Girl in the Shop (gasp!)

I build fine furniture. What makes me different from every other woodworker/blogger out there with a tablesaw, a handplane and a computer? I am 25 years old 5'3", 115 pounds, I'm a girl, and I'm a pretty good woodworker. I don't have visions of grandeur or even becoming the best. I want to do my best and try my hardest to fuel my passion and creativity and do what it takes to get through the hard, dry, frustrating, non-creative parts. 

In my Brother In Law's shop, aka tool heaven on Christmas this year. I have been very fortunate to have him teach me a lot about stewardship, buying well, and restoring old tools. 

In my Brother In Law's shop, aka tool heaven on Christmas this year. I have been very fortunate to have him teach me a lot about stewardship, buying well, and restoring old tools. 

I usually get a lot of double takes when I'm climbing (let's be honest, more often falling) out of my truck and even more when the truck bed is full of precious hardwoods that most people my size wouldn't be physically able to lift. I get a lot of confused, patronizing smiles from people when I tell them that I build fine furniture and even more comments like "wow, I've never known a girl who could use a power tool before"  (I hate power tools, but hey, sometimes we need those electric "apprentices" to get the job done). I get pretty similar responses when I tell people that, when I graduated from College, rather than getting a "real" job, I bought a 1965 Ford Mustang and rebuilt it in my friend's shop then sold it and moved to Taiwan for two years. People are also quite confused when I tell them that I teach Chinese for a living, especially considering I'm a white girl from Montana.  I discovered woodworking when I was three years old in my Grandpa's shop. I learned the basics from him- how to straighten a bent nail and how to hammer it back into the piece of wood I'd just pulled it from, but I was only 12 when he passed away, so I had a lot to learn someday when I decided to pick up woodworking again. 

That someday was almost three years ago when I moved from Taipei to Seattle to marry my best friend. Being someone who has always been enamored with the idea of being as self-sustainable as possible, and, being stuck in the suburbs for a bit, I decided now was a better time than any to start making some major life changes. I am in no way a radical myself, but having built the beginnings of an urban farm and having read a lot of radical literature about climate change, the end of the world, and the inevitable economic collapse of America, the idea of being able to make whatever I wanted and possessing the ability to transform myself from being a consumer to a producer seemed very appealing.

I have always had an affinity for antiques over modern furniture for two major reasons: the first is that landfills are horrible (I've been to several in developing nations), and second is the history that antiques possess. I challenge anyone to make a piece of modern furniture from Target or Ikea last more than 5 years, after which time the piece would be thrown away and the buyer would once again have to become a consumer of another piece of soon-disposable furniture. So I have set about learning "ancient" techniques to build fine furniture based on the classic designs evident in furniture that has lasted hundreds of years. I want to learn to build furniture with strong, functional joinery that is beautiful and will last well beyond my Ikea shelves. I want to make a one time purchase of woods and build a piece of furniture that my grandchildren and great grandchildren might someday have the opportunity to enjoy.

I bought my first table saw just over two years ago and have since convinced my husband to donate our garage to foster my ever growing tool collection (Now the handtools far outnumber the power tools). The gifting of the floorspace was begrudging to say the least. What actually happened is I built a cabinet that separated "my half" from his half. I pushed it back a couple of inches every day until one day, mysteriously, his car no longer fit. I still have no idea how that happened.

To say I have become obsessed with woodworking is an understatement. Over the last year, I've spent countless hours reading every book and watching every instructional dvd the King County Library System has to offer about woodworking and it's related fields (at least a hundred). I've cleaned Amazon out of their book selection as well as poured over website after website dedicated to furthering one's craft. Chris Schwarz, Joseph Moxon, and Robert Wearing have become my idols. I can tell you about blade angles, ideal steel composition, and how to refurbish old planes and chisels (I LOVE shopping on EBay).

I can sharpen just about any tool in the shop, can turn a new handle for your chisels, make you a stunning pen or dovetailed drawer… but after I finish a project, a certain sadness descends. I want to start something else, but I have no idea where to start. Why? A lot of it is fear- fear of failure, fear of an accident (I'm a musician and I personally am quite attached to my hands and fingers), fear of the unknown. Let's be honest, I love reading, which is why I can say that I know a lot of what there is to know on the subject of woodworking, but in practice, that is another story. A lot of days, I put on all my layers and drink lots of tea and psyche myself up to go out to the shop, run out there, and then spend about an hour looking at all my pretty tools and the stacks of wood and realize that I'm in way over my head, only to run back inside, sit down with a woodworking book, and start reading again. So this is where you, and this blog come in. 

Posted on July 1, 2014 and filed under Girl in the Shop (gasp!).