My Entrance into Woodworking

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Blog entry by BassBully posted 04-19-2007 08:48 AM 2021 reads 0 times favorited 16 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This long blog entry describes how I became interested in woodworking. I read cheller’s blog entry about this same topic and it inspired me. I think that it would be interesting to read other lumber jocks’ stories about how they became woodworkers. Kind of like if you’re a Christian and how we offer our testimonies to others. Maybe there could be a standard section about how members became hooked.

Exciting Opportunities

It was 1992, my second semester as a freshman, when I was able to set foot into the time honored high school wood shop class. The room was nestled over the metal shop and auto body shop in the back of the school. It was a hidden treasure. Hidden from the rest of the school, it was separated by an auditorium that could host 1,500 or more students, and the only reasonable way to get to the class, was by following the long path of a decadent hallway. It was located off the beaten path so to speak.

Two large, red, almost burgundy heavy steel doors, gated the entrance on the west side of the room. It greeted students to the treasures inside. The room was very large and the floor laden with wood flooring. The south side, right side of the room, had cabinets storing block planes, wooden mallets, hand saws, chisels, etc. The east side, or back of the room, had huge industrial looking aluminum windows that allowed the sun to glisten off of the varnished floors.

A few large lathes with metal guards rested near the N.E. corner of the class. The west wall had a door to the finishing room. The room contained the shop’s dust collector and air guns for finish spraying. The rest of the class was filled with two heavy duty table saws, a large gear driven planer, two jointers, router stations, and many wood working benches, etc. This place contained exciting potential.

Mr. W. was the teacher that semester. He had been an industrial educator for many moons but this year would provide to be his last; at our school anyway. Before he was fired, our exposure to woodworking equipment was limited to dull, kludgey block planes and old hand saws. Using these tools was a right-of-passage before being allowed to use the power tools. It was boring. The lackluster tools made it so. We couldn’t wait to cut square boards with the table saw. That was suppose to be the next step after we received our safety training. It’s interesting how things can quickly change.

The day that almost ruined my woodworking passion, was the day that Mr. W. kicked another student in the groin. That was the beginning of woodworking hopelessness. It happened earlier in the day—In the hallway. Apparently, a student grabbed him on the shoulder from behind, and Mr. W. turned around, and kicked the student in the jewels. That was the rumor anyway. I’ve never known the true story because it was never revealed to us by the educational staff.

If the story is true, my guess is that the student partly deserved it. That might sound un-politically correct these days, but I went to a school where many of the students’ traits weren’t much different than the block planes we were using. I find it hard to believe that a respected teacher with 20 years or so experience would frivolously jeopardize his career. I think it was self defense. He was gone nevertheless.

At this point, getting access to the power tools was about as hopeless as trying to smell a fart in a hurricane. Those dreams flew right out the window after that incident.

Tragic Disappointment

The rest of the semester that followed was tragically boring. There were very few substitute teachers in the district certified to teach industrial education. Therefore, we could not use the power tools. Everyday involved reading woodworking textbooks and submitting assignments. Sometimes we received a break by watching a video of someone else working with wood which was probably calculated torture derived by the mind of our substitute teacher. The tools just sat there begging for us to use them.

In protest, a paper airplane was thrown at the sub while his back was turned towards the class. That’s right, it was me! I admit it. I couldn’t take it anymore. Luckily for him, and especially for me, he dropped something while the paper protest was in flight. In the nick of time, he bent over to pick up the dropped item, and the paper airplane flew right over his back barely missing him; site unseen. The students giggled. He peered at us with a dumbfounded look. In all honesty, this behavior wasn’t like me; I was just overtaken by boredom.

That semester ended with summer break coming upon us. I signed up for wood shop again, for the following school year, in hopes that our school would’ve hired a new instructor. Not so. Another disappointing semester going through the same workbooks and videos ensued. I think I could’ve had more fun playing with led balloons. It wasn’t until 1993, my second semester as a sophomore, that the school hired a new instructor—Mr. H.

New Beginnings

What a blessing he became after that Christmas Break. He already had plans for us. We were going to build a night stand with a raised panel drawer and door. As the project progressed, he would give us new safety lessons on the tool that we were about to use. Table saw first. Miter Saw Second. Router Third. Jointer somewhere in between. That semester turned my woodworking experience 180 degrees in the proper direction.

