AW #016 – The Simplest Way To Woodwork Fast


What is the Simplest Way to Woodwork Fast?

Well, before I answer that question, I need to give some background.  Today’s topic was born out of my own two recent mistakes. If you have not noticed, I have not been able to podcast for a few weeks now.  I recently had some free time and I had to make a choice between podcasting and woodworking.  Sorry everyone, but I choose woodworking.  I needed some therapy time.

The sad thing is that if I had applied the advice I am about to give, I would have had enough time to woodwork and podcast a couple weeks ago. So, over the course of the next several minutes, I am going to tell you about  two things happened to me recently that really pissed me off.  At the end of that, I will give you my answer, but I bet you will have already figured it out by listening to my own foolishness.  Of course, once I realized my mistake, I was able to fix it.  The problem is, I did not learn from the first time I made the mistake.  I had to make it a second time for it to start to sink in.  Then I realized, perhaps I need to write it down, admit to it everyone, and talk about it to make it sink it so I do not make the same mistake.

First time I messed up.

Recently, my oldest son got for his birthday a lego robot.  You know, those kinds that are entered into competitions and you program things for the robot to do on a playing field and it has to perform those tasks based upon your programing.  Anyhow, it is really cool, but the problem was that he did not have a desk in his room.  He had been doing his homework on the kitchen table for all these years.  Since I did not want lego parts strewn all across the table that we would have to constantly move, I realized it was time for him to have a desk.  Well, of course, I am a woodworker, so we are not going to freaking go buy a desk.  I am going to make one.

My wife and son made it clear, it does not have to be fancy.  He just wanted something quickly so he could start building a robot.  I was on it!  I ran down to the shop excited.  I put all my other projects on hold because I was going to build this quickly.  I went to my bookshelf of magazines and started pulling out all the issues about desks.  Of course, I have been thinking about building a bridge over the dry riverbed in the back yard, so when I saw a couple issues about building bridges, I had to check those out and set them aside for later (think I might have ADHD?).  Next thing you know, my workout room is filled with magazines piled all over the floor.

Then I determined (after spending a couple hours dreaming about other projects I might build from the magazines), that the projects in the magazines were more than what my son needed right now.  So I decided that I was going to take a slab of ambrosia maple, rip it, re-saw it on the bandsaw to book matched pieces, and then use what was left over to make the legs.  I got to work on it, forgetting how difficult it is to work with slabs that are 8 feet long and nearly 3 inches thick.  I rushed through the ripping with my 10 ¼ inch circular saw so I could rip it again on the bandsaw.  I rushed through re-sawing it on the bandsaw, forgetting that when you work with 8 foot long pieces, the slightest movement at one end can twist your blade and make it not cut straight.

Then I looked at my watch, hours had past.  While I had some pretty pieces of wood that were bookmatched, they were were not the same thickness and the cuts on two of the boards were . . .  well . . .  they sucked.  Arggh!  This was going to take a while to fix, and I told my family I could knock it out in a day.

I will tell you what I did in a couple minutes.

So the second time I messed up.

My wife and I have a couple that are friends of ours and they sell certain craft projects on the weekend for fun and for fun money.  The husband actually makes very good money and they do not need to do this.  It is just something they enjoy.  Well they recently asked me if they could sell my pens there too.  It would benefit them because we could share their ‘booth’ fee at the craft shows and they would also have more in their booth to sell, thereby attracting more customers.  I said that I was interested, but I needed to see how many pens I could turn over the course of a couple of weekends to make sure they had plenty to display before their next big craft show.

So this past weekend was Memorial Day weekend.  Saturday was taken up in large part by an event at the Georgia National Cemetery with the Scouts.

Check out the Video here.

Monday I went out to the boat to see about getting it started for the summer season and getting it into the shop to replace the water pump in the motor (it was that time).  Well, I could not get it started and became frustrated with the boat.  An hour later, I gave up and my dad and I decided on the way home that it is time to sell that boat.

I only give that background so you understand when I got home, I was in a bad mood.  I felt like I had wasted the morning and valuable shop time with a boat that we now have to get rid of.  I got to turning my pens.  When I was pulling out the pens and blanks, I found a pen that I had already set up the blanks to be turned.  I just needed to turn it and assemble the pen.  Now, this pen was not on my list of pens to work on.  It was something that I did not have on my plan, but I thought I could rush through it and turn it quickly and get it finished to include with the other pens I had already planned on turning.

Well this particular pen involved cutting a tenon free hand for a particular piece of pen. The freehand was not a problem.  The problem was the measurement of the freehand.  I rushed it and cut the tenon too long.  By this point I was becoming really frustrated.  Woodworking is supposed to calm me down, not piss me off.  Well, I thought I could fix that problem in the assembly.  I again rushed to a solution, only to find that I had again, made an error in judgment and totally screwed the pen up.  I was so mad I threw the pen that I had just turned into the trash.  I had tried to disassemble it, but that only resulted in the copper tubing in the inside of the tube breaking loose of the shaft.  AARRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!  More time wasted and I am mad to boot.

