Throughout history, human beings have found ways of turning the most ordinary materials into works of art. Craftsmen have fashioned plastic, marble, and stone to make breath taking sculptures; or bronze, brass, and mud to make intricately carved furniture. Wood, however, is the material of choice for most artisans.
Woodworking, put simply, is the crafting of wood to make furniture or art. It is actually a general term for a wide range of professions such as carpentry, cabinet making, joinery, or anything that involves working with wood.
The art of woodworking began with the Egyptians and Chinese, the latter of whom held wood in high esteem. Because of its long history in the arts, woodworking has developed its own set of terms, some of which are outdated, others still used after centuries of woodworking.
A woodworker’s tools consist of measurers, sharpeners, carvers, cutters, and finishers. The woodworker’s ally is, of course, the wood itself. Wood may be hardwood, coming from an angiosperm, or fruit or flower bearing tree; or softwood, coming from a gymnosperm, or a cone bearing tree. There are certain characteristics woodworkers look for in wood. For instance, spalting, or discoloration due to fungal infection, is a desirable feature. Wood must not have interlocked grains, or multiple layers of grain typical of tropical hardwoods, which makes smoothening and working the wood difficult.
Woodworkers also season wood before they work with it. That is, they reduce the wood’s moisture content, to keep it from cracking or splitting when they work on it. Unseasoned wood is referred to as green wood.
Before woodworkers carve wood, they measure it out and mark it, to designate the places they want to carve or fashion, or the spots where they can attach things such as hooks or guides. Woodworkers then sharpen their tools with a dressing stone, a rough sharpening stone used to keep tools keen. The devil stone, in particular, is a hard dressing stone, with enough coarseness to sharpen grinders.
The woodworker can now carve, shape, and cut the wood. Using various tools, such as chisels and blades, the woodworker can imprint images, shapes, corners, grooves, and frames into the wood. One of the tools involved is the curious Dutchman, a diamond-shaped wood patch designed to smooth out blemishes and knotholes on the wood’s surface. The woodworker then applies a finish, which can make the wood shine, or bring out the appearance of its native grain.
Woodworking is a craft, one that is enjoyable to learn, and one whose products are a joy to behold. Learn woodworking, and, like thousands before you, see how you can carve your way into art history.