Extremely Average #1: New Year...New Hobby

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Blog entry by Ecocandle posted 01-03-2010 03:41 AM 2332 reads 1 time favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Extremely Average series Part 2: Reflections of a Mortise »

I have been known to take up a hobby or 37. At 42, on the cusp of 43, and well into the ‘balding’ years, I have decided that, in lieu of a midlife crisis, I would take up woodworking. Don’t get me wrong, a new car and a 27 year old with huge, firm, hands would be wonderful; But I can’t afford the 27 year old, and I am not into cars that much.

In the summer of 2009, I went to an arts festival in Des Moines. The gentleman, who won best of show, did so with some amazing etched clay bowls. I am not sure why those clay pots inspired me to take up wood working, or if they were the only inspiration, but shortly thereafter I found myself living in the thriving metropolis of Martelle Iowa. I had my first ever basement.

Without a lot of money to buy all that one needs to build furniture, I started with magazines. The first one was called, “Start Woodworking”, from the editors of Fine WoodWorking. I read tips on tools, ideas for projects, stories about great woodworkers, and I began to formulate a plan. I would start with a workbench, the workbench on page 24. The editors of the magazine did a good job of designing a project with the beginner in mind. They even provided a DVD with instructions that were really helpful.

The bench took several months to complete, though the plans were designed so that one could complete it is a weekend. I would guess that I spent 5 hours of thinking about building the bench, for every hour of actual working on it. I thought about what I needed to complete each step, but I was always only focused on the next step. The first step was to buy the 2×4s, 4×4s, 3/8“ threaded rod, and a miter saw. Not an electric miter saw, a cheap manual one. I could afford it, it would cut, and I didn’t at all care about how long it would take to make each cut. I also discovered in the garage and old hack saw that I could use for cutting the threaded rod.

With the wood cut, I decided I wanted to sand my lumber. The next purchase was a small Black and Decker ‘Mouse’ sander, some 80, 120, 180 grit sandpaper, and a cool looking level that I didn’t need but it was shiny and I was powerless to NOT buy it. The next few weeks found me sanding each piece a bit each day. Barely into my first project I was already getting addicted to the process. The feeling of the construction grade lumber in my hand, after it had been sanded, gave me the slightest glimpse into the beauty of working with wood. I thought about how it must be to run my fingers across a piece of glass smooth mahogany or birds eye maple.

The plans required that I route a 3/8 inch groove into the stretchers. Before I read this magazine I didn’t even know what a router or a stretcher was. Each new term learned, each skill set explored, opened up the possibilities that developing woodworking skills offers. And each discovery brought the reality home that care needs to be taken to master each aspect of woodworking. So before I could move on to routing I needed to do a bit of research. This is how one turns a 2 day project into a 2 month quest.

I read reviews and comments. There are many good routers to choose from and I decided to go with the Bosch 2.25 hp router with both the plunge base and the fixed base. I bought 3 bits. A 2” Spiral Downcut CL 2BB and a straight 3/8” by Amana Tools, and a 3/8” Up Spiral bit by Freud. I have come to the conclusion that Freud and Amana Tools are the two best out there. Admittedly Amana makes 2 levels of router bits, and I can’t speak to their low end line, but the high end bits have been a joy.

With the router in hand, I had all the tools required to build my workbench. Each step was approached with a sense of confusion and fear. The first time I used the router I was filled with trepidation and pizza, as it was after dinner when I gave it a try. I spent close to 40 minutes setting up a guide for my router. Pieces of 2×4 clamped with 2 24” and 2 36” Jet clamps on my make shift workbench, allowed me to position the router to route. I had read that it is best to take several small passes for safety. Since I was already a bit scared that the router would spin wildly out of control and drive itself into my spleen, leaving me bleeding and generally disappointed, I decided that small passes were a good idea.

It worked as advertised. My first 2 passes made a wonderful 3/8” grove in my wood. I was filled with pride and sure that I was well on my way to being one of the greatest woodworkers of the last 700 years. My second board didn’t go as well. I had tightened the collet on the router, though apparently not enough and it had slid up slightly. This had produced a slight up ramp for the groove. My ego needed this set back and I retightened it and decided that I was the greatest woodworker in my basement at that moment. This was good enough for me.

The rest of the project required gluing 2 pieces of ¾ “ ODF together to form the top, drilling some holes in the 4×4 legs, and attaching the 9” Jet vice. The only difficult part was installing the vice as it didn’t come with instructions, but my own insecurity about getting it right, made me take it at a glacial pace. When I flipped the bench back over and put a piece of wood in the vice, I almost wept with joy.

At the end of the quest I learned several things. 1) When marking wood to be cut or drilled, avoid doing it while watching college football. My bench still bears the scars of several errant holes. 2) Drilling holes with a hand drill, so that they are straight, requires a bit of practice. 3) High quality drill bits are much easier to use than really old, worn out, dull, bits. This likely applies to all tools, the better the quality, the better the results. 4) Fostner bits are cool. 5) I love my workbench, with its shiny red Jet 9” vice. 6) The journey before me is perhaps the most exciting one I have undertaken in my lifetime.

-- Brian Meeks,

12 comments so far

View SPalm's profile


5332 posts in 4208 days

#1 posted 01-03-2010 04:20 AM

Fun stuff. Hang in there, it gets even better. There are all kinds of scary and really cool tools to use and learn. The pride and amazement never ceases to amaze me too.

