Woodworkers have one advantage over common folk – we get the full experience from a piece of furniture. From the smell of oak to the feel of a finished product – a journey for the senses indeed!
When I was 19 I took a year off the school / study train and worked in a furniture shop. Back then pine treated with lye wash and a clear coat of poly was the big thing. Flat packed furniture in oodles, and of course it became my job to assemble the furniture – both for display and for customers who did not want the “experience” of assembling a seemingly random collection of wood, screws and other unmentionables. I assembled sofa’s, Ekornes Stressless® reclining chairs, beds – anything and everything we sold, really. And I do have some fond memories from that work – the smell of brand new furniture is like the smell of a new car. Standing elbow deep in a Stressless® while securing the back to the seat put my nose right up to the soft leather smell that combined with the smell of the finish. It was lovely.
Carrying a huge sofa up three flight of stairs, on the other hand, was not. But it was part of the job, and I enjoyed seeing the product in its new home. I got a much better perspective than my associates who never delivered; seeing a piece of furniture in an actual home gave me a different perspective on the products than what they did. They just saw the thing in the store. But I digress.
Thinking back, there is one thing that stands out: most of the furniture we sold in that period was real wood. Granted, if you chose to go all-in with the lye-treated pine furniture, eventually you ended up living inside a freaking pine log! Pine dining furniture, cabinets, TV-stand, sofa table – some sofa models had big wooden trimmings like on certain Italian style behemoths. Add to the mix pine shiplap style walls – and in extreme cases pine tongue and groove paneling roofs… You get the picture. Thankfully, that period is over. I can enjoy a pine / spruce / fir piece of furniture, but in general I prefer my PSF painted.
But it was real wood. Not MDF, particle board or some engineered materials. Compared to the pink cardboard-and-paper BUSUNGE thing we bought for our daughter at IKEA (I don’t think there’s any wood in it at all), the quality was vastly better even though the “joinery” were hardware based. Typical of flat packed furniture, of course.
–By the way: “busunge” is a Swedish word for “rascal” or “scoundrel”. Or “bastard”, which I have to agree that the piece of furniture really is. A furniture paper based bastard chest of drawers. It does look nice, though, and has actually held up perfectly so far. But that is just because my daughters are angels! Yes indeed! They did not get that from me, though…
Since I assembled most of the furniture we sold, I got to enjoy the smell of fresh furniture. The other day I finished a project with OSMO Top Oil. I brought the pieces into our living room to take a few pictures, and left them there overnight. The next day I was treated with the smell of new furniture. I find that lovely! Car
nuts enthusiasts might nod knowingly.
But since I took up woodworking as a hobby, I’ve discovered another aspect of wood that are a treat for the senses. The smell from a piece of oak when you cut or plane it – it is intoxicating, really! A piece of teak – the dark chocolate shavings combined with the pleasant smell… Makes you crave for dessert!
As a woodworker, we get to enjoy the smell from the wood we work, and we get to see the wood figure emerge beneath our tools. Come finishing time, we are rewarded when the beauty of the wood reveals itself like magic!
The figures and patterns in real wood is another aspect of my love for woodworking. Choosing a piece of wood – or a species – to suit a specific task or look. Selecting how to bookmatch. Deciding how to join boards to achieve uniformity with something that is very far from uniform. It makes woodworking interesting and dynamic. Machining MDF, particle board or plywood can’t be compared to that!
The images above show the table top for my small side table before and after glueup. I got to decide how the table top would look. That project was a difficult one, because I was limited to the one plank – and that plank was loaded with drying defects and wild grain. In the end, I managed to create a rather nice product that will last a lifetime!
There are several reasons why I love working with oak. The ray flecking is maybe the most important. I love the look of it – but it is hard when you encounter beautiful patterns; flames, straws in the wind, dancers on a stage – and you still have a millimeter to go. The dancers leave the stage, the straws vanishes and the flames die out. What nobody but me got to witness is no more.
Then I put the piece up to my nose and inhale deeply.
That’s one of the rewards for a woodworker – the aroma from the wood we work!
Did you know where vanilla extract comes from? Google beaver and castoreum. Makes you wonder if beavers prefer oak for their builds... And bon appétit!