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Intro to Woodworking @ Makeville -- Class 1

In mid-December 2019 I moved into a new apartment and began looking for ways to furnish it. The apartment is a loft-like studio and in order to use its space effectively I really need pieces that are sized appropriately.

I Internet-spelunked for hours and couldn’t find the weird sizes of furniture I needed without spending gobs more money than I wanted to. So I began looking into building simple pieces myself, fell into a hole of woodworking articles and YouTube videos, and built a plywood desk.

… and then I signed up for a woodworking course.

My gateway to woodworking: building a plywood desk

Plywood Desk A 48" x 18" Baltic birch plywood desk with IKEA legs.
Gluing Plywood Desk I glued a frame to the bottom perimeter of the desk to give it more thickness and stability for my monitor mount.

Making the desk was thrilling! I bought a sheet of plywood from Dykes Lumber, got narrow cuts for the frame at Heights Woodworking, and glued/clamped everything together at home. It was a satisfying and easy project, but I wanted to learn more and gain access to equipment so I signed up for a class at Makeville Studio.

Intro to Woodworking @ Makeville Studio

Makeville is a woodworking studio/lab located in Gowanus, Brooklyn. They offer classes and rent their shop by the hour. Their class is by no means an economical way to acquire new furniture nor, seemingly, is woodworking but I, uh, have moved way past that goal. I’ve wanted to learn how to woodwork for years.

Over the course of five 3-hour sessions, I’ll be building a wee sidetable.

Makeville Intro to Woodwoorking Sidetable The side table students make in Makeville's intro class (not one I made). [credit: Makeville Studio]

The goal of Makeville’s intro class is to get students safely acquainted with all the equipment they’ll use in their day-to-day and pick up basic skills and knowledge around wood physics, milling, and joinery. Once students have completed their intro class they can get certified to use the shop.

Day 1

Our first 3-hour class covered:

  • How wood is cut at the sawmill and how that affects projects
  • Detecting and dealing with defects in lumber
  • Picking a piece of lumber
  • Cross-cutting with a miter saw
  • Planing and jointing rough-sawn lumber so it’s smooth and ready for use

How trees are cut into lumber

It turns out lumber is sawn in three ways, each affecting its moisture-absorbancy characteristics, look of the wood grain, as well as the lumber yield from a tree.

Ways Lumber is Sawn You can see how the grain looks different from each of these cuts. [credit: Carbide Processors]

I think the critical difference between these cuts is how much moisture each absorbs from the air unless you love the aesthetics of one grain pattern over the other.

Moisture causes lumber to warp (cupping, bowing, twisting) and rift-sawn lumber absorbs the least while plain-sawn absorbs the most. As such, rift-sawn is the most stable of these cuts. Rift-sawn lumber’s stability makes it well-suited for applications where wood’s movement will compromise the integrity of the end-product (e.g. doors that need to be flush with an opening, musical instruments where warping distorts sound).

Finally, these cuts yield different quantities of lumber. Rift-sawn produces the least and is the most expensive. Plain-sawn produces the most and is the cheapest. Most lumber is sold plain-sawn.

Lumber defects

As lumber absorbs moisture, it will often warp in one of three ways: bowing, cupping, or twisting.

  • bowing lumber bends on its length axis
  • cupping lumber bends on its width axis
  • twisting lumber bends on the length and width axis
Ways Lumber Warps It looks like kinks and crooks are other defects to look for. [credit: Wikimedia]

Our instructor mentioned she thinks twisting is the most insidiuous of defects because it makes wood less safe to work with (e.g. likelier to kickback on tablesaws). I also think it might have the least amount of “usable” lumber in it when you flatten and plane the wood because both sides of the lumber are on different planes to begin with.

These defects are easy to see. You just have to look down lumber kind of like you’re looking down the sight of a gun (the last time I did this I was playing Duck Hunt). Defects are always there, you just have to pick the least funky piece of wood available and work around it by jointing/planing your wood well.

Cutting, planing, and jointing lumber

Making rough-sawn lumber ready for use is incredibly satisfying.

Rough lumber We started with a long piece of rough cherry lumber.
Cut rough lumber We cross-cut the rough-sawn lumber with a miter saw into pieces we could joint and plane.
Cut smooth lumber This was our end product. Note the edges are still rough but the faces are smooth and you can see the face grain.

Day 1’s end-products are face-planed and rough-cut pieces of lumber. Face-planed lumber has smooth faces that are parallel with one another. Rough-cut lumber is simply lumber that isn’t its final size yet. We’ll be cutting these pieces to their final sizes on a table saw in the next class.

Getting face-planed lumber requires feeding it through a jointer and then a planer. Jointers cut one face or edge flat. With one flat face, a planer can cut the opposite face to be exactly parallel to it. It’s weird to think these use cases require distinct machines, but the image below illustrates why quite well.

Explanation of jointing and planing You feed a planer the board in step 3 flat-side-down. Imagine instead turning it over and jointing the top -- you'd have a flat top with curved sides. [credit: Woodworking Stack Exchange]

Some notes on equipment and safety

We learned how to use 3 pieces of equipment on day 1: a miter saw, jointer, and planer. Here are a few takeaways:

  • All equipment at Makeville is attached to a central vacuum system. Remember to both turn on the vacuum and open the pipe attached to your equipment before you start using it.
Central vacuum system at Makeville All sawdust from equipment gets sucked into this barrel and it's pretty neat.
  • I’m exceptionally timid when it comes to using the miter saw. My cuts were so slow our instructor told me I’m a safety hazard (oops). Make sure to run the saw through your wood at a brisk pace.

  • I didn’t always run the miter saw all the way to its base so I had a couple of incomplete cuts that I had to rip manually after I ran the saw. The wood got chipped at the edges/corner. Don’t control when the saw stops, just keep pulling it down until it won’t move any further then bring it back up. The saw will tell you when the cut is complete.

Messed up wood from a miter saw cut This is what happens when you don't let the miter saw finish its job.
  • Tuck your thumb under your hand while using a miter saw!

  • The jointer requires a decent amount of pressure when you are running wood over it. It’s tiring! Make sure you walk along with the wood while you’re jointing. If you don’t walk and instead lean in, your body will naturally bring the hand farthest away from your body up, release pressure on the wood, and cause you to cut an uneven face.

  • Set your planer to the highest thickness your wood gets (set lumber side by side and compare by running your hand over it). As you feed wood through your planer, set it to a slightly lower thickness each iteration. You’ll likely run the same piece of wood through a planer multiple times (we did 3 in this class and I think my wood might need 1-2 more).

  • This equipment is loud and there is a real possibliity that wood or sawdust will fly around. Always wear ear and eye protection.

What’s next?

Our next step is to edge-joint the lumber before further cutting it with a table saw. It seems like the process should be similar, but with narrow and taller wood. I don’t recall the planer having a hole tall enough for this lumber on its side, so I’m not entirely sure how we get parallel edges.

We’ll then be taking our smooth rough-cuts and cutting them to size on a table saw! I am pretty jazzed about learning how to use the table saw while keeping all my limbs intact.

Post on class 2