a girl and her table saw

design, experiences, general crafts, tools

All of my life I’ve wanted to learn woodworking. It seems so amazing that you can just take a bunch of wood and make it into beautiful custom furniture. But woodworking requires a lot of space, a lot of tools and a willing teacher, none of which I’ve ever had access to.

Maybe it was turning 50 that did it. Maybe it was the $1,800 bid for the window seat we wanted to build in our kitchen. Maybe it was the deaths of two friends my age last September. Maybe it was seeing all of the tools sitting around during our home renovation. For whatever reason I told Bill that as soon as the house was finished I would be starting woodworking classes. “I knew it was coming,” he responded.

Our contractor suggested that I look for classes at the local community college. Yep, there it was. Basic Woodworking – $106 for 10 classes, 5 miles away, 7-9:45 Wednesday nights. Done! Bill and I discussed projects and although it seemed ambitious I started wondering if indeed I could build the window seat.

I started breaking it down in my mind. It’s basically a pair of boxes. We had some extra legs from our kitchen renovation. We’d need some drawers in the boxes but a thick foam cushion (which you can custom order online) would cover up most of my mistakes. Really all I need to look really good is the side of it because the other sides will be covered up by the cushion or walls.

I talked to Jerry, the instructor, about my plan. He gave me this look that said, “Are you kidding me? You’ve never used a table saw and you plan to make a custom window seat with drawers?” “But I have 10 weeks, right?” I interjected. “I’ll just take it a cut at a time but I have good hand skills and I’m extremely motivated.” “OK” he sighed unconvinced. I thought, “Oh Jerry. You’re on such a long, long list of people who underestimate me. Don’t let the 5′ frame fool ya. You wait. I’ll have a window seat at the end of this and you too will realize that I do NOT mess around.”

So next class comes and I have taken all of my measurements, gone to buy my first sheets of plywood, drawn up how to most efficiently cut the pieces from the plywood and researched the general strategy for assembling a window seat. It’s so much like making quilts. I show Jerry all of my notes. He’s unimpressed. Seriously, this guy has been doing woodworking for 40 years. He’s the guy you’d cast if you were doing a Ferris Bueller sequel that involves a high school wood shop. At this point I have this image of Jerry going home to his wife each Wednesday night saying, “How many weeks left do I have with that woman? She’s like an overly eager puppy! Oh my goodness. She’s gonna be the death of me.”

There is an eensy part of Jerry that doesn’t want to admit it but I think is really cheering me on. He sternly shows me how to cut my gigantic plywood sheets precisely. He chastises me for the way I’m measuring the distance from the blade to the fence (the thing you push the wood up against as you cut). “Why ya doin’ it that way?” he barks at me occasionally. “Because I haven’t done this before and I need you to show me the correct way to do it,” I respond casually.

Week by week I work away building the boxes that will be the base of my window seat. Each Wednesday night, covered in sawdust, I drive home through the dark exhilarated that I’m finally doing it. I’m learning woodworking. There’s progress each week. It’s starting to look like something. I think about my next 100 projects. I mentally rearrange the garage to figure out where I might be able to fit in a small wood shop this summer. I think about the day I bring the window seat home and how proud I’ll be to show it to guests. Our family will sit on it, looking out at the rose garden we’ve planted outside its window. And I’ll think, “Yeah. I made this.”

24 thoughts on “a girl and her table saw

  1. I am so proud of you! Betcha didn’t tell him about your degree or the business you own, or the books, publications……I could go on. Jerry has NO idea what is about to take place in his class that will change him forever. You know, one of the toughest audiences I face are my peers, he is probably facing that too! Go for it and have fun Weeks!

  2. Good for you! It’s hard as an adult to allow yourself to create something without expecting perfection, especially if you are already good at other hand crafted things, I think. Well crafted does not = perfect. That’s my mantra!

