Housing:  Last week, a female reader was asking where can a woman (or any gender) go to learn shop skills, if they didn’t pick it up in school…

The answer to this is both simple and hard (a Zen thing) because there are tons of ways to learn.

First, though, a little background on why the American shop classes have been disappeared, largely at the hands of lawyers.  I know it ain’t nice to stick it to the legal profession, but there is risk to working with shop tools.  And in the “newly arrived hormones” zone (of middle  and high school), all classes are risky business.  Unless the shop instructor rules with an iron fist.  Problem is, that flies in the face of the “molly-coddle my little darlings or we’ll sue” crowd who want to raise a pile of snowflake offal so useless (and dependent) that they can’t even figure out what sex they are without counseling.

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While this isn’t about the “permissive and stupid” level of society, exactly, it is an article about being a Maker of Things.  Being a Maker shakes off being a Sheep.

MAKING is a high art form in a world of group-thought, non-making, namby-pamby’s who live off the work of others.  I won’t mention the young man who told me “If I’d only known life was really this hard, I wish my parents had been tougher on me when I was younger...”

Rule 1:  Making Stuff is Hard

By “hard” I don’t mean you will come down with migraines from the headwork involved.  No way.  In fact, actually making things is easy because there are only four basic operations in shop practice:

  • Measure (& mark)
  • Cut  (the material, not you)
  • Join (the pieces together)
  • Finish (with paint or whatever)

It gets dresses up with layers of gobbledygook but them’s are the facts. In fine woodworking, sometimes you finish then assemble, but it’s still four main steps, regardless of the dance.

HARD means this (and it’s like martial arts):

When you are Making, you have to be in charge of the workpiece and tools, TRIPLE ESPECIALLY POWER TOOLS at all times, or you can break things and get injured.  You never forget your first saw bite.

Loose the soft mindset, all the crap about “nice” and “sharing” and “gentle” and “caring.” Makers are powerful people. They are controllers and builders of a future.  Hands-on so nothing moves without your permission.  You’re the boss or bossette.

If you are a MAKER, then by God, you’re running the show and that show will run safely and to (or ahead) of schedule.

Over the course of us rebuilding our home in the woods, Elaine’s become “harder” in the shop.  She doesn’t…

  1. Run the table saw without constantly expecting kick-back.  This is where the wood is ripped out of your hand and flies out the back of the saw at warp speed.
  2. She doesn’t have her hands in front of the blade EVER and she sets a rip fence, stands to the side, wears protective eyewear…ear plugs, all that stuff that matters.
  3. Loosely held drill press work?  Hell no.  Clamps it, vices it.  Again, after having workpieces ripped from your hands enough times, you figure out that the Big, Painful events come from being namby-pamby.  No! Get tough.  Get in charge. Bolt that work down, use jigs  – guides, clamps and tack welds if necessary.  That’s how you get quality and an  accident free shop…
  4. Even something as benign as the belt sanding station is a ‘gotcha’ done wrong.  Free-hand sanding is a wonderful art.  Just so long as you learn the “secret sauce” is NEVER have the workpiece  contact the belt in front of your hand.  Always keep your hands in position so if the workpiece moves, you don’t get pushed into the machine.
  5. Loose hair and clothing must never come near machinery.

This all seems like SIMPLE stuff, OBVIOUS as hell, but these kinds of mistakes (and offshoring jobs to China et al) is why we don’t have shop class anymore.  People are stupid.  So, we took away one of the routes to real creativity, thus sealing our fate as pond scum.

Not saying it’s all bad…dumb people, like cattle, are easier to manipulate.

There’s a term in flying airplanes that gets to the idea I’m grinding on here:  Many an accident report includes the phrase “Failed to maintain positive control...”  You don’t land in a 20 knot crosswind kindly, gently, slowly, group-love effectively.  You slam the controls and never show fear as you horse an aircraft around the sky, beating it so it lands on the dime.  

This is true in the shop, as well. 

Nice is for date night.  Not high speed driving, flying, or a shop full of power tools.

I can not emphasize enough that there’s a reason that you’ll find a lot of craftsmen, pilots, offshore sailors, code-warriors, and so forth, are total control freaks.  The bottom line is control is what ensures a workmanlike outcome.