I remember vividly working on the raised panel face for my top drawer. I was meticulous. I made sure that any checks from the router blade were filled with wood putty. I sanded it smooth. I remembered every minute detail of the face. I inscribed my name very hard on the back of the panel, with number 2 pencil, prior to attaching it to the drawer. I even wrote my name on the drawer itself. It looked good. Professional even.

The next day I returned to class only to find that all of the night stands had been moved to make more room in the class. I was to begin working on the raised panel door but needed to find my nightstand before proceeding so that I could obtain measurements. I finally found my night stand but my heart skipped a beat. The drawer was gone leaving a dark empty hole in my work. I asked Mr. H. what might have happened to it. He didn’t know of course, but told me to look for it because it may have been misplaced during the move.

I scoured the room. All of the orphaned drawers did not have the characteristics of my hard work. I was utterly disappointed to say the least. I did not want to make another panel. It occurred to me that someone may have put my drawer in the wrong night stand or even worse, someone may have claimed it as their own.

I looked at almost every drawer attached to every nightstand worried that I wouldn’t find it, but I found one that looked like mine. It had all of the characteristics of the router checks that I had fixed with putty. It fit inside my night stand as well; although, it had someone else’s name on it. By this time I was furious that someone thieved my drawer and sanded my name off of it. But to be sure, I looked at all of the drawers two more times. Yep, that one was mine. I told Mr. H. about the situation. He asked me questions to verify my confidence. I told him that if we separate the panel from the drawer, I was confident that my name was written on back of the face panel. We did, and it was! Thank goodness!

I didn’t know the student who stole my drawer and it was probably best for both of us. He had wood shop in a different period and Mr. H. handled it anyway. I had hoped the school suspended him but I doubted it. It didn’t matter so much now as I was able to proceed.

I finished the door and then the top, stained the finish piece with Minwax Golden Oak and finished it with three coats of Deft semi-gloss polyurethane. The top of the night stand also has special significance because I made it using oak that came from old bleacher seats from the auditorium. I don’t know their actual dates or ages—I wish I did. They were tongue and grooved and still had the old finish on them. Since they were stained a different color than I wanted, I planed them down to the bare wood and attached it to the top after routing the edges.

Great Rewards

Later in the semester I submitted the night stand into the high schools’ area technology fair. This is where all of the students of the school district are allowed to compete with one another in the industrial technology fields; including, metal shop, wood shop, and auto body. About eight schools get involved with several students from each school participating. I won a large trophy that read “Best of Show” and that is what stamped my love for woodworking.

From then on I’ve made many other items. Some better than others. I’ve debated whether or not I should submit them to this site because I made them to so long ago. We’ll see. The only thing that has kept me from making even more projects was college and lack of a woodworking space and lack of tools. Things have sure changed. No excuses now.

Night Stand

Drawer Panel

-- There are three types of people in the world, those who can count and those who can't!

16 comments so far

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 4577 days

#1 posted 04-19-2007 12:13 PM

after those rough semesters it is pretty clear that this was your path—or you wouldn’t have kept on returning!!

You must have been very proud of your trophy. A great recognition

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4731 days

#2 posted 04-19-2007 04:22 PM

Great Blog! Our local high schools have cut out the woodworking programs. I wonder if that has anything to do with the high drop out rate?

View cabinetman's profile


144 posts in 4560 days

#3 posted 04-19-2007 05:00 PM

Good story. Congrats on the trophy. Post a pic. Welcome to the craft. You can read my story here:

View BassBully's profile


261 posts in 4514 days

#4 posted 04-19-2007 05:06 PM

Dennis, I think you’re on to something. Creative outlets in school not only provide a change from the monotonous daily studies, but they also build self confidence. Most importantly, they also allow students to explore other career options. Not every student has the desire to go onto a liberal arts college for math or science; nor, do they need to. For some students, if these programs don’t exist, why go to school?

Industrial Technology programs can also provide an opportunity for schools to apply what the students are learning from other classes. Why not learn the history of the Chippendale style furniture? Obviously, Geometry exists in every angle of a woodworking project. Students can also use their English skills to write specs for projects. I could go on and on.

It’s a shame that districts put so much emphasis on money and therefore snub these programs for possible liability issues. Students may face physical danger choking on food in the cafeteria for crying out loud. The benefits far outweigh the costs as far as I’m concerned.

-- There are three types of people in the world, those who can count and those who can't!

