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From simple box to curvaceous bench. In the foreground is my first woodworking project, a garden box for my wife. On the left is a garden bench I just completed, and on the right is my workbench, recently featured in a video workshop.
It probably won’t surprise you that when I was a graduate student studying philosophy that I had very little money. That was hard, because my wife and I were married right before I started grad school, and I always wanted to give my her nice gifts for Christmas, her birthday, and just for the fun of it. But I couldn’t buy any.
That’s how I came to find myself in the home center about a month before our second Christmas together. I bought a toolbox handsaw, a cheap chisel, a coping saw, and several 12-in.-wide pine boards. My wife likes to garden, and I wanted to make her a box (I call it a caddy when I’m trying to glorify it) to store her tools in. My dad’s a contractor and I grew up making tree forts, decks, sheds, skateboard ramps, and even did some light home construction. But I had never made a piece of furniture. So I had no clue what I was doing. I wanted to cut joints for some reason and ended up making some very simple box joints. I got the box done, but just barely. I glued it up at my folks’ house down in the FLA. The joints lacked uniformity so much that the box only fit together one way. My dad called it a puzzle box. I suppose it is, but it’s still together.
I thought about that box recently, because we were in my shop shooting an upcoming video workshop that features a garden bench I recently designed. I thought it would be cool to see the two projects alongside one another. So here they are. My skills have come a long way and the garden bench is a much finer piece than the box, but I look at the box and I can see all the heart and love that went into it. I also can’t forget that it was that box that sparked my passion for woodworking. I can say, in all honesty, that it is what set me on the path to where I am now: at Fine Woodworking. So I’m proud of that box.
I just remembered this: I made it in secret in the freezing cold attic above our apartment. That was a crazy first shop. I used a metal step stool for a bench and had no clamps at all. I’m still in the cold during the winter, but I’ve got a great bench and plenty of clamps!
Why not tell me about your first project, and post it in the gallery?
A better look at the bench. Here's a better shot of the bench. It was much more complicated to make than the box in the foreground.
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Matt, a couple years ago when I was visiting my mother she asked, "Do you want those old shelves you made in junior high?" She had stored them in the basement from when I was in 7th grade. They brought back a flood of memories. They were the last project of the school year and I remember being in a rush to finish. When I was cutting out the shape with a coping saw, I noticed I was getting off the line and felt bad for a minute. Then I looked over at my neighbor who was drifting even more widely from the line. "I'm not doing THAT bad," I remember thinking.
Then I was driving in the nails to hold it together and one split the shelf as you can see in the photos I posted in the gallery. I showed it to the teacher hoping he could fix it or something. "It will be OK," he told me, "You've done a good job." I was crushed that my shelves weren't perfect, but since then I've learned that very little from the hands of man ever is. If it were perfect, we wouldn't have the same impulse to keep trying again and again and we would miss out on so much fun.
Go on a lumber run with Matt Kenney and he'll show you how he reads a stack of lumber to help him find the perfect board
Make something fun while learning new skills
Fast, fun approach to making a comfortable, casual seat
In this video Michael finishes the first of the three boxes. Gluing-up, planing, sanding and finishing bring a new piece of art to the world.
In this video Michael starts work on the second box, a carved and painted Saddle lid box.
Michael begins carving the saddle lid box with his ripple pattern along the top. Then turns to his 5/30 gouge to texture the sides of the box. This isn't work…
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