USGS photo

This site, mainly featuring the web log for now, was created at the 2010 Woodworking in America show; at the time I didn’t know it, however. Some back story is in order before the reader is completely lost.

I am an expert. I have been doing what I do professionally for decades. Unfortunately, what I do has very little to do with woodworking. I am a computer guy: programmer by training, networking professional by choice. I also write. Put the two together and you have someone who can write pertinent computer stuff.

Conversely, I am a rank amateur woodworker. But I still like to write. I approached Senior Editor Glen D. Huey of Popular Woodworking magazine at WIA 2010 about writing for popwood. Glen was polite enough not to guffaw in my face, but I’m sure I gave him a funny story to tell the other editors over morning coffee. In retrospect, it was a pretty stupid thing to do. Not because editors are unassailable personages of great renown, but because you should have something to offer before putting yourself forward.

I thought about that brief conversation with Glen for a long time. I may have something to offer in the way of computer expertise, but I have nothing to offer the average wood worker. Except ignorance. So, without further adieu, welcome to the Great Lakes Woodshop, home of the Pragmatic Woodworker blog where I present glimpses of my journey to become an accomplished woodworker. You will laugh at my incompetence, wince at my stupidity, and generally have a good time bashing my latest folly. Or, through feedback on the site, you may help me become a real asset to the woodworking community.

The blog is entitled Pragmatic Woodworker because I am fundamentally a pragmatist by nature. I am soundly in the camp of form follows function; once it works, then you can make it look pretty. That is the way I write code, too. I write the core logic and then set about days of idiot proofing—sorry, I mean user interfacing.

The Journey Begins

The subtitle is “How I got Started in Woodworking”. My woodworking bug bite happened years prior to my fateful conversation with mssr. Huey. Like most fathers and homeowners, a small collection of tools is an inevitable fact of life. I still have the first electric drill and circular saw that arrived soon after closing on my first home. I even still use them fairly often.

That small collection of tools is used to assemble toys, hang curtains, install wood trim, uninstall wood trim, install the damn trim again, and build outdoor playsets.

After several years of dad and husband projects, something strange happened: my oldest son joined Cub Scouts. Did you know that Cub Scouts race little wooden cars? Furthermore, did you know that suburban masculinity is defined by these wooden wonders of gravity?

I sat down with my son after reading the directions. I began by asking him to go pick the die cast toy car we would use as a reference model. I helped him form the crude copy of the metal car. We painted and decorated it until it was something my son was really proud of. On race day it didn’t take more than a minute to realize we just entered a Pinto into a NASCAR event. My son was so crestfallen at our dismal showing that he didn’t want to touch the car ever again. I was willingly drafted into the secret wooden car war dads wage through their children. There is even a low budget movie based on this war. If you are a veteran of the wooden car war, the movie is a must see.

With two sons in scouts, we’ve probably built a score of the pinewood derby cars. The story would make a great black and white silent film montage like the early months of human flight, or the Keystone Cops.

The derby cars generated other projects, like a test track and jigs to keep my fingers away from the blade of my 12” Craftsmen chop saw—my chief instrument of wood mutilation for many years. Necessity drove the bug deeper under my skin. I found we needed an entertainment center for the minivan for a long trip with three young kids (works better than Benadryl and Brandy, and has the benefit of being legal). The minivan entertainment center turned into one for the Jeep, too. Let’s not forget the outdoor playset designed and built by me and three kids. Just like Genesis in the bible, a long series of begats ensued until finally, I realized that I was in too deep.

Woodworking in America 2010 really opened my eyes to a lot of things. Here are the two biggest.

All my life a chisel has been an extension of a hammer. Roy Underhill taught me that a hammer is the occasional extension of the chisel. Watching him wield various chisels in the classes he taught was a real education. Often times, I zoned out on the real topic so I could concentrate on how and why the chisel was used. I have a set of Irwin Marples chisels. I like them a lot. They are long, made of pretty good steel, and hefty enough to feel good in my big hand.

Frank Klausz cuts dovetails. He doesn’t even think of trying to achieve the precision of a router jig. His philosophy is that a hand cut dovetail needs to look hand cut so that the hand craftsmanship is easy to display. The subtext is that the folks well heeled enough to pay for hand craftsmanship, want others to see and know it. I learned that dovetails need to hold wood parts together more than they need to be part of the design.

Great Lakes Wood Shop is the outlet for my hobby. The Pragmatic Woodworker blog is the story of the journey. I have no idea what will show up on here in the future. Enjoy.