I’m an amateur woodworker from Kentucky. I’ve been enthralled by wood for as long as I can remember. As a boy growing up on my parents tobacco farm I was surrounded by it. Our tobacco barns were covered in oak. The tier poles used to hang the tobacco on were often 8 inch diameter eastern red cedar. Whenever my dad needed to do something involving carpentry I was usually around, and we both enjoyed watching The Woodwright’s Shop and The New Yankee Workshop on PBS. We respected Norm, but our hearts were really with Roy. For my Dad, Roy often demonstrated techniques that were still in use by people when he was growing up. I was just amazed at the stuff Roy could make with a few hand tools. I bought a few of his books, but never tried to make anything.
It wasn’t until about 1994 that I became serious about creating things from wood. While perusing the stacks in a bookstore in Lexington, Ky, I came across The Traditional Bowyer’s Bible, vol 1. It gave step by step examples on how to make traditional bows and arrows from trees, boards, bamboo, etc. I was hooked. You didn’t need much in the way of tools to make a wooden bow. A hatchet, a rasp, a card scraper or spokeshave, some string, and a little knowledge can have you roaming your neighborhood like Robin Hood in an amazingly quick time. What I didn’t realize was how good a primer in woodworking bow making was. You learned, sometimes the hard way, how to read wood and how to use the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the knots and grain to your favor. You learned which woods were easy to work and which gave you the best arrows. And you made beautiful wooden objects. The graceful arc of an English longbow at full draw is an amazing sight to behold.
Then in 2007, I was in my local grocery store when I passed down the aisle where the magazines were. One magazine with a barrister’s book case on the cover caught my eye. It was the April issue of Popular Woodworking. And it actually had articles on, gulp, hand tools. Since I had been making bows, hand tools had made a come back. Roy was no longer a lone voice in the wilderness.
Soon after I was scrounging ebay and flea markets for used tools and saving up for good new ones. Subscriptions went out to Popular Woodworking and Woodworking Magazine and the internet gets a good going over daily.
I realize none of this makes me an expert. My hope is that you benefit from my struggles and what few insights I can throw your way. Consider me that fellow student at the bench beside you who always seems to be dropping tools, loosing parts, and making mistakes but is just loving every minute of it.
The Bumbling Apprentice