HackSpace magazine

My journey into woodwork

By Dr Lucy Rogers. Posted

For my seventh birthday, I asked for a carpentry set.

My dad made it out of real tools – a little yellow flat-head screwdriver, a small ball pein hammer, a junior hacksaw and a dovetail-saw, some clamps – which I am still using – and a bright orange, plastic tool-box.

One of the first projects we made together was a bird table. I collected about 30 straight twigs, about as thick as my then thumb, and cut them all to length. This kept me busy while Dad made the rest of the bird table – the stand from a thick branch, the platform and pitched roof from plywood, the struts from sticks as thick as my young wrist. I nailed my twigs to the roof – giving it a sort of thatched appearance. To be fair, I probably nailed two or three of the twigs in place. I didn’t have a great aim then. I remember hitting my finger and letting Dad do the rest.

Fast forward 20 or so years, and my woodwork was mainly for DIY. I have fond memories of straddling a pine door (I didn’t have a Workmate), and being hit by the fresh smell as the shoosh, shoosh of a sharp plane removed the edge in satisfying curls of shavings. I have less fond memories of trying to hang the door.

I then had the opportunity to attend a wood-turning course at my local college. In the first session, I was given a foot (300 mm) long, one inch (25 mm) square piece of pine, a round-nosed scraper – a type of chisel that has a round nose and scrapes the wood off – and I was shown how to use a lathe. Thirty very happy minutes later, and I had a pile of woodchips and a rough, round piece of wood with lumps in it. I was hooked.

My first project was to make a bowl. I used a lump of wood I’d found in a skip. It was pale yellow and heavy. After extensive research, (this was before the internet was really useful) I decided it was probably ramin. A wood I had not come across before – or even since.

The second project was to make four matching spindles or legs – which was a lot harder than I’d thought – even with the help of a template and spring calliper. Looked at together, the legs are obviously not identical. However, at the corners of a stool, they match. I used ash for this project, and it’s still my favourite wood – for smell, look, feel, and joy of working.

For the final project, I made a standard lamp from sycamore and elm. The light colouring of the sycamore contrasted well with the dark of elm. But I discovered elm is hateful to turn – it’s ‘fluffy’ – it does not cut nicely, and is hard to make smooth. I also learnt a lot about design in that project – just because straight lines and balls look simple, they are not easy to make!  


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