- The Washington Times - Monday, September 2, 2002

Five years ago, Bobby Bauer of Wheaton barely knew what a tongue-and-groove joint was. Now friends and family can't wait to get their hands on his latest handiwork, whether it's an oak chest or a cherrywood bed.
"I may have inherited a gene or two from my grandfather who was a cabinetmaker in Germany," Mr. Bauer says while sliding thin antique knotty pine boards into the frame of a blanket chest, made of the same material.
Mr. Bauer, a computer programmer, is one of several hundred members of the Woodworkers Club in Rockville. The "club" is really a combination of a store, workshop and classes.
Since opening in 1996, Nick Suttora, the owner, has seen people of all shapes and sizes, and skill and income levels, come through his doors.
"Woodworking has wide appeal," Mr. Suttora says. "We have a real cross section of people here. We have surgeons and engineers, and soccer moms."
About 20 percent of the members are women.
"A lot of people who say they weren't allowed to take shop come here," he says. "They'll say, 'I was in home economics, and now I want to learn woodworking.'"
Other woodworking clubs and organizations nearby (which provide courses and lectures on woodworking) include the Annapolis Woodworkers' Guild in Annapolis and Northern Virginia Carvers in Herndon. Another Woodworkers Club is in Springfield.
What makes the Woodworkers Club a little different from most other clubs and organizations is its well-equipped 4,000-square-foot workshop. It features equipment such as a joiner, a variable-speed drill press, a couple of band saws, a radial saw and 14 workbenches.
"You may not be able to financially set up a workshop at home, so we provide the space and the tools," Mr. Suttora says. "And there are always woodworking experts around who can give you guidance on design techniques and use of tools and machinery. I see this as the Cadillac shop for the wood enthusiast."
Members pay a $199 initiation fee and $45 per month.
"I am probably in here every night," Mr. Bauer says. "Being in the workshop keeps me off the streets and out of trouble."
People of all skill levels come into the Woodworkers Club workshop, and if they have never built anything in the past, Mr. Suttora might suggest that they start off with something very simple.
"A bookshelf is the easiest to make," he says.
But even with a bookshelf, there are some basics that are important to know.
"You can't build a bookshelf that's wider than 4 feet, or it will sag," Mr. Suttora says.
Who knew?
Other basics include some measurements: the seat of a chair is always 18 inches off the floor and the surface of a table is always between 28 and 30 inches off the floor.
While a bookshelf is the easiest piece of furniture to make, a chair is the most difficult because there are few 90 degree angles. The back of a chair leans, and there is often a slight curve to the legs of a chair.
"A chair is probably the most complicated piece of furniture you can build," Mr. Suttora says. "It's definitely the most time-consuming because you have to modify all the equipment."
While experienced woodworkers and club staff are ready to help at any time, some beginners would rather have structured lessons than embark on projects on their own. Courses include "Woodworking Fundamentals," "Basic Carving" and "Beginning Furniture Making."
"Some people haven't done woodworking since seventh grade shop class," Mr. Suttora says. "They may do better in a class where you are going to get a lot of exposure to tools, and it's good to get an introduction in how to use the tools safely."
On a recent evening, Chris Morris, senior workshop supervisor, teaches a class of five students three men and two women the fundamentals of woodworking.
Each student has a unique reason for being there: One wants to build furniture, another stained-glass frames.
Dara Fowler of Silver Spring, a graphic designer by day and tribal tattoo designer in her free time, says she wants to learn more about carving and sawing techniques.
"Not everyone wants a tattoo, and I thought it would be nice to learn how to use the designs on wood," Ms. Fowler says.
She says she also wants to learn the basics of carpentry to better be able to work on things around the house, such as building shelves.
Mr. Morris talks about the basics of picking out wood at Home Depot and other home improvement stores. All boards, he says, are of random length and width. The thickness is usually 1 or 2 inches. But even if the board looks straight, it never is. The woodworker has to "square it off," Mr. Morris tells his class.
"You can't work with a piece of wood until that's done," he says, or the end result could be a warped, cracked piece of furniture.
He uses a piece of heavy equipment called a "joiner" to smooth out the piece, which he keeps checking on the joiner surface to make sure that it is getting flat and smooth.
During this first lesson, Mr. Morris also talks about safety, an important consideration when working with heavy machinery.
After learning how to use some of the machinery, the students will get to build their own bookshelf.
Whether beginner or advanced, woodworking requires a lot of planning and precision. Having a clear design before cutting the wood is advisable, Mr. Suttora says. He or someone on his staff can help with the details of a design once the woodworker has an idea for how he or she wants a piece of furniture to look.
"You have to have a sketch done and then we can be the sounding board," he says. "It gets people to think 10 steps ahead."
Mr. Suttora and his staff also recommend working with hard woods, as opposed to soft woods, such as pine.
Hard woods include cherry, white oak, red oak, mahogany, walnut and maple.
"The hard woods are more stable," Mr. Suttora says. "Hard woods tend to be tight grain. Pores are small."
Soft wood is more likely to expand and contract with the changing seasons, which will ultimately warp or crack the wood.
While the hard woods are expensive, especially the cherry and the mahogany, building your own furniture is often cheaper (sometimes half-price) than purchasing something equivalent at a quality store. A cherry bed may cost about $400 to build, Mr. Suttora says.
Building your own furniture is labor intensive, but if you have patience, persistence and a positive outlook, you can take home a piece that is satisfying. This is true for woodworkers of all skill levels, Mr. Suttora says.
"History dictates that if they have enthusiasm for learning, they will succeed," he says.
Also, the creative aspect of woodworking is gratifying in itself.
"Unlike what most people do at work, here they get to see something through from its inception to the end, which is very satisfying," Mr. Suttora says.


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