7 Skills Learned in Wood Shop

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Yard Dart, Sep 8, 2016.

  1. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator


    Classes in the “industrial arts” were first introduced to secondary schools in the 1880s, and for the next century, taking a course in woodworking, mechanics, drafting, and printing was a common educational rite of passage for young men.

    Then, beginning several decades ago, shop classes began to be removed from secondary curriculums. With the decrease in educational funding, and increasing emphasis on standardized testing, schools began to cull electives, institute stricter graduation requirements, and focus more on college prep academics and the subjects necessary for passing state exams. There wasn’t money or time to maintain tools and sawdust-filled workshops, and one by one school districts dropped their shop classes, figuring that students who wished to pursue trade skills could do so later at a vocational college.

    This demise of shop classes is quite unfortunate, as they were never solely about preparing students for trade employment. Rather, they taught all men manual skills that they could use and enjoy throughout their lives, whether they became a carpenter or a doctor. They were considered part of becoming a well-rounded man – one able to use both his hands and his mind.

    Arguably the industrial arts class that is most missed is wood shop. Learning how to work with wood is not only handy, allowing you to make and fix things around the house, but allows you to satisfyingly connect with a long history of craftsmanship. Woodworking was one of the earliest skills mankind developed; the pre-industrial world was largely made of wood, and for thousands of years, all men had at least a rudimentary understanding of how to shape and manipulate it. Even up until the second half of the last century, tradesmen and professionals alike had the confidence to be able to build wooden shelves, cabinets, or even chairs for their family.

    Today, in our age of plastic and factories, woodworking has transformed from a common necessary skill into something almost mysterious or awe-inspiring. Because most 21st-century consumers are used to driving to big box stores to pick up another mass-produced replacement when their desk falls apart or their chair breaks, any man today that can walk up to a lumber pile with saw and plane to shape a beautiful and enduring replacement is revered as a “true craftsman.”

    Although this universal admiration of hand skill is appreciated, the truth is, woodworking is no mystery. And fortunately, even if you missed out on taking a thorough shop class in high school and feel ill-equipped to tackle a simple woodworking project, it’s definitely not too late to learn. Here’s a list of some basic skills you would do well to develop. None of these skills require expensive, dangerous machinery or exotic tools. They are the foundational skills every woodworker should know.

    1. Understand How Wood Works and Behaves

    Before you put any tool to your lumber, you will need to understand its proper orientation and what direction to plane the board. As trees grow, growth ring layers continue to build on one another and this produces beautiful grain that shows in our boards. This grain can make planing it trickier if we ignore the ideal direction to work. Working wood grain is kind of like petting a cat — if you go from tail to head, you will find the hair standing straight up and might get a hissing disapproval, but if you pet “with the grain” from head to tail, you’ll find the hairs lay down nice and smooth and purring will ensue.

    It’s also important to understand how wood expands and contracts as humidity fluctuates throughout the year. All wooden construction takes this natural property into account and ignorance of this can be disastrous.

    2. Sharpen Saws, Planes, and Chisels

    Too many people have perpetuated the myth that working wood by hand is really hard work, simply because they were using a dull tool. It is an axiom among woodworkers that in order for things to go smoothly, you have to “let the tool do the work.” If your saw requires a good amount of push to cut or if you find you need a running start to make shavings with your hand plane, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. Sharpening your tools is a basic and foundational skill because it is something that needs to happen regularly. Not only is it inefficient to work with dull tools, it’s dangerous. If you feel like you need to push your chisel with body weight to complete the cut, when it does pop free, you will lose control and your tool will stab into whatever is in its path. Learn how to sharpen your tools and you will find woodworking to be enjoyable, safe, and efficient.

    3. Use a Hand Plane

    With a lot of woodworking tools, the basic technique is pretty self-explanatory. But not all of them are so intuitive. Proper use of hand planes requires a bit of instruction and practice to develop the feel of adjusting the cut from coarse to fine. Additionally, the edge can be askew or the cap iron can be in the wrong place. Although these things require a little bit of research to figure out, properly using a hand plane is an undeniably attainable skill. I encourage you to grab an old plane and hop on YouTube to search “tune up an old hand plane” or “how to use a hand plane.” There will be more than enough hours of video to make up for what you missed in shop class.