View Drew1House's profile


425 posts in 4504 days

#5 posted 04-19-2007 05:37 PM

I have a friend who I have mentioned owns a wood working tools store. He is very happy to have sold about 600 sawstops this year to schools. He actually is making some money on them but not much. Especially considering the hassle. He has sold a bunch of other tools on the side or in packages but with the sawstops they are so expensive already he has cut most of the normal profit out of them. He did not volunteer this information. One of his employees put it out there. I asked him why… figuring he was just trying to capture the business of the schools. He gave me a different reason. The liablity is so greatly reduced with these saws that the cost overall for the schools to run the woodshop is dropping. He is concerned that if the schools drop the programs his business will be hurt in the long run. He explained it as planting seeds. Those kids are going to grow up and become his customers he thinks.

It is interesting… Kraftmaid is up an operating in their second plant now in South Jordan Utah. The site is over 100 acres. They are up to 600 cabinets a day now and are ramping up to 20,000 cabinets a day. The schools around here should keep the programs around here now just to fill the labor shortage in this business for them! I think it would be a great place to work for a few years when you graduated from high school. After getting some real world experience in a production facility like that I bet lots of the employees will break off and start their own shops…

Your cabinet looks great. Particularly for your first piece. I think this is a great example of what a good teacher can accomplish. There is no way a high school student could pull this off on their own.


-- Drew, Pleasant Grove, Utah

View BassBully's profile


261 posts in 4514 days

#6 posted 04-19-2007 05:54 PM


I have to ask, what did you mean by the statement, “There is no way a high school student could pull this off on their own.”?

-- There are three types of people in the world, those who can count and those who can't!

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 4577 days

#7 posted 04-19-2007 06:12 PM

the high school where my daughter teaches has a woodworking class and they have a special class for those not succeeding academically (I think that is what it is). They just built a beautiful little boat and they are selling tickets on it. When we were at the school for the music concert we got to see the boat. Rick was REALLY impressed. Can you imagine the pride these young people feel at their accomplishment? And the doors of possibilities that this has opened for them?

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View BassBully's profile


261 posts in 4514 days

#8 posted 04-19-2007 06:32 PM

Debbie, many studies show that students who don’t succeed academically, succeed creatively. You probably already know this as you’re a teacher but I find it interesting. Sometimes their minds are wired differently.

Students with attention deficit disorder are fine examples of this. As they are unable to sit still and concentrate on written words, these same students can look at pictures or diagrams of wood projects for example, dissect them in their mind, figure out how they’re made, and then make an equivalent or slightly modified piece of great quality. ADD students are often mistaken for unintelligent people but the complete opposite is often true. This is why we need programs like Industrial Ed. Not all people learn the same.

I could go off on collegiate education for this same reason but I won’t. The only reason why I write about this is because I inherited my ADD from my mom. I don’t have the hyper activity that can go along with it which is good at least.

-- There are three types of people in the world, those who can count and those who can't!

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 4577 days

#9 posted 04-19-2007 06:39 PM

whether it’s ADD or who knows what , -your point of “not all people learn the same” is vital to not only education but relationships in general.

While working in Children’s Mental Health, it was my greatest frustration to watch teachers and parents and community members try to force a child to do things like they wanted them done, to learn like they wanted them to learn and all the time the poor little child was crumbling inside. Put them in the right environment with the right mentor and, wow, the skills and their self-confidence soared.

I am perhaps too much of an optimist but I do see changes getting ready to unfold in our education system – where more hands-on and practical applications are used to teach. I think we’ll be seeing more arts and craftsman activities within the schools. I think that we are realizing that the old school no longer effective in our society.

Crossing my fingers anyway.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View BassBully's profile


261 posts in 4514 days

#10 posted 04-19-2007 09:01 PM

I guess Drew’s comment has been itching at me a little when he stated, “There is no way a high school student could pull this off on their own.” I’m not taking it to offense per se, however, I am left feeling like I should prove what was my work and what was the teacher’s work with this project. If Drew is questioning this, maybe others are as well. Or maybe, he just means that the instructor gave great guidance throughout the project which would be true and I’ll take his comment as a compliment to my work. Since I don’t know what end of the spectrum he is challenging, I will elaborate further. The reader can decide for themselves.

First, there were at least 15 students per class period and only one instructor which left very little one-on-one assistance. General guidelines were given that included, height, width, and depth of the project. However, nothing specific was given in regards to drawer and door sizes. We were taught how to calculate the door and drawer sizes based on the openings we ended up with after building the sides and face frame.