Ok, so what is the common denominator in these two screw ups?  Yes, I was, but my woodworking ineptitude is not the issue.  The issue is I was trying to woodwork fast.  I was rushing everything and screwing it up.  So, how did I resolve these two problems?

I realized that the simplest way to woodwork fast is to SLOW DOWN!  Ok, so I know that sounds counter intuitive.  But it is so true.  When you rush, you make mistakes.  When you make mistakes, you have to start over or fix the mistakes, which, in the long run, takes more time.

So, I can illustrate this by applying this principle to my exact situations.

In the desk situation, I stopped working.  I left the shop.  I was so mad at myself that I had almost wasted the entire day.  It was now 5 o’clock and I did not have a finished desk.  I slowed down. I asked myself what does Baldwin really need at this stage?  Something simple.  I pulled out a sheet of paper and just started making notes.  I went to his room with a tape measure and looked at what space I had to work with, and a simple solution just hit me.

About 10 years ago, somebody had given me four long oak spindles for a big stair case.  They had been just sitting in the basement doing nothing.  Why I even took them, I have no idea.  I pulled them out and knew they would be my legs once I had cut them to the correct length.  I then pulled a long piece of pine from my ceiling storage.  I had drawn out my measurements on my piece of paper with my notes.  In less than an hour, I had cut the base for the desk.  LESS THAN AN HOUR!  I knew that I wanted to still do the maple top, but did not have the time for it.  The original desk plan called for an ebony stained base (his bed is black) with the maple top just covered in Waterlox.  So, I just took some scrap MDF, cut it to size and attached it with some pocket hole screws, knowing that I could simply unscrew them later after I had finished the maple top.  I painted the MDF black and then slapped some lacquer on the entire project.

Of course, the staining and the lacquer took another day, and I left the desk in the basement for a week next to a window with a fan in it to pull the smell of the lacquer out of the desk, but the construction of the desk was actually completed in a total of an hour.  The following week my son had a cool looking (according to him) desk that he could use and I not have the time to finish the top on my schedule to do it properly.

Simple DeskIf I had not rushed into the basement originally, I would have thought this through, conceived of the desk and built it in the morning and then podcasted in the afternoon.  Of course, then I wSimple Deskould not have this story to tell I guess.



Simple Desk












What did I do when I tried to rush my pen turning?  Well, after I threw my pen into the trash, I remembered what happened with the desk.  I went upstairs and left the shop.  I grabbed a hard apple cider, popped the top and just enjoyed a cold one.  I realized and calmed down.  I remembered to just slow down.  Woodworking is to make me calm.  Let me pause here.  I am not saying that alcohol is the solution to ones problems.  I rarely drink.  Just this day, I felt like having a cold one and did.  And no, I am not trying to advocate drunken woodworking, but I do weigh 270 and a hard apple cider is not going to impact my judgment.  I am just telling the story as it happened.  My wife asked me what happened and she listened to me while I vented.  She reinforced what I was thinking and just turn what I had intended to turn.  These pens are supposed to be for fun and some side money to fund the woodworking.  Focus on what you wanted to accomplish and knock it out.  If you don’t that is ok too.

After relaxing for about 30 minutes, I headed back to the shop, put away all the pens that I originally had no intention on turning, and only left out the ones I had planned on turning.  I placed them in the order I wanted to turn them to maximize my time (meaning I put the wooden ones together and the acrylic ones together, along with the type of pen, so I did not have to change the bearings but once.  The result, I turned 12 pens, each in about 15 minutes, just under 20 if you include the finishing and assembly.  If I had just done this to begin with, I would not have wasted an hour and a half on that other stupid pen I had to throw away.

The moral of these stories, if you want to woodwork fast, SLOW DOWN.  This gives you time to think through your project, measure twice and cut once, and get your project done in a reasonable time period with minimal frustration and maximum satisfaction.

You know the sad thing here.  I apply this principle at the office.  Why did not I not apply it sooner on my woodworking I will have to explore at some other time.

Quick Tip

The quick tip was inspired by Mark, who recently built an amazing canoe.  It is absolutely stunning.

Create a project log – log all the time you spent on your project.  You can learn from the log:  where you went wrong; what you did right;  where did you waste your time; how to improve for next time.

Check Out Alan’s Desk he built for his wife on his Lumber Jocks page.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One thought on “AW #016 – The Simplest Way To Woodwork Fast

  1. Leh – thanks for the shout out. Totally unnecessary, but thanks. I’m glad the kids will be able to use the brace soon. I probably have another one I can donate as well next time we get together.

    Thanks, too, for the kind words about and link to Beth’s desk. I am proud of it. I was also very grateful that Gary Rogowski stopped by and had nice words in the comments. The desk was inspired by his library tables for the State Library (I think) in Portland.

    See you soon.