    4. Prep Lumber With Hand Tools

    Maybe you have a tablesaw and a 13” thickness planer already, but most of us don’t. Be careful not to fall into the trap of feeling like you have to buy expensive machines to build things. When I work with wood, I use only hand tools and love every minute of it. If you learn how artisans worked their lumber before machines dominated the furniture industry, you will find woodworking by hand to be efficient and viable. There are many tried-and-true techniques to expedite the process that free us from feeling like we have to do machine-perfect work by hand. The real key is to use the right tool for the job: coarse tools for coarse work and fine tools for fine work. Still not convinced? Check out my good friend Jim’s story. I hope it inspires you.

    5. Cut a Mortise and Tenon Joint

    This is the most fundamental joint in all wood construction. Whenever we have to join a horizontal member (like a chair rail) to a vertical member (like a leg), we need to interlock these pieces at a right angle. By fitting a tenon into a corresponding mortise (hole), we can create a solid 90° joint. Although it may look intuitive to make, achieving a nice, tight fit requires careful technique and practice. There are many ways to make a mortise, but I use a stout chisel designed for that task and simply determine the width of the tenon based on that chisel’s dimension. Cutting the tenon is usually a matter of four straight saw cuts. When you do learn how to lay this joint out properly and cut it to a snug fit, the world of woodworking opens up to you. At that point, you know all the joinery required to build most tables and chairs.

    6. Cut Dovetail Joints

    But what if you want to make a box? The revered (and overly-mystified) dovetail joint is a very strong way to join corners of boards. Of all features that non-woodworkers admire today, the dovetail joint is the one that creates the most awe. It is composed of one side cut into wedge-shaped “tails” that mate into corresponding “pins.” When fitted together, the wedge shape prevents the boards from sliding apart in one direction. This joint has been very standard construction since the 1700s. Never meant to impress, it was usually intentionally hidden behind veneer, molding, or paint so that no one would have to look at that “ugly” joinery. It wasn’t until the arts and crafts movement that visible joinery was considered an aesthetic asset. Today, making dovetail joints has become a litmus test for serious woodworkers, but don’t let this scare you away from trying it. Check out a few of the four million “How to Cut Dovetails” videos online and then get into the shop. It’s much more straightforward than people think: Cut tails. Trace the tails on the other board. Then cut out the waste you traced. That’s pretty much it. All the fine tuning is just practice.

    7. Finish Your Furniture

    After investing a number of weekends building a nice table or chest, how are you going to finish it? Finishes beautify and protect the piece you’ve worked so hard to build so don’t cop out and do the “rub it with oil” thing. There are so many beautiful finishes that become second nature to work with. I use shellac 99% of the time. Once you get the feel down, it’s really quick to apply, very forgiving, easily repairable, and you never have to clean a brush (because it re-softens in alcohol)! There are other varnishes that provide good protection for outdoor use as well. I recommend picking up a good starter book, like Jeff Jewitt’s Hand Applied Finishes. It is simple and straightforward, without getting too far into minutiae.

    One of my mentors started out as a cabinetmaker who loved working wood but dreaded getting to the finishing part. He started doing some digging to learn more about it and became so addicted to the process that nowadays he loathes having to build anything because all he wants to do is the finishing! I promise that if you give a little energy to learning how to properly finish your work, your enjoyment of the finished piece will be dramatically increased. These final touches are enough to inspire you to take on another project.

    Where to Go From Here
    Has this article intrigued you? Do you wish you had learned these things in wood shop?

    If you would like to follow up on these things to learn how to work wood yourself, you could comb through a Google search for each of the topics listed but, to simplify your education, I recommend picking up a few helpful books to start. The first two are mostly about techniques, and the last one is about how to choose which hand tools to purchase.