  3. You go girl! Able to take on windowseats, to leap tall bandsaws and the tablesaws in a single bound, to leave Jerry speechless as you show him how to east your sawdust… It’s Wonder Woman Weeks!
    Love this post! My self-taught woodworking husband has a garage full of tools he has accumulated over our 23 years, and I have conquered only the scrollsaw (its a lot like sewing), but often eye the tablesaw. We have saved thousands and awed friends as he has built a cradle for our third child, a changing table/dresser, beautiful shaker style cherry kit kitchen cabinets, a fireplace mantle, and now is turning beautiful pens and bowls.
    So inspired and proud of you. Feeling the same need as I approach the same number to try new things, to inspire our children to stretch, reach and expand in order to fan to flame all that God put inside them so they may live life to the fullest with no regrets! Think I’ll check out the local college! Yall have a blast, and we look forward to the fruits of your labor! Enjoy the process!

  4. Weeks, I am so proud of you! You’re going to enjoy gaining these skills and making things for your home.
    Years ago, as a recent underemployed college graduate I took a woodworking class through adult education. I made a simple desk – out of plywood. I used it until a move. Now I want to go back and refresh those skills! Let me tell you, from my experience, sewing is a lot easier, but the skills are complementary.

  5. I have so always felt the same way! And what a great idea, I’ll have to look into it. Jerry’s a fool to underestimate you and not a great teacher if he doesn’t believe that nothing is impossible as long as you are willing to do what it takes to get the job done.

    I agree with Mary P about the relation of woodworking (and probably any craft work) and quilting. One of my favorite inspiration pieces was an article written about a man who builds sailboats. Most of what he had to say about his “process” sounded so much like what we do in quilting. Go get your wood on!

  6. Good for you! I took an adult woodworking class too but had to bring the project home every week as there was no room to store it. It got too heavy and bulky for my little car so I had to abandon the project. Someday – I will finish it. I’m looking forward to seeing your finished creation!

  7. I was the only girl in a 7th grade woodshop class. I felt stared at all the time, but I did my work. I even finished my project after I broke my arm towards the end of the semester. The teacher told me that I was one of the best students, because I took my time and was meticulous. Good job, Weeks!

  8. Fabulous Weeks! I love woodworking too & I thought as well that this is like the quilting process – measuring, cutting, putting them together & ta dah !!!! Looking forward to your window seat. Don’t have access to carpentry class in Dubai so I took a short cut & “made” one recently, by flipping a 3-shelved bookcase over to its side & foam-cushioned the top.

  9. I’m so excited to see you doing this. I’d love to learn woodworking but I don’t see it anywhere in the near future. In the house we retire in, I really want a “basement” so that I can have half for a studio and my husband (and I) can use the other half for a workshop. It’s closer than it ever has been before. I can’t wait to see the finished product.

  10. Good for you, Weeks! How exciting to learn and conquer something new…

    By the way, Bill presented at our guild in South Holland last week. I wanted to let him know how much I enjoyed his presentation and all of the beautiful quilts you have made together. I was so inspired and could hardly sleep that night….

  11. Gotta love a woman who isn’t afraid to pursue learning new things, even HARD new things. I *highly* respect and admire that.

  12. So timely to read about your woodworking experience. Many years ago I took a woodworking class and built a mission style headboard for our bed. I then acquired a circular saw, drill/screwdriver and electric sander, but didn’t take on a big project again.
    Just last week during my spring break I was bit by the bug again as I realized the only way I would every have a dedicated quilting studio was to rework the room myself. I tore out a space hogging closet, reusing those 2 x 4’s into a custom bench/windowseat. The wall is angled, so our handyman neighbor tried to explain a complicated way to get the angle cut correctly. After a little thought, I used my 5 inch wide quilting ruler and it worked perfectly.
    Now on to the cutting table/storage unit – I am pumped!
    Actually the rules of woodworking are very similar to quilting – measure twice, cut once – the blades are just a little more dangerous.

  13. This is fantastic! It takes guts to go after what you want- especially if it seems completely ridiculous to other people. Can’t wait to see more pictures.

  14. You go girl! I think there’s great joy in making products (quilts, carpentry…) that are useful as well as attractive. Being able to custom-make something for a purpose is a woonderful skill :-)

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