What is Woodworking?

The Cambridge Dictionary Online says that woodworking is the activity of making objects, esp.furniture, from wood1

Hmmmm. Okay. Is that all that they think it is?

On some of my more recent trips back to Australia (I currently live in Phuket, Thailand), I’ve brought back with me some of my high school woodworking projects. A hand-reel for fishing, a folding picnic table, carry case (http://bit.ly/DM_WoodCase), and some other items. Thankfully I had no problem with customs! The table has lots of uses, so does the case. I originally used the case to keep various components for model railway building, but now it keeps my art books, pencils and so forth. The reel sits on my desk, a pleasant reminder of one of my favourite classes in high school.

Since moving to Phuket I’ve made a number of projects for different purposes, both at home, for church, and for the school I used to work in. For the church I made a stable for the Christmas nativity. For me to use at the school I made a carry basket that converted into a free-standing tray (http://bit.ly/DM_Tray). For the school I made a projector stand (http://bit.ly/DM_ps), it was always good to see it in use, and appreciated.

I’ve made for my home a driftwood candle stand (http://bit.ly/DM_cs), a rustic cottage style TV cabinet (http://bit.ly/DM_tv), and more recently an entry table (http://bit.ly/DM_es) in the same style. I’ve also made for my wife a jewellery cabinet (http://bit.ly/DM_jc), and desks for her (http://bit.ly/DM_Ndesk) and myself (http://bit.ly/DM_Ddesk). Recently I’ve made, at the request of my wife, several items (which will remain unnamed at the moment due to them becoming Christmas presents). It’s the first time I’ve made anything in batch. It’s also the first time that we’ve intentionally made anything in partnership, because my wife has become quite a keen calligrapher, and she wanted to decorate the trays as Christmas gifts this year.

Along with my old high school projects I’ve also been bringing in some of my father’s woodworking tools. I’m really really glad I haven’t had problems with customs when doing that!!!

Something I’ve really enjoyed doing is making some tools myself, like a mallet, and a marking gauge (http://bit.ly/DM_DIY).

So, what am I saying in all of this? I’m asking the question: what really is woodworking?

I can understand those who think it is just what the dictionary says, especially when you think of all the flat-pack and other affordable mass-produced furniture out there that don’t last for much more than a decade, or even just a few years. It’s no wonder that the dictionary doesn’t have a more meaningful definition to offer us.

To define woodworking, to my mind at least, we need to start with the word: satisfaction. I’m sitting here in my sofa enjoying a film, but also enjoying the cabinet the TV is sitting on. I’m also enjoying the entry table nearby. On the other side of the room I’m enjoying the driftwood candle shelf. When I’m upstairs in the back room teaching ESL online to students in China I’m enjoying my Aussie back-shed style desk. When I was making the Christmas gifts my wife requested I enjoyed using my marking gauge, and other tools. Enjoyment. Satisfaction. Quality. It’s words like this that define the true nature of woodworking. A flat-pack shelf from the supermarket isn’t real woodwork. Real woodwork is a home-built shelf that lasts for years, ideally lasting for generations. Here is another word that defines woodworking: generational. I’m using my Dad’s tools. Some of those tools he bought when he was doing his carpentry/cabinet-making apprenticeship, while others predate him being at least a century old. My best plane is an antique smoothing plane (http://bit.ly/DM_sp), it’s so good to use.

Am I an export woodworker? No, far from it. I’ve made my share of mistakes. But this is the nature of learning, looking humbly at our mistakes, learning from them, and doing a better job next time. It is also about learning from those who can teach us, either by taking classes, reading quality books or magazines, and so forth.

Whatever style you like, whatever tools you use, whoever, whatever, you choose to learn from, make it your goal to create quality, and to create a legacy.

So, to my attempt at a definition of woodworking:

the craft (driven by the heart) of taking wood to make something enjoyable, something meaningful, something lasting (to create a legacy to be enjoyed, and pursued by others). 

This is woodworking and nothing less than that, in my opinion, is a suitable definition.

  1. Dictionary, W, “WOODWORKING | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary.”. in Dictionary.cambridge.org, , 2018, <https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/woodworking> [accessed 5 December 2018].

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