forms of stains and finishes. All have their pros and cons. Before applying a stain to your project, take time to test different products and processes on scrap wood of the same type as the project. Perform the complete finish process on each piece of scrap so you will KNOW what the project will look like when complete. After determining which product and process looks best, do not skip or change any part of the process used on the scrap, when it comes time to finish the project. Small differences in the finishing process can make a drastic change in the look of the complete project.
9. Post finish
Now it is time to really make your project shine. Do not get in a hurry to start this process. Wait until the finish is completely cured before starting this process. Some products will cure over night. Some can take weeks. You most likely will need to buff or polish your finish to get the silky smooth look and feel of the project surface. Most people will rub the surface of a project to get an impression of how well the finish was completed. There are many oils, powders, and polishes that will create that mirror finish often desired. Please read as many of the different finishing books and brochures as possible to get an understanding of the process.
Now go and show off your hard work to anyone who will listen. Enjoy the moment. Most projects will contain a flaw here and there. Do not point them out when showing off a piece. Most likely, you will be the only one that knows the flaw exists.
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