I built my first farmhouse table using lumber from Lowes and Home Depot. It was a labor of love, and sometimes of frustration. I was proud to see it taking shape, even as I could proudly boast of how little I had spent in its production. It was such a solid, beautiful thing. Placed in the house it seemed to say “I’m here, and I will be here for a long, long time.”
A friend purchased that table. It took four people to move it into her dining room. Later – and not the long, long time type of later – ugly cracks and seams started to show. The wood twisted and bowed as the green lumber dried, expanded, and contracted with the seasons.
I was horrified. We ascertained that the damage was largely to the table top, so we removed it and returned it to our garage workshop for repair. My mind reeled through solutions, from building an entirely new top to repairing the old. In the intervening time between selling the table and repairing it we had purchased a joiner and a planer – both so new we really had no idea how to use them. I thought perhaps it was nothing that a quick trip through both to straighten the boards wouldn’t fix.
We ended up keeping that table top for one month and one week. It sat in our workshop like a creature of shame, and I largely tried to hide its presence from the world. “You are a fake, an impostor in this craft” it seemed to say. What business did I have in woodworking? And so I quit. I quit at least weekly, sometimes daily.
The early stage of the learning curve is referred to as “conscious raising,” and sometimes it is painful. We learned, and we learned, and we learned. Our conscious was raised, and what emerged was an embarkation point, a juncture where diy met fine woodworking. We figured out how to fix that table, but we were also faced with a choice. Continue doing things as we were, or step, hesitantly, fearfully into the world of woodworking. Could there be two parts of our identity? One that cranked out a coffee table from two by fours one weekend, and another that painstakingly jointed together a $2000 salvaged wood dining table over several weeks?
The world of fine woodworkers is surprisingly welcoming, just as we have found in all of the diy crafts. People are more than happy to show you what they do, and to offer patient pointers. My “creative crisis,” as I term that one month and one week, was the beginning of something new, at once confidence-building and destroying. I don’t quit as often now, or need my ever patient, gentle husband to talk me back from the brink. But as with anything new and deeply challenging, it happens now and then.
In the worst instances, when I have walked away and forsworn it all I am driven back by an insistent, nagging need to create. Ideas flow unbidden, a new design, an intriguing piece, like a question that demands an answer. And only when I set the thought free in my head, allow it the real estate to run and develop, can I at last close my eyes and sleep at night. My favorite pieces are those that come from whatever part of my brain this is. I love the freedom to create unbound by self-imposed judgement or comparisons to what anyone else has done. I am the most me while I am deep at work on such a project, the kids asleep in their beds, the garage open to allow the sunshine to pour in. Like a confident runner paced at a comfortable zone who’s mind flows with the rhythm of their steps, I am at once focused and relaxed.
There is a deep satisfaction in crafting a piece of wood, in feeling the individual character of a piece that for decade after decade served another purpose and that now bears the image of all that time, the weather, and interactions with nature have come to bear on it. Each piece has its own story, and though it may have been milled a hundred years ago, it has a presence of its own. I find wood working to be intoxicating, infuriating, and irresistible.