E N Curtis

Woodworker. Artist. Teacher. Chucklehead.

Just Joinery This Week

As David put it, it's not a class about only joinery, but rather a class about doing joinery justice. As such, we have Just Joinery, which is the class I'm assisting David Upfill-Brown, known affectionately by many names, but my personal go to is "The Mad Scientist". Take a look at his website and see his highly sculptural, functional furniture and you'll know why I call him that. 

But this class is not about David. It's about joinery, and two days in we're in full swing. We started in the bench room learning to cut our traditional joints by hand. Half-laps and mortise and tenons the first day. Today, Tuesday, we moved forward to bridles and dovetails. It's been full steam ahead, no doubt, but the students have been excited and hard-working, which goes a long way toward smooth sailing. They key to this craft is perseverance, not luck, not a knack. It takes long days of patience with self and with the material your using, understanding that it has subtleties just the same as you do. Your saw my want to pull to the right, or the wood may want to pull your saw that way. You have to learn to understand these nuances, which takes time and experience. 

This is why I love hand work so much. You form a bond with the material; understand it on a deep and honest level because you are forced to interact with it's intricacies. A table saw will never give you tear out. The helical heads which we are lucky enough to have in the jointers at CFC almost eliminate the need to understand grain direction. If I worked in such a way where the only machines I used were a bandsaw, jointer, thicknesser, and shaper (with helical heads), I could build a great many styles of furniture successfully with virtually no need to understand the medium with which I worked. I could force the wood to do things it doesn't necessarily want to do. And many folks do. But I don't feel satisfied in that kind of work. That's not what I set out to accomplish.

Being that this is a joinery class and not a hand tool class, we will, of course, cover machine cut joinery. Over the remaining days we will begin to work our way into the machine room to expose the students to all the methods we can to give them the best understanding of joinery as a whole as it exists in the modern world. But starting with hand tools is a necessary step because machines have evolved out of the processes of hand cut joinery. To more completely understand how a table saw or a bandsaw cuts, you need to understand why the teeth do what they do, which is related to the sharpening of handsaws. And the more deeply you understand something, the less chance for abuse their is, limiting the possibility of accidents.