Aug 172021
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The first thing I did once I got my Highland Woodworker Online Class Membership was to channel surf the videos available. As I perused the selection, I was afraid a lot of the content would be above my woodworking experience level. I have a few projects completed that range from cutting boards to coffee tables, but nothing particularly challenging. Seeing classes about turning, carving, inlay, etc, I felt out of my depth and thought maybe these classes are better for more advanced woodworkers. Considering the course titles, I settled on ‘Foundations for a Great Finish’ taught by Len Reinhardt as I had a cutting board that I was in the process of finishing.

Before starting, my expectation was that the class would build on an accepted base of knowledge I probably did not have. I thought for sure the basics like how to sand, how to stain, would be glossed over or not mentioned at all. Boy was I wrong! Not only does the class cover those basic techniques, but after two hours I was beginning to completely re-think my approach to finishing which could be described as haphazard at best, and destructive at worse. I would sand too much, too little, round over edges, watch swirls really pop when stained, it was such a mess that I would do as little as possible when finishing. To my family and friends, those projects looked great! But really, would they ever say ‘this looks terrible; just look at those swirl marks!’

One of the simplest things I learned in Len’s class was how to sand without rounding over the edges. It turns out, if you keep 50% or more of the sander on the surface you are sanding, you’ll be hard pressed to go over the edge. For me, this was a revelation. I think I was on the verge of this discovery, and if I had to articulate it I would have said ‘keep most of the sander on the surface’, but having Len say ‘50% or more’ immediately gave me a rule I understood and could implement. Later that night, I went to my garage and started sanding the cutting board I was working on. Low and behold I could not curb my edges even if I tried following my newfound rule. Now this is the kind of stuff I desperately needed! Like Luke when he sent a shudder through his drowned X-Wing on Dagobah (nerdy Star Wars reference…), I was beginning to feel the force flow through me.

Another thing I learned is that there is a difference in sandpaper. The extent of my knowledge was grits existed and were to be worked through. I mean all of the YouTube creators talked about the grits. What they didn’t talk about was sandpaper quality. To my surprise it turns out that the Harbor Freight special works great for fun woodworking, but not so much for fine woodworking. Apparently, there are several sandpaper standards that are in a constant struggle for your allegiance with names like FEPA, CAMI, ANSI, Micron, etc. No joke, I used to pick out sandpaper purely based on what color it was so I would have all low grits as red, medium were blue, and the highest ones were gold. I thought that was a pretty great visual system for not using the wrong paper. The downside was that some of the grits were labeled ‘120’, others ‘P120’, and a handful had no discernible label at all. It hadn’t crossed my mind that each type of sandpaper had a variety of differences and that moving between standards willy-nilly would make finishing more difficult.

According to my notes, there were 17 other insights I picked up so I would say this first class was worth it. One thing unrelated to woodworking that I wanted to note is the camera work for the class. I had expected a single camera focused on Len the entire time in the traditional ‘sage on the stage’ format many digital classrooms still use. I’m happy to say that wasn’t at all how the class was shot. They had multiple cameras that provided visual variety throughout the class, and more importantly, had the ability to zoom in when Len called attention to things he was showing like grain pattern. The variety of shots, coupled with full screen legible slides, really creates an atmosphere as close to being in a classroom as you can with on demand content.

Overall, this was a really great class to start with. For a rating, I give it Soft Maple. It’s neither too hard nor soft, can be used by a variety of woodworkers, and it looks good when finished. While I couldn’t raise my hand and ask questions, that was an extremely minor tradeoff for what I gained watching this class and had I paid for the live class, would have been able to ask questions. I think the content of this course is especially valuable for woodworkers that have been at it for a year or so. Staying on the topic of finishing I’ll be writing about ‘Making Wood Pop with Color’ next, so stay tuned!

Click here to find out out more information about The Highland Woodworker Online Classroom and to sign-up for your own membership.

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

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