You don’t really think Oilman2, for example, would tolerate nice, gentle, well-intentioned sloppy work on a rig, do you?  Hell no. To make first-class money, you do first class work.  Or you won’t make the money for long.

MAKING is NOT gender specific.  It is, however, not for the weak willed, indecisive, or wimpy.  SJW’s aren’t welcome.  Cowgirl (or Cowboy) up and keep that “Let’s git ‘er done” ‘tude on at all times. If you Make, don’t be Weak.  Dare to be great….and magically, it is so.

Rule #2:  Have a Purpose, Learn the Tools

Pappy and an uncle of mine framed up a house one summer (back in the day) over the course of two or three weeks using ONLY three hand saws.  Disston 8 point and 10 point crosscuts and a 5-1/2 point rip saw.  Crosscut saws cut across the grain of the wood.  Rip saws cut with the grain.  They manually nailed the whole thing.  Pappy always said there was something especially rewarding from framing-in a house…he thought of it as “capturing space for our use” and I have to say it’s right.  I get the same joy out of deck building.

Materializing “things” out of “nothings” is Alchemy of the highest order.  Your own little church of creation.

When you Make, have a defined outcome in mind.  Once you have the outcome, pick the right tools for the job.  You would never frame a house with a jig saw, but you’d never do a small arty-curvy thing on a 12″ chop saw, either.  (I might, but I am a chop saw wizard.)   Start small.  Make some simple things.  Try with and without plans. Inspect the results.  Be critical of your own  work so others won’t have to be.

Rule #3:  Watch Videos

You can find a video for every power tool on the planet on YouTube.

Here’s a good table saw intro with lots of safety discussion.  And here’s a bit more for you.

Most important, though is probably this video which gets into what causes blade binding and kickback, in turn.  You are plenty bright to find 5 Basic Cuts and other skill builders.

Here is a shop task I will resort to YT for:  I have one of those Harbor Freight power band saws for cutting steel and other metals.  Fine, but lately is has gotten wonky – and won’t cut straight.

Reading language that might make sense to a Chinese machinist is one approach, but here’s an almost identical saw and video showing how it gets tuned up.  In a 14 minute video, I can find the 5-minutes that will save me an hour.

You’ve got the idea, though:  Hit YouTube and look for the tool you’re going to use.  Buy a jig saw?  See Woodworking Basics  GRAND jigsaw video here.

Believe it or not, confidence comes from doing and making mistakes.  The craftsman has made every mistake in the book already.  You haven’t.  But give yourself time…we all do.

Start small.  A Jigsaw is fine.  Get one with a laser-guide.  No point making life unnecessarily hard, is there?

Rule #4:  Find Classes

A lot of the bigger retailers have classes.  Woodcraft.com, for example, not only has stores, but they also have some great classes.

Also don’t overlook media sources like DIY Network.

Check with your local home center (like Home Depot here) and see if they have classes you might find interesting.

Fine Woodworking has a directory of some woodworking clubs and websites over here.

And let’s not overlook the Woodworkers Guild of America which also has both free and advanced material from their site.

At first you’ll want to “color inside the lines” and deal with suggested projects.  But, after a while, you’ll be able to do things like the picture below from back when I cobbled up the UrbanSurvival office on one end of the shop building…

To this day, there is not a single plan for this.  Just a Peoplenomics article describing what a dream office would be like.  Construction is magic:  You take an IDEA and condense it into some two-by-fours, glass, wiring, and some dimensional wood and OMG…an Office!

Part of UrbanSurvival digs came from  “Hmmm… I have this old piece of glass from a storm door…bet I could turn it into a horizontal window…”  Immediately, things took on a life of their own.

One mistake I made was not putting down more permanent flooring.  Since I decked with 3/4 birch ply, it was given a few coats of Diamond Flooring Varathane and I told myself “Some day I will put down a real floor…

Well, that was, uh, 11years ago.  Which brings us to the final rule:

Rule #5:  Do it Right the First Time

I had no idea 10-years could get by so quick!  Now, the idea of taking the room down to walls for a second generation office makeover seems a foolish use of time  & resources.

Stick to it…your membership in the Home Handybastard’s has been approved.

In the Immortal Name of our idol Dewalt Skil-Decker, welcome to the Order of Makers.  Do.  There is no TRY.

Write when you get rich, or finish that spec house..,.


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