Almost everyone has some degree of familiarity with wood. It is one of the oldest and most easily worked materials. There is a good deal of difference, however, between the makeshift hammer and saw woodwork of the amateur and the fine cabinet work of the skilled craftsman. This skill cannot be achieved overnight, but with the right tools and a knowledge of the basic procedures outlined below, you can soon produce a wide variety of finished pieces.
While the present chapter covers only the fundamentals of woodworking, there are many books available which discuss the more advanced techniques. Some of these are listed in the bibliogiaphy at the end of this book. Special attention should be given to the use and care of tools; neglect in this connection can be costly.
Whenever possible, wood should be kiln dried. Unseasoned lumber will shrink, check (crack) and warp. Soft woods are the easiest to work and arc recommended for beginners, but they do riot have the durability or beauty of the hard woods.
The most widely available soft woods are white pine and basswood, both excellent for general work. Others are cedar, cypress, gum, poplar, redwood, and white spruce. Maple, oak, black walnut, and mahogany are the most popular hardwoods; others are ash, birch, chestnut, and yellow pine.
If kiln dried lumber is not available, wood from discarded boxes, crates, baskets, hampers or barrels can often be used to good advantage in small projects. It is generally clear and free from knots and can be given a handsome finish by planing and sanding. Compressed fiberboards and plywoods are also adaptable to certain types of work, while the recently developed wood and synthetic resin combinations such as impreg, compreg, urea wood, etc., offer new types of wood construction which are still being explored.
Good tools are essential to good workmanship. It is better to start with a few of the best than with many poor tools. Those listed below with descriptions of their use are the basic ones, most of which will be needed at the beginning.
The most important aids to good cabinet work are the proper tools for measuring, marking, and holding the wood on which you will work. A 6-foot folding rule, a carpenter's pencil, a marking gauge and a square (either a try square or a steel square) are essential for the first two operations (fig. 69). A compass for laying out circles or curves and a bevel for angles are also convenient. The square is one of the most useful of all the tools. The end of every piece of lumber must be squared before work is started, and in all gluing or other assembling the square should be applied frequently to right angle joints to make sure that they are true. The marking gauge is used to rule long lines parallel to the edge of a board. The pin which makes the mark should project about 1/16 inch below the beam. The head is set by means of a ruler, the thumb screw is tightened and the gauge, held in the manner illustrated, is pushed along the board away from the operator.
The saw is the most useful of the cutting tools. Every workshop should have at least one cross-cut and one rip saw, the former for cutting across the grain, the latter for cutting with it. Saws are graded by the number of points or teeth to the inch; the more points a saw has, the finer (and slower) its cut. A 10-point cross cut and a 5- or 7-point rip saw are recommended.
Always mark on the wood the line to be sawed. Try to cut along the outside edge of this line rather than on the line itself. This is the only way to insure accurate work. The lumber must be held firmly on saw horses, boxes, or a bench. The saw is held at about a 45° angle to the work and the first cut is made by drawing it towards you several times. As the sawing approaches its end, hold the piece that is being cut off so that it will not split away. The most difficult part of sawing for the beginner is learning to hold the blade vertical so that the edge of the cut is square. This is largely a matter of feeling and experience, though sighting along the blade as you work will help (fig. 70).
Other types of saws which will be found useful are the coping saw for cutting curves in thin wood (fig. 71) and the compass saw for, curves in thick wood (fig. 72). They are also used for either straight or curved inside cuts in which case a hole is first bored in the work to accommodate the blade. In cutting curves, the saw is held at a 90° angle to the wood.
A 14-point back saw is a valuable tool for fine work, especially when used with a mitre box (fig. 73). The latter can be of the improvised type shown, or it may be one of the more accurate metal ones sold commercially. It not only helps in cutting angles but also holds the saw vertical so that the edges of the cut are square.