    The Essential Woodworker by Robert Wearing

    The New Traditional Woodworker by Jim Tolpin

    The Anarchist’s Tool Chest by Christopher Schwarz

    Learning how to use tools to create what you envision in your mind is one of the most rewarding activities a man can involve himself in. Even though many of us today missed out on this first-hand training in high school shop class, there are a lot of folks that are buying books and reading blogs all about it. By learning how to tune up their grandfather’s hand plane they are seeking to once again tap into that deep-rooted desire to create and build with the knowledge of their mind and the skill of their hands.
    7 Basic Woodworking Skills Every Man Should Know | The Art of Manliness

    How are your wood working skills? Do you have the tools of the trade?
    arleigh, Motomom34, 3M-TA3 and 11 others like this.
  2. Cruisin Sloth

    Cruisin Sloth Special & Slow

    The death of trade schools.


    the death blow was federal student loans no longer being issued to unaccredited schools with credits that don't transfer... as the liberal media calls them "for profit schools"

    ITT was the first to go, but watch as it hits UTI, WYO tech and other schools that focus on blue collar skilled labor jobs.. you know, like auto technicians.

    you think its hard finding a skilled tech now? wait till the dumb ass learned auto mechanics at a fvcking community college. I know a lot of people look down on UTI, but I (not sloth)graduated UTI and I can tell you its not the education as what was taught was very good, just like anything in life its the student.

    the death of ITT means more foreign visas, less american tech jobs.

    fVcking liberals, what they win is more college loans, more students with worthless education and liberal indoctrination in debt up to their eyeballs relying on more fvcking government.

    Copied from another forum .
    180 replys from our members , feel were in deep trouble .
    Blue Collar's made this land & THEY DID THIS , ALL Together.
    Obo ,frigg U , we did THIS.
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2016
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  3. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    People complain to me all the time about how expensive our electrician rates are. It will only get more expensive for all trades, as there are less and less experienced tradesmen actively working. We have so many baby boomers retiring that we are experiencing manpower issues now...... in the future it will get much worse, per every projection nationally that I have read. When you call that plumber to fix that drain issue or an electrician to install a new outlet, do not be surprised when your bill is at an hourly rate of $100 to $200 per hour. We currently charge $115 per hour for a service electrician with an increase at the end of the year.

    Getting back to the OP, who is going to make or fix the furniture when SHTF.... will you be able to take care of it, or will you need to barter resources to someone that has the skills and tools?!
  4. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    I didn't take the OP as asking who was going to build what, but I see that as one point made. I attribute the loss of shop classes to the dumbing down, the gradeflation and everyone has to pass syndrome so common these days. The shop classes and similar vocational courses in my school, more than anything else, was to prepare the student for immediate employment in a trade after graduation. Slowly, that was dumbed down to the point that votechs had to pick up the slack, or somehow you had to get into a union apprenticeship program. (That required a hook.)

    Times have changed several times since I took the drafting class --. Not always for the better.
    Bandit99, chelloveck, Airtime and 3 others like this.
  5. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    When I was in high school, all guys took wood shop, mechanics and metal working, as well as 4H subjects since we were in ranching country. One quarter each year, guys HAD to take home education and girls had to take shop to give exposure in areas generally not in their wheelhouse due to gender norms at the time. I learned to cook, sew, knit, and various other task..... I find it amazing/amusing/scary that young men and women now days do not know how to cook, change a tire, check the oil, fix a pair of pants, and so many other basic task....unless their parents were the exception and took the time to teach them.
    Meat, arleigh, Mountainman and 7 others like this.
  6. Ura-Ki

    Ura-Ki Grampa Monkey

    Just look at how many empty seats there are in the trucking world!
  7. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart,Deadman Walking, Snow Monkey Moderator