We were taught how to use the table saw which included setting the depth of cut and width of cut. Pretty simple stuff. We were taught how to use the miter saw and then how to adjust the router. In general, the proper blades were already in the machines that we needed but cut heights were required to be set by ourselves. E.g., when we started the project, a single blade was in the table saw to cut out the 3/4” oak sides, but when the classes were finished with that, a dado blade was installed by the instructor for dado cuts when we were ready to use it.

All cuts, routing, gluing, staining, and finishing were completed by me and without the teacher’s help. I will admit, calculating the proper raised panel face dimensions were a little difficult and I did seek assistance with that, but the actual cutting and routing was done without Mr. H’s help.

Maybe tonight I will submit my archery rack which I started the end of my junior year, and finished the beginning of my senior year after summer break; I had independent study then. That project, without question, was pulled off all on my own.

-- There are three types of people in the world, those who can count and those who can't!

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4744 days

#11 posted 04-20-2007 03:18 AM

Great job, that certainly isn’t high-school work. Very well done. I think Drew was implying that you had access to a first rate program, and you and your work benefited from it. Any of the students who left the program before your new teacher came on board would have been hard pressed to do work of this quality – heck, someone took your work for their own. Best in show indeed!

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View fred's profile


256 posts in 4515 days

#12 posted 04-20-2007 03:37 AM

I took woodshop as an elective in the 7th grade. The teacher had 2 missing fingers and would not let us use the table saw. I wonder why.

In high school we had an industrial arts building with woodshop, metalshop and autoshop. In the local communitry college we had shop classes as well.

Sadly, to say they have all been shut down over the last 20 years. I guess that dates me. I keep looking for a local woodshop at a high school school so I can take some adult education classes. And there are none. I am self taught with the exception of the 7th grade shop class.

There are some woodworking classes in a community college many miles from me but I am not up to a commute in the Southern California gridlocked traffic.

We need more woodworking classes at the local level and adult education classes in woodworking. There, now that I said it, I feel better.

-- Fred Childs, Pasadena, CA - - - Law of the Workshop: Any tool, when dropped, will roll to the least accessible corner.

View Chip's profile


1904 posts in 4509 days

#13 posted 04-20-2007 04:45 AM

Hey Bass… great story and the fact that you have the ability to stop and reflect on things like this speaks tons about your character. Very impressive and thanks for opening up to us.

Fred… I had a teacher just like that with one finger missing! We always figured that was just a normal rite-of-passage thing that would happen to everyone when they got into woodworking. Lordy.

-- Better to say nothing and be thought the fool... then to speak and erase all doubt!

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 4510 days

#14 posted 04-20-2007 05:00 AM

This is a fabulous story, BB. So is your night stand. I have yet to do anything with a raised panel and feel confident it would not look as nice as yours.

I had a lousy school shop experience as well. Although I didn’t have to read books for 1 1/2 semesters (maybe not a bad thing in hind sight), I did have a teacher who would not allow usage of the tablesaw and the bandsaw pretty hard to justify using. He was more interested in assigning busy work so he could work on his projects than he was interested in teaching. It was just Jr. High School but it did tend to stymie my interest. If I had been taught to cut a dovetail or use a jack plane, things in my life may have been considerably different. Maybe I wouldn’t have to call woodworking my ‘escape’ but rather my profession. Who knows? Thanks for sharing and sparking the conversation that has gone on above.

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View BassBully's profile


261 posts in 4514 days

#15 posted 04-20-2007 08:33 PM

Thanks for the posts.

Fred and Chip, fortunately my shop teacher had all of his fingers. My first time using the table saw was already a nerve racking experience, it would’ve been worse if I had to think about the shop teacher’s missing finger on top of that.

Caliper, raised panels aren’t that difficult especially with a raise panel bit set. They seem more intimidating than they really are. When you think about it, before cutting the pieces with a router, a raised panel face is really just 2 pairs of 1×2’s (or similar measurement) and a rectangle/square center. As long as you position the rail and stile bits properly and begin cutting the end-grains of the rails before the long grain you’ll start out o.k. From there, you can cut the panel piece to the width and height that will be needed to fit in the groove of the rail/stile pairs.

Also, for the inside panel, there is usually no need to make only one pass with a raised panel bit. After making the rails and stiles, you can begin routing the panel with the raised panel bit using shallow cuts and starting with the end grains first. Keep raising the bit until it will allow itself to fit in the rail and stiles.

That’s probably more information than you cared to know but I thought I would just offer it just in case. Wikipedia has a simple definition along with a link to instructions for those who want to know more.

-- There are three types of people in the world, those who can count and those who can't!

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