Woodworking for fun and sanity

In October, it will have been four years since my wife and I packed up our lives, our dog, our cat, and our son to leave Toronto for good and move to Kitchener. There’s a lot to love about this city, and I’m happy we made the move. Toronto had long since priced us out of any chance of buying a home, and the cost of rent (for a measly one-and-den condo) was leaving us in the negative month-by-month even as a two-income household. Our first residence in Kitchener was a three bedroom townhouse (for less than our condo rental in Toronto) with a garage.

Having a garage for the first time since leaving my parents’ home in New Brunswick was a big step. This finally enabled me to jump into two of my passions that I had been putting off due to space and funds for many years: motorcycles and woodwork.

Woodwork has been a great hobby the past four years because it ticks a lot of boxes for me. By designing my own pieces, I work through rusty math skills and keep up with drawing. By being too cheap to fully jump into expensive tools and all the fun toys, I’m forced to get creative with jigs and workarounds to finish whatever piece I’m working on. And since we moved from a series of tiny apartments into a townhouse, there’s no shortage of furniture and storage needed that I’d rather build than buy.

After a little over a year in that first rented townhouse, we borrowed and scraped together enough funds to buy a townhouse of our own in Kitchener. Now that we’d had a garage for a year, it was considered a non-negotiable item in our short list of requirements. I’m happy we got it, because a fixer-upper comes with no shortage of repairs and upgrades to do. These allow me to continue building my skills in planning, designing, budgeting, and all the techniques involved in slowly working my way through each project.

early sketch of a desk and shelves next to the finished install

Early iPad sketch of a desk and shelves next to yesterday’s final installation, complete with my assistant. You’ll notice a few changes due to available materials, additional storage, and cost of pre-manufactured components.

I imagine some folks would find this all to be tedious, time-consuming, or an overall chore. Maybe it is to some extent. There are certainly some projects which drag on, that I’d rather skip. But overall, I love it. The feeling of accomplishment at standing back to check out the closet shelves you’ve just installed. The pride in showing off your newly refinished kitchen bar. It scratches that itch of starting, sticking through, and finishing a project to my own standards and knowing I was able to learn and get better at something along the way.

If you’re feeling bogged down or uncreative from the daily grind of work and routine, pick a small wood project and try building something with your hands! You don’t need a ton of expensive tools (I only just bought a tablesaw six months ago and had been making do without for three-and-a-half years prior) or materials. With a hammer, hand saw, sandpaper and nails, you can build just about anything simple — from birdhouses to bookshelves. These don’t make much mess and can be built in as small a space as an apartment balcony. It is never too early or too late to get started!

good clean fun and the art and craft of wood hardcover books on a wooden desk

I have personally found two main books helpful in getting me up and running. “The Art and Craft of Wood” by Silas J. Kyler and David Hildreth, and “Good Clean Fun” by Nick Offerman. The former is an all-encompassing look at woodwork, from harvesting, milling, planning, building, and finishing. The latter is a fun tour of Offerman’s shop, including many challenging projects (which I haven’t really tried yet), and I very much enjoy his passion and writing style.

I started this piece intending to review my favourite wood finishing oil or wax poetic on the philosophy of jigs. I didn’t quite get there today, but I will. Just like I’ll get to those baseboards in our upstairs hallway.

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