Today I learned to work wood. Though, in this case, what I really did was learn to operate four powerful machines that did the work for me. My lesson was through a very interesting introductory class to woodworking machines at TechShop. As some of you may recall, I tried to take this class at TechShop two weeks ago, but it was cancelled, and instead I wound up getting a full tour of the impressive facilities.
This time, the teacher was there, along with three other students, and we had a great class for the most part. The only drawback to it was that it was being taught in a common-use woodworking shop, and two other TechShop members were also using very loud machines. It was distracting, but we soldiered on.
Our instructor’s name was Christian, and he was a pretty darn good instructor. Scared us to death the first 20 minutes by enumerating the many ways that a table saw could maim you. The added touch was his mentioning how he once was working and a piece kicked back from the blade, went through a window, and wound up stuck in the window screen. However, Christian has taught woodworking for 15 years, was extremely safety conscious, and knew his stuff. I learned not only about how to properly operate a table saw or a chop saw, but how each type of blade interacts with the wood, e.g., pressure points, the type of shavings created, etc. Fyi, for a rip cut (a cut with the grain), the shavings tend to be splinters, while for a cross cut (across the grain), the shavings are more like dust. Makes total sense. As did his explanations of how the teeth vary on different blades on different machines and why.
I had never realized the degree of design and specialization that goes into these machines. I am not unfamiliar with power tools, having jigsaws and circular saws at home, but I always was kindof self-taught on those. This was an excellent grounding in the whats, whys, and hows. Especially on the best places and ways to hold the wood so that it goes smoothly through the machines, cuts evenly, and doesn’t kick back and kill you. Always good to know. Once I did my first cross cut with a chop saw, and then used a table saw for both rip cuts and cross cuts, I began to feel a little bit more in control. If one pays attention, and has all the safety equipment attached to the saws and on (goggles), one can definitely enjoy the process of cutting and shaping wood. (There’s a warning about enjoying it too much with the band saw – one can apparently get tunnel vision operating one.)
By the way, we started to make shelves, but then we decided more to just play around with pieces of wood, so I have no “this-is-what-I-made-today” photo to share. But here are the four machines I learned how to use.
I didn’t learn to use the lathe today (a sanding machine with which you turn wood into bowls, or spindles, or other round objects), or the robot router (which does precise carving of wood based on dimensions inputted into a computer), as I had kindof expected. There are separate classes for those. But learning these four was enough for today. I’m looking forward to putting these new skills into practice in my furniture making or other woodworking; I’ve dabbled in it up to now with hand tools, but now I feel more comfortable about how woodworking works. (So my quality will improve, right?) And maybe later I’ll get to take a class on the lathe.
Julie, Eric, Paul, and Dad – my major woodworking friends – I thought of you all often while learning this stuff, and wondered what you would think of the instruction, the tools, and the shop. Dad – next time I visit, let’s put my farming efforts aside, and practice with your table saw and Mom’s band saw!
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