Good Craftsmanship

by David J. Marks

Woodworking encompasses so many subjects: casework, turning, bentwood lamination, joinery, veneering, finishing, just to name a few.  Good craftsmanship can be readily seen in a piece. Anyone can look at a dovetail and see if it is a tight fit or has unsightly gaps.  A child can run his hand over a piece of furniture and feel whether the finish is smooth or rough.

As a teacher I believe that students need to be encouraged so that they can progress and evolve.  A musician might struggle for years producing a lot of mediocre songs before it all comes together and he or she has a hit.  The same is true for the craftsperson.  Let’s say that you, as the craftsperson, has progressed in skill level and would like to design a piece to enter a show.  Here is some advice and guidelines.

If you are considering entering your work into a show, the judges will be looking at the overall visual impression of the work first, and then they will look closer to examine the details.  As they take a close look, the craftsmanship will be scrutinized.  One thing they will be looking for is tight fitting joinery.  This means no gaps or that gaps have been filled in a craftsman like manner.  For example, a sliver of matching wood, sawdust and glue, or tinted epoxy, are acceptable means of filling a gap.  It does not mean that everything is perfect, but there should be no glaring faults.  Snug fitting drawers are another area judges will examine.  Ideally, a drawer should open and close smoothly without resistance and perhaps bind up when it is fully extended rather than falling out.  The same principle applies to doors.  The doors should fit snugly with a uniform space around an inset door.

Surfaces that are intended to be smooth (as opposed to textured or carved) should have all traces of mill marks removed.  For example, saw lines left by table saws and bandsaws, and patterns left by jointers and planers, all should be scraped and sanded smooth.

Another big area is finishes.  The finishes themselves should not be muddy; they should enhance the beauty of the wood and allow you to read the grain clearly.

Proportions are another area that judges look at closely. Proportions determine whether a piece is awkward or graceful.  All other efforts concerning design can be ruined by proportions that do not work.  The most well know proportioning system is the golden section which was developed by ancient architects.  For myself, I rely on lots of sketches and full scale drawings and mock ups.

No matter how you approach your project, my best advice is to be persistent, because experience is the best instructor.