The Art of Woodworking
By Dave Owens, Woodworking and Arts Educator
Woodworking is an activity that wears many hats. It can be thought of as very utilitarian or elevated to a pure art form. I’ll be honest; I tend to elevate any woodworking to art. It wasn’t always this way, but the more times I ride this planet around the sun, the more I tend to appreciate wood as a form of art.
When I was younger, I would see a wooden sculpture and call it art. That is easy to do because it was meant as art. I would also see something like a bookshelf and say with certainty that bookshelves are not art.
When I got a little older, I’d remark at a completed project that was done with amazing skill and the choicest of woods calling it art. I would stare, completely oblivious to other things going on around me. I would ask questions, make comments, and soak it in. I’ve been over to a friend’s house, and crawled under a table to see what type of joinery is being used and if it is using a ply-wood or solid wood for certain pieces. I would ask where they got it and how much it costs, and my mind would race wondering what techniques were used to make it and how I would do it differently.
Now that I’m working with families to teach woodworking, I find my thoughts on woodworking as an art form morphing just a bit more. While it still holds the idea that a fine wood sculpture is art and so is a really well made table or even a utilitarian shelf, I’m thinking of the art of woodworking also in terms of the art of time well spent. I'm finding art in the joy of the process and the motivation behind the process.
When I was in junior high school, I made a box for my oldest sister. A couple of years ago, I was at her house, and she showed it to me and reminded me that I built it for her. There wasn’t a single thing “right” with this box. There were no straight sides nor tight fitting joints. There was no finish on it, and it wasn’t polished at all. But to my sister, it is art. It is the art of a youngest brother loving his oldest sister enough to think of her and to make something for her. I’m still blown away that she has kept that box.
My hope is that I get to share the art of woodworking with families and individuals for many more rides around the sun, and that 35 years from now, one of my students is shown a box or picture frame that they made so long ago. I hope that many more people look at the art of woodworking as the art of time spent learning a craft and doing something nice for someone they love.