From the publishing schedules and tables of contents of the woodworking magazines it would seem we woodworkers are expected to slow down and shift gears in the summertime. We are expected to be gardening, golfing, fishing, or, if we build anything at all, it is supposed to be deck furniture, gazebos, or lawn games. Don’t despair, however, it’s summertime, and as DuBose Heyward wrote and George Gershwin set to music in 1933-34, the “livin’ is easy.”
And the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’
And the cotton is high
Your daddy’s rich
And your mamma’s good lookin’
So hush little baby
Don’t you cry
No doubt there are plenty of summer distractions for us woodworkers. The lawn must be mowed, the garden tended, and the lure of the biking and hiking trails is strong. Golf clubs and fishing poles call our names and beg us for outings. But hang in there and “hush little baby, don’t you cry,” ’cause summertime can also be awesome shop time.
Sunshine & Air
Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis’ advice that “Sunshine is the best disinfectant” is often quoted but seldom followed in our nation’s capital. Here in the North Country where we seem locked in a multi-month state of constant cold, rainy, and overcast conditions, we have no evidence that the judge’s advice is true either. Yet, as best we can remember, sunshine is a wonderful disinfectant.
If you are lucky enough to have some sunshine this summer, fling open those shop windows and doors! Roll your equipment out and maybe do a little springtime cleaning. I read about one woodworker who opens the door on his shop when the weather gets warm and blasts it clean with a leaf blower. Your shop may not need disinfecting, but a little sunshine and fresh air won’t hurt!
For me, summer is a great time to do some equipment maintenance. Clean, lube, sharpen, and calibrate machinery. The things you can see in the bright sunshine may surprise you. Sort all the hardware and fasteners that have accumulated. A pleasant way to spend an hour or so is sorting screws while sitting on the deck sipping your favorite beverage. Have a driveway sale and clear out unused tools and gadgets. Need to strip a finish? It is so much more pleasant to do that nasty, smelly job outside. Want to run your belt sander over the top of your workbench? Let the wind take away the sawdust in the wide, open spaces. All those wood chips and sawdust you collected over the winter will make great compost or mulch, so get to work. Best of all, just let the sounds of summer envelope you as you quietly plane a board to perfect flatness.
Summer brings out the neighbors. Passersby may take a peek into your shop, and with a little luck, may be intrigued. Your summertime woodworking may start another soul down the path of this outstanding hobby.
Stock Up On Materials
Buying wood is almost always fun. Combing through the stacks, looking at boards, imagining the pieces and placement in your next masterpiece is all part of the excitement of woodworking. But for those of us in snow country, the wintertime buying experience is fraught with potential for turning a normally pleasurable experience into at best an ordeal, and at worst, a misadventure.
Clearly I remember the day last winter when I purchased some stunning black walnut. The looking and buying experience was great…the loading and unloading experience, not so much. By the time I kibitzed with the guys at the mill for an hour or so, spent an hour or so picking my boards, and drank coffee for another hour with my buddies, the weather had taken a turn.
I loaded long, wide 10/4 boards into my truck in 35MPH, 20 degree wind blowing thick snow. All the way home I faced the dual worries of (bad) slipping off the road and (worse) damaging my new boards. My stress was exacerbated when I got home and couldn’t get into my drive or unload my lumber until I shoveled what, by then, was a foot of snow. Boards that might normally take a couple of days to acclimate took several days just for the snow and ice to melt and to dry out. Summertime is a much better time to stock up on wood for all those winter projects that are noodling around in the back of your head; and with a little luck, you may even get a bargain since most other woodworkers are busy doing “summer stuff.”
Summertime can also be a great time for tool buying. Many people start to conduct and to shop garage and estate sales in earnest when the weather improves. Many retailers run promotional sales, since traditionally wintertime is shop time and the summer business is slow. Take advantage of the slow business season for your favorite supplier. In addition to that shiny new power tool, stock up on glue, finishing supplies, and sandpaper.
One of these mornings
You’re going to rise up singing
Then you’ll spread your wings
And you’ll take to the sky
But till that morning
There’s a’nothing can harm you
With daddy and mamma standing by
Do Something BIG to Improve Your Shop
Constantly tweaking, rearranging, and generally “perfecting” your shop? Then summer is a great time to make major changes. Add a window, replace a door, or just go ahead and knock out that wall and add on – you know you have been wanting to!
A friend of mine is plumbing his walls for air and adding a central air compressor. Another is changing from portable dust collection to a big, more sophisticated central dust collection system with all its attendant pipes, blast gates, and fancy remote controls. One guy has pulled everything in his shop out into the driveway, covered it all with a big tarp, and is epoxy coating his concrete floor. Summertime is great shop expansion and rejuvenation time!
Keep on Woodworking
Most of all, summertime is a great time to just keep on woodworking. Although now in late-June we still have the heat on where I live, at least in many parts of America you can work comfortably in your shop this time of year. The fresh air and summer breezes will likely help to oxygenate your creative brain cells, and new ideas will abound.
There are practical reasons to not take a summer hiatus, too. It seems that almost every year I belatedly give shop-crafted holiday gifts about a month late. Planning on giving a gift of your craftsmanship this winter? Start early (like now) and make sure you have plenty of time to get the project finished. One year I had to warn everyone to let their gifts sit for a while, preferably in the garage, before they used them – the finish wasn’t fully cured.
If summertime woodworking makes you feel guilty about all those outdoor projects languishing on the to-do list, don’t despair. You have always been creative enough to get a new tool purchase past your frugal spouse…you can probably figure out a way to justify hiring someone to clean the gutters, trim the bushes, or paint the house. How much do you love woodworking? If you figure paying the kid down the street a few bucks to mow your lawn is stimulating the economy and giving you more shop time, you are an avid woodworker. If the grass grows to the point the neighbor mows it for you, you are obsessed, and we are undoubtedly kindred spirits.
It’s summertime, and I think the magazines all have it wrong. Summertime is prime woodworking time!
|Figure 1 – Sam Cooke|
By the way, if the Porgy and Bess tune “Summertime” is conjuring pleasant memories, download a few versions of the song and give them a spin while you do something enjoyable in your shop. It seems almost everyone has recorded this song at one time or other (from Billie Holiday to Willie Nelson and Ella Fitzgerald to The Zombies), and almost any version is guaranteed to put you in a good woodworking mood.
|Figure 2 – Janis Joplin|
Need a recommendation? No music collection is complete without the Sam Cooke version, of course, but my current faves are alternating between the jazzy scat-infused Billy Stewart version (that man had soul and definitely felt the music!) and Janis Joplin’s bluesy, earthy, and dare I say it, sensual version. By the way, Janis’ version has some of the most raw and gutsy guitar work I ever heard on any Joplin song. I only wish I could have seen her perform it live.
|Figure 3 – Billy Stewart|
This article was originally published in The Down to Earth Woodworking column in the July 2011 edition of Wood News Online.