Is It Home Improvement or Woodworking?

A couple of issues ago, Rob asked how many of your woodworking projects are “home” related. Your responses were characteristically candid. Here’s a sampler that demonstrates the range of opinions we heard.

Andy Percival thinks the “home improvement” distinction is mostly in the mind of the craftsman. His current projects, headboards made from exotic wood, are by definition home improvements. But he’ll only make them as long as he enjoys it. The design and its improbability drive his work. (He calls it a binge.) Everything he’s made — from campaign-style furniture to fish fossil-handled swagger stick with inlaid Siberian mammoth ivory to a toilet paper roll holder that ejects each new roll from a Napoleonic-style cannon — had practical or at least meaningful purposes and were presented as gifts.

Another woodworker first declared he had a problem with radical purists, who must perfectly hand cut every dovetail. That said, he doesn’t think there needs to be a distinction between woodworker and DIYer. He does woodworking as the need arises, and a lot of it’s aimed at home improvement. Some might call him a purist since the money spent on his equipment could have been used to hire most of the home improvements. And nothing beat the thrill he feels creating new cabinets for his kitchen. But on the other hand, he thinks a purist would react in horror to his use of plywood and MDF (that will be painted) to achieve the clean, modern look he designed. In another example, when his bathroom needed to be overhauled, the need for repair was critical, yet the results brought him great satisfaction from his woodworking.

Dr. J. Pat Garland, Sr. declared that 70% of his projects are home improvement and 30% are woodworking. Case closed.

In Dave’s opinion, home improvement means carpentry. Carpenters are not woodworkers and woodworkers are not carpenters. You can learn both skills, but knowing one does not mean you can do the other. It takes a woodworker to do cabinetmaking, and the carpenter-built cabinets he’s seen in homes were dreadful. He further distinguished between home maintenance — changing a faucet or painting a wall — and home improvement. And anyone, he declared, should be able to do home maintenance.

Necessity was the source of his woodworking, explained another correspondent. He had to learn how to build cabinets 35 years ago for his new house and it’s all been for home improvement ever since … for his own home and now for his married daughter’s home. And he’s absolutely enjoyed every moment of it!

Ole R. Hammer wrote all the way from Denmark to explain the difference:

Home improvement (where he spends most of his time) is something you do for several reasons:

Your wife keeps poking you to do something she wants for her own benefit.
It is necessary for the health and/or function of your house.
It is something that would be nice to have fixed for the looks or luxury of your house.
Woodworking is the thing you do for the love of wood, tools, and the process of creating something beautiful and useful.
Furniture-making brings the two perfectly together and provides him with a chance to convince his wife of the necessity of a new tool!

In one version of his answer, Shawn McNeil thinks woodworkers see a distinct separation between woodworking and home … but this is kept to themselves or uttered