I have always been fascinated by how things work and how they are made. This explains why I pursued a degree in Industrial Design with an emphasis on product design from Columbus College of Art and Design.
In school, we designed products and built mockups of them, usually out of wood or plastic. I was introduced to many tools and techniques and officially started my collection of tools, even while living in student-type housing. (Yes, the red metal tool chest I bought from Sears when I was working there was part of my furniture. I still have it today.)
I moved to Seattle from Ohio in 1994 and, after dabbling in the product design space for a bit, landed a tech job as the Internet started to become popular. After seven years as a Systems Administrator and another seven as a programmer at a small startup, it became clear that I wanted to do something else. Getting back into working with my hands, with wood, and with the tools I had acquired during the 10-year remodel of my house was most appealing.
During the house remodel, I worked with and acquired many power tools but not as many hand tools. In 2012, I took a class on woodworking with hand tools at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. I've since taken several courses there, learning from some of the best woodworkers and woodworking instructors in the country including Chris Schwarz (Anarchist tool chest), Bonnie Klein (turning), Jim Tolpen (hand tools), and Tom Dolese (chairs). I also took a class on scroll sawing at a local Rockler store and was hooked immediately.
Cutting objects on the scroll saw appeals to me because the work can be very intricate , and I appreciate the level of detail that is possible. It's sort of like drawing with a saw instead of a pencil or brush. When cutting, I work from patterns that I create. These are usually made from pictures of an actual animal, and the pattern-making process appeals to my artistic side. Converting the patterns into puzzles or creating puzzles based on the beauty of the wood adds even more interest.
I also enjoy learning about the different species of woods, learning which ones are more amenable to this kind of work and which ones should be avoided. Some wood, such as bloodwood, is so hard that it tends to burn as you cut it. Many of the jigsaw puzzles are made from spalted wood (wood that has begun to decay and contains fungus that produces interesting variations in the wood), which would normally be too brittle, but I have learned how to put it through a process that stabilizes the wood.
You may notice that there are some wood species that I have made very few things from. This is not only because I've learned that some are more difficult to work with, but also because I get my wood from many sources and sometimes the wood isn't available to me again or the grain isn't interesting. I can take small cutoffs that other woodworkers don't have a use for and produce a number of figurines or ornaments. Because I find a use for even very small pieces of wood, this leaves little to burn or throw away.
Each year, I try to build at least one larger piece (think bigger than a breadbox and smaller than a chest of drawers). With each piece, I try to make something that requires a new skill or technique. For this sofa table, built from curly maple and black cherry, I used hand tools for the details, learned how to fair and bevel a 5' curve by hand and use a bent lamination technique for the front and drawers.
When not making things for myself or for the store, I work for a local, high-end cabinet shop. I jokingly say that my job is making sawdust, but in reality there are many things that I do. Working in a more production-like setting has taught me new techniques and skills that I wouldn't have learned on my own as a home woodworker.