    When I was in Jr High, I took a Mechanical Drawing Class... My first foray into the Engineering World... I learned Precision, and Attention to Detail... These days, I do All my Engineering, on my CADD System... That takes a lot of the drudgery out of the process, but the Precision, and Attention to Detail, are still the Prime Issues, in this SkillSet... One of my childhood friends, who's Father was a Civil Engineer, took that class with me, and excelled in the Manual Mechanical Drawing... In High School, as a Senior, he slipped up, and got his Girl Pregnant, and then Married her, and dropped out to support his Family. He had a genuine SkillSet, and made a good living as a Draftsman... Only because he had a Real SkillSet, to fall back on, was he able to make it, as a Father & Family Man.... I often think about what would have become of him had he finished High School, and gone on into Higher Education, OR if he didn't have a Saleable Skillset, and just become a No Good Bum.... It is ALL about Choices, and Consequences of our Actions...
  8. Cruisin Sloth

    Cruisin Sloth Special & Slow

    Dang I did the same but not in public school .
    Schooling was in 1960 ,70 was engineering & collage , then more engineering in UBC/SFU /Aircraft ,electrical stuff , but I have my own sewing machine .
    Agreed of lack of trades , Door rate is 155/hr & tech is 50-70 Hr up here .

    edit 2 BT post:
    I bought the tube steak coveralls in bulk !!!
    Yard Dart and Ganado like this.
  9. Oltymer

    Oltymer Monkey++

    I took woodshop in the mid 60's, but really learned most my woodworking from my dad who had a small shop in his basement. He did all his own stuff from woodworking, to auto mechanics as he was a child of the Depression. I like the WOODWRIGHTS SHOP books by Roy Underhill. All his stuff is done with hand tools, and human powered drill presses, etc. Having a set of basic woodworking hand tools and knowing how to use them from hands on experience would be a cornerstone of survival in a grid down situation.

    I still use some power tools in certain situations, but have swapped over to almost exclusively using hand tools to accomplish tasks in my projects around the homestead. Finding affordable quality hand tools can be a bear in our power tool dominated society. The newly manufactured hand tools come with a rich man's price tag but I have found nice old used saws along with braces and bits, planes, wood chisels, and other tools the modern collectors of antiques have missed somehow. Still looking for a hand powered drill press, even though I don't have anywhere to store it at the moment.
    AD1 and Yard Dart like this.
  10. DKR

    DKR Raconteur of the first stripe

    Many "school" systems dropped the shop classes for the simple reason was they cost too much.

    I was lucky enough to go to a HS with 'industrial arts' - took classes in sheet metal, welding, machine shop and radio-electronic. Later was able to get into a photo shop class for a couple of years.

    All of these classes, at one point or another of my life, gave me the skills to put money in my pocket....
    AD1, Cruisin Sloth and Yard Dart like this.
  11. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    I am always eyeing yard sales for old school hand tools!!
    Cruisin Sloth likes this.
  12. Bandit99

    Bandit99 Monkey+++ Site Supporter+

    One of the clubs that an educator will hit you with when you question the Educational system curriculum is, "...it makes for a more rounded individual...a more rounded education." So, I have often wondered why did they drop some of these shops as everyone needs to know some basics on how a motor works or using power tools or even using a sewing machine (which I don't know how to use). But, we have to take all these fuzzy, grey courses that make us 'rounded individuals' that really are meaningless in life.

    So, yes, I disagree and think Shop courses should return to Public schools.
    AD1, Yard Dart, Ura-Ki and 1 other person like this.
  13. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart,Deadman Walking, Snow Monkey Moderator

    Intellectuals can't teach something they do NOT understand.... and they Run the Schools...
    TnAndy, Yard Dart and Ura-Ki like this.
  14. 3M-TA3

    3M-TA3 Cold Wet Monkey

    IMO - the most important things learned in shop classes were:
    • Pay attention or lose a body part - sometimes you don't get a "do over"...
    • How to work safely
    • How to work safely around others
    • Be responsible for your own actions
    • Self esteem based on accomplishment
    • You don't need to wait for someone to do it for you - just make a plan and do it

    Most likely these are the reasons shop classes were destroyed
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  15. chimo

    chimo the few, the proud, the jarhead monkey crowd

    I was one of those who was able to choose the "vocational", rather than "college" path through high school...and we had a lot of good vocational programs including auto mechanics, carpentry, electronics, industrial electricity, machinist, etc.