Welcome to the party,

-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View ChuckV's profile


3197 posts in 3853 days

#2 posted 01-03-2010 04:26 AM

I really enjoyed reading your post. Your humor and enthusiasm show clearly. I look forward to seeing your progress.

-- “Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are.” ― R. Waters

View Ecocandle's profile


1013 posts in 3392 days

#3 posted 01-03-2010 04:30 AM

SPalm and ChuckV,

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my drivel. I enjoyed writing it. I am pleased to have found this forum for sharing my journey and helping me along the way. I tried to send you each a personal note, but alas, couldn’t figure it out. Obviously that is a part of the journey.


-- Brian Meeks,

View Don's profile


517 posts in 3399 days

#4 posted 01-03-2010 04:50 AM

Welcome to the world of wood working Brian! That’s the most interesting blog I’ve read on this site yet. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your journey and seeing some projects.

-- Don - I wood work if I could. Redmond WA.

View a1Jim's profile


117592 posts in 3903 days

#5 posted 01-03-2010 05:00 AM

That was really really long. LOL just kidding Brian Hey welcome to the neighborhood and I like your writing style.
Enjoy there are allot of good folks here if you need just ask.

View Lenny's profile


1619 posts in 3853 days

#6 posted 01-03-2010 05:06 AM

Hi Brian,

Welcome to Lumberjocks and to woodworking as well. I thoroughly enjoyed your levity. If your woodworking comes around to the level of your writing skills you will be quite adept! I have been woodworking for 30 years now and it’s great to hear the perspective of someone just beginning to enjoy this great pastime of ours. If it isn’t already, it will become your passion. Thanks for sharing your workbench tale. Once you learn how to post pictures of your projects, please post some of the workbench. I would love to see it.

As for sending a personal message (PM) to a fellow Lumberjock (LJer), simply click on the “home” link next to their name. Once on their home page, look for “send a message” and click on it. That’s all there is to it. Happy 2010, best wishes and I look forward to reading more of your writing.


-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! Lenny, East Providence, RI

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 4200 days

#7 posted 01-03-2010 05:44 AM

Hey Brian, you’re an excellent writer. It will be fun to watch your woodworking come up to speed with your writing. This is going to be a popular blog because everyone can identify with it, whether they are at the same point in their woodworking journey or far beyond it… everyone knows what this feels like.

But even for seasoned woodworkers the learning curve is never ending, and every time you try something new it feels just like what you described. For example, I have become very proficient in the use of power tools over the last few years. I read every book and magazine I could get my hands on, read every review, and slowly built up my arsenal of routers, saws, sanders, etc., to the point where I was actually getting paid to build furniture for people. And now I am having these “ah-ha… oooh… whoa!” moments all over again lately as I teach my self how to use hand tools.

Keep writing. I’ll follow along. Welcome to lumberjocks.

-- Happy woodworking!

View patron's profile


13646 posts in 3667 days

#8 posted 01-03-2010 06:05 AM

well said , brian .
you have really captured the spirit of woodworking ,
as blake said there is still the beginner in all of us .
your approach is straight forward and thoughtful .
with some time and the enthusiasm you exhibit ,
you will find yourself enjoying it even more .
as for posting pictures ,click this ,

welcome to LJ’s .

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View nmkidd's profile


758 posts in 3499 days

#9 posted 01-03-2010 08:12 AM

Very well written blog…...enjoyed the levity thrown in here and there…...I too, am a novice and spend more time thinking(usually with a cup of coffee and a twinkie…....twinkies are inspirational) about how to approach my task at hand…...looking forward to seeing your work bench.

Welcome to LJs… that last couple months I have got some good learnin’ from all these wonderful folks here…..hope you do the same.

-- Doug, New Mexico.......the only stupid question is one that is never asked!........don't fix it, if it ain't broke!

View douginaz's profile


220 posts in 4328 days

#10 posted 01-03-2010 04:00 PM

Hi Brian, welcome L.J.’s. Great start on your woodworking journey. I remember those feeling of trepidation, of being just a little unsure but willing to try. Excellent way to get know your fellow jocks and let us know exactly where you are in the process. I really look forward to hearing about the next challenge you set for yourself. It is really refreshing to hear someone speak so candidly and with such a great sense of humor.

I hope you stay with it, you have many great and not so great experiences just waiting for you.

Doug in AZ.

-- If you need craft books - please visit our small business at

View Russel's profile


2199 posts in 4265 days

#11 posted 01-03-2010 04:11 PM

Brian, welcome to the Wonderful World of Wood Working. You’re a good 5 years younger than I was when I started, but I can tell you that I’m not the least bit sorry. I can appreciate your satisfaction with each new skill. My early projects were chosen specifically so that I did something new with each.

You’ll find LumberJocks both helpful and inspirational. You’ll learn to do things you didn’t know existed and before long you’ll be making some of the best stuff you’ve ever seen.

Welcome, and enjoy your journey.

-- Working at Woodworking

View ShannonRogers's profile


540 posts in 4114 days

#12 posted 01-04-2010 06:13 PM

I really enjoyed this post. You have a great writing style that encourages one to read on. I love your enthusiasm and as someone who like you has taken up more than a few hobbies, I am pleased to say that this one has really stuck. I can only hope you find the same addiction in the coming years. What is most exciting is the challenge never ends and you will be approaching new things every day to churn up that “fear and confusion” you spoke about. Good luck in your journey and bookmark this site as your apprenticeship program. The collected knowledge in this community is staggering.

-- The Hand Tool School is Open for Business! Check out my blog and podcast "The Renaissance Woodworker" at

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