About 3 weeks ago when the autumn festival was in full swing, away from home, in Bangalore I made my way to a maker space nearby to spend a weekend learning something new. In addition to the thought of spending a lonely weekend doing something new, I was egged on by a wellness initiative at my workplace that encouraged us to find some space away from work. I signed up for a 2-day beginner’s carpentry workshop.
When I was little, I often saw my Daddy working on small pieces of wood with improvised carving tools to make little figurines or cigarette holders. The cigarette holders were lovely but they were given away many years ago, when he (thankfully) stopped smoking. Some of the little figurines are still around the house, and a few larger pieces made out of driftwood remain in the family home. However, I do not recall him making anything like a chair or a shelf that could be used around the house. In India, it is the norm to get such items made, but by the friendly neighborhood carpenter. Same goes for many other things like fixing leaking taps, or broken electrical switches, or painting a room. There is always someone with the requisite skills nearby who can be hired. As a result, many of us lack basic skills in these matters as opposed to people elsewhere in the world.
I did not expect to become an expert carpenter overnight, and hence went with hope that my carpentry skills would improve from 0 to maybe 2, on a scale of 100. The class had 3 other people – a student, a man working in a startup, and a doctor. The instructor had been an employee at a major Indian technology services company, and now had his own carpentry business and these classes. He had an assistant. The space was quite large (the entire ground floor of the building) and had the electronics lab and woodwork section.
We started off with an introduction to several types of soft and hardwood, and plywoods. Some of them were available in the lab as they were going to be used during the class, or were stored in the workshop. Rarer wood like mahogany, and teak were displayed using small wooden blocks. We were going to use rubber wood, and some plywood for our projects. Next, we were introduced to some of the tools – with and without motors. We learnt to use the circular saw, table saw, drop saw, jigsaw, power drill and wood router. Being more petite than usual and unaccustomed to such tools, the 400-600w saws were quite terrifying for me at the beginning.
The first thing I made was a wall clock shaped like the beloved deer – Bambi. On a 9”x 9” block of rubber wood, I first traced the shape. Then used a jigsaw to cut off the edges and make the shape. Then used the drill to make some holes and create the shapes for eyes and spots. The sander machine was eventually used to smoothen the edges. This clock is now proudly displayed on a wall at my Daddy’s home very much like my drawings from age 6.
Next, we made a small shelf with dado joints that can be hung up on the wall. We started off with a block of rubber wood about 1’6’’ x 1’. The measurements for the various parts of this shelf was provided on a piece of paper and we had to cut the pieces using the table saw, set to the appropriate width and angle. The place where the shelves connected with the sides were chiseled out and smoothed with a wood router. The pieces were glued together and nailed. The plane and sander were used to round the edges.
The last project for the day was to prepare the base for a coffee table. The material was a block of pinewood 2 inches thick and 2’ x 1’. We had to first cut these blocks from a bigger block, using the circular saw. Next, these were taken to the table saw to make 5 long strips of 2 inch width. 1 of these strips had about 1/2 inch from the edges narrowed down into square-ish pegs to fit into the legs of the table. The legs had some bits of the center hollowed out to be glued together into X shapes. These were left overnight to dry and next morning, with a hammer and chisel, the holes were made into which the pegs of the central bar could be connected. Finally, the drop saw was used to chop off the edges to make the table stand correctly. I was hoping to place a plywood on top of this base to use as a standing desk. However, it may need some more chopping to be made into the right height.
The final project was an exercise for the participants to design and execute an item using a 2’ x 1’ piece of plywood. I chose to make a tray with straight edges using as much of the plywood I could. I used the table saw to cut the base and sides. The smaller sides were tapered down and handles shaped out with a drill and jigsaw. These were glued together and then nailed firmly in place.
By the end of the 2nd day, I felt I was more confident handling the terrifying, but surprisingly safe, pieces of machinery. Identifying different types of wood or making an informed decision when selecting wood may need more practise and learning. The biggest challenge that I think I will face if I had to do more of this, is of workspace. Like many other small families in urban India, I live in an apartment building high up the floors, with limited space. This means that setting up an isolated area for a carpentry workbench would not only take up space, but without an enclosure it will cause enough particle matter to float around a living area. For the near future, I expect to not acquire any motorized tools but get a few manual tools that can be used to make small items (like storage boxes) with relative ease and very little disruption.