    I think they got rid of them because they were designed to get us quickly into the work force, rather than into colleges where they could more easily continue our leftist, statist indoctrination...getting many into debt in the process. Indeed, anyone notice how vocational education in high school was going out as easy college loans were coming in?
    Yard Dart, Bandit99 and Ura-Ki like this.
  16. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    A very likely scenario.... the lib's want people tied to those who feed them vs raising self starters that can take care of themselves.
  17. Motomom34

    Motomom34 Monkey+++

    My kids took shop class, metal and wood working. They are one of the more expensive classes that the school offers, $75. The kids on assistance can take for free. I do not think our school will be getting rid of anytime soon.
    AD1, Meat and Yard Dart like this.
  18. arleigh

    arleigh Goophy monkey

    I had a definite interest in shop, unlike most of the kids I went to school with, but for the most part kids did not respect the shop class teacher, and generally for them it was a waste of time. 1967,68,69,
    Dad encouraged me to take things apart and learn what made things tick even though it didn't always get back together again, usually stuff was broken to begin with .
    Thing was, i had no money, and just a few tools, and had to learn to take stuff apart with out breaking it .
    That skill came in handy later in life, a lot.
    As a teen I was taking apart switches and repairing them ,that were never intended to be repaired , dismantling and rebuilding locks, and making new tumblers ,and keys on my own ,and many other things . poverty and curiosity and necessity, the mother of invention.
    Kids I knew that had things handed to them, had no incentive to learn any thing, and the same holds today.
    I saw to it my kids learned how to do basic tasks and fix stuff for the self.
    Any one herd of the "Heath kit" ,electronics kits people made at home .
    If you did it right , it worked. state of the art stuff .

    In the olden days engineers not only had to come up with ideas, they had to built them ,often from scratch .
    I wouldn't give you a nickel for todays engineers, that won't get their hands dirty.
    A lot of guys are book smart, but lack volumes in actual experience in the field .
    Production lines ,scrap new equipment because it cost to much to repair the screw up. because part of the screw up is deep with in the hasty manufacturing design, NOT accounting for future repairs and service to said equipment .
    I have made special tools to accommodate these screw ups ,doing repairs on said equipment.
    Some laugh at the third world machinists working on dirt floors making RPGs . true some fail but for the most part they are successful , that says something.
    Being poor they have to learn how to improvise and use available tools and materials.
    These people will be taking available jobs,, and the incompetents that didn't care to learn skills, will be the refugee .
    The liberals have seen to it.
    Fought with them almost all my life over this.
    On the other side of the cataclysm , who are going to be the ones to pick up the pieces and make things work again?
    Oltymer and AD1 like this.
  19. Meat

    Meat Monkey+++

    I made a sweet jewelry box for mom but I ran out of time for the hinges. I ended up with a B for that reason. 35 years later it's still missing the hinges. [afro]
    AD1 likes this.
  20. AD1

    AD1 Monkey+++

    Skills learned in shop class
    Sheet metal
    Foundry(sand casting)
    Small motor(mower) build/rebuild

    Welding( gas and arc)
    Auto mechanics( we repaired cars of low income folks that could not afford it and got to work on our own cars too)

    From my dad a stone mason/block/bricklayer
    All of the above skills. I have his tools and still use them around the houes/yard
    Home electrical wiring

    When in engineering school I got a summer paid apprenticeship @Motorola in their machine shop where they made dies for injection molding around something new called a transistor. They started me in the Raw stores filling orders for the machinists.

    Then they put me under the watchful eye of a old german tool and die maker.

    Gave me prints for very simple parts and turned me loose on Mills, Lathes, surface grinders........

    I still use all of these skills today.
    Meat likes this.
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