My first experience woodworking was with the Boy Scout Pinewood Derby car kit. Seeing that block of wood with 4 wheels and 4 nails sitting on the table, my grade school mind ran wild with all sorts of impractical designs. Thankfully, my father was there to ‘help’ and by the end had carved out a design that looked like a Dutch clog with wheels. On the plus side, I got to sand and paint the car, so that’s technically my first experience with woodworking.
The only other exposure I had to woodworking was from public television. At the time, our house was outside the reach of cable TV, so we had a spartan choice of 6 channels: 2, 5, 8, 17, 36 and 46. Given my options, and an adolescent’s appetite for anything televised, I would regularly end up watching whatever channel had the least boring show on. One particularly hot Southern summer, having exhausted every other channel, I ended up on PBS and discovered The Woodwright’s Shop. From the folksy intro music to the red suspenders and trademark hat, I mirthfully watched this show not to learn anything about woodworking, but to mimic and satirize what I saw as one of the corniest shows on TV, perhaps second to another PBS show, Commander Mark’s The Secret City. It would only take three decades to realize I was the goof and not them.
As a member of the ‘Xennial’ generation, most of my hobbies and work revolved around ones and zeroes. For work, I turned tinkering around with computers into a full time job that started with tech support and ended leading a team of engineers. My primary (and only!) hobby was video games. I was big into first person shooters like Unreal Tournament and Quake, even garnering a sponsorship by Alienware for my squad. Of course, e-sports then was nothing like e-sports today, so that sponsorship consisted of a nice discount on a computer I couldn’t afford rather than the mega deals you see now.
Once that had run its course, I spent the next 15 years in the World of Warcraft selling portals in Orgrimmar, crushing Kel’Thuzad when he made his first appearance, and grinding battlegrounds week after week to only reach Rank 10. And all of this is to say that I had dedicated my free time to digital triumphs and achievements that only a handful of people understand, and even fewer appreciate. If you told me a year and a half ago I would trade my perfectly binary world for the imperfect world of glue squeeze out, the importance 1/16th of an inch has when fitting a lap joint or that a 2×4 isn’t a 2×4 I would have called you crazy.
So what changed? Ignoring the obvious global crisis, for me it was extra time on my hands and a set of flower boxes I built to anchor string lights on our back patio. When my wife tasked me with this project, my first instinct was to just buy something. At the time though, things weren’t really open and it wasn’t clear when they would be. Fortunately, I had a some 4x4s and 2x4s on hand that had been left in our shed by the previous owner. Along with the wood, there was a cache of assorted screws and nails. That seemed like enough to make something.
As I set pencil to paper to conjure up what I had envisioned it dawned on me that, one, I can’t draw at all and two, even if I did, I had no idea how to build a box. Naturally, I fell back on what I did know; technology. I started watching video after video about building boxes, followed by a lengthy fall down a rabbit hole of ‘Learn Sketchup in 20 minutes!!!’ videos. Suitably equipped with all of that knowledge those content creators kindly shared, I spent the next several weeks making a line become a square, a square a cube, a cube a board, a board another board and so on until I had my first box.
I so enjoyed working in Sketchup that I ended up building a full model of my patio so I could figure out the best layout for the boxes and string lights. Satisfied with what I had digitally designed, I moved back into the real world and started cutting up the 2x4s for my first box and that was when I realized a 2×4 isn’t two inches by four inches like I made them in my Sketchup model.
Over the following months, Sketchup became my new video game. Building things replaced the achievements I chased in World of Warcraft. After a year at this, I still don’t know what I am doing most of the time, but I thoroughly enjoy doing it! If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering a lot of things. What is Orgrimmar or what is The Secret City? And what do they have to do with woodworking? They’re just here to give you an idea of how nothing in my background would have logically led me to woodworking.
For everyone that is as green as I am, I hope you will find subsequent posts useful as I document what has and hasn’t worked for me. For the well seasoned folks, I invite you to chime in when I get something wrong (which will happen a lot!) or if there is a much better way to do something than what I suggest. Either way, this will be an epic adventure into the World of Woodcraft!
PS – It turns out Roy Underhill from The Woodwright’s Shop is a lot cooler than I thought!
Based in Atlanta, Travis can’t draw a straight line, cut a board or drill a hole without a healthy flow of electrons. Follow along as this lifelong video game enthusiast, professional introvert, and one time IT virtuoso leaves behind cyberspace for a hybrid world where binary fuses with boards to create a digital woodspace. You can contact him at email@example.com.