"Every endeavor where materials are converted into a product has a Critical Path."
- Ian Kirby
Woodworking is an ancient craft and, as such, has many traditions. The
workers of the British Arts & Crafts movement took woodworking
methodology - specifically the working and machining of solid wood - to
its most refined state. Educator, master woodworker and designer and
author Ian Kirby has been recording that methodology in print for many
years. He has also further refined those methods within the outline of a
Critical Path. The team at woodworking.com has excerpted Ian Kirby's
writing into a series of step-by-step online woodworking classes based
on the divisions of woodworking's critical path.
We believe that these
lessons are the most useful, understandable, comprehensive and
internally consistent woodworking instruction available on the Internet.
With information of value to the beginner and expert alike, these
lessons have the potential to lead a person to woodworking mastery.
The Steps in Woodworking's Critical Path
Harvest the Parts: The goal is the best grain and color
combination of each part relative to the efficient use of material. How
well you selected is highlighted at the polishing stage because no
stains are used to homogenize the grain and color of dissimilar parts.
Harvest the Parts distinguishes hand production from factory production.
Soundness of stock is important: even a mundane piece deserves better
than short grain or knots.
Make the Butt Joints: (Optional) Butt joints are used to make a
wide board from narrow boards. It occurs at this early stage mostly to
make storage or casegood furniture.
Prepare the Stock: If you prepare stock exclusively by machine,
don't imagine that measuring tools are redundant. You should make all
the checks required
by hand tool methods - just a lot less frequently.
Mark the Joints: Marking out is vital for hand-cut
mortise-and-tenons, whereas most or all marking out is bypassed for
machine-cut mortise-and-tenons because the workpiece fits into a
prepared slot designed for repetitive cuts. Parts intended to be
machine-cut must be made the correct dimension at the Prepare the Stock
stage so they will exactly fit the jig.
Cut and Fit the Joints: Hand-cut joints leave little room for
variations. Although there are different techniques for chopping a
mortise, they all use a mallet and mortise chisel. Machine-cut joints
can follow several paths. For example, using appropriate jigs, you could
make a tenon using a table saw, a router or a band saw.
Shape the Parts: The word "shaping" might suggest something
curved and carved like a cabriole leg. Not so. Any alternation of the
rectilinear shape of the material as it comes from the Preparation of
Stock stage is shaping. For example, even though the tapered inside
faces of a leg remain straight and flat, they have nevertheless been
Clean up and Polish Inside Faces: This step is not followed by
all furniture makers, but it can be considered vital because you can more
easily plane the surfaces to be finished, which is the preferred
practice. If you can't plane, sanding is always simpler before parts are
assembled, and the oil or beeswax finish is easier to apply. Glue
squeeze-out can be left to cure without fear of staining the wood. The
finish behaves like a wax release, allowing easy removal of the glue
with a sharp chisel.
Glue Up the First Subassembly: Accurate subassemblies are the key
to trouble-free final assemblies.
Alignment and Local Correction: (Optional) If any local
corrections are needed, such as flush planing a rail-and-leg joint, it's
best done before the next assembly because the simpler the assembly,
the easier it is to hold on the bench.
Glue Up the Final Assembly: Careful measurement and examination
of the relationships of all the subassemblies. This is a point of no
Drawers: (Optional) A handmade solid wood drawer may have 40 - 50
steps, representing its unique critical path.
Doors: (Optional) A variety of door options will each provide their
own set of specific steps.
(Final) Clean Up and Polish: This step is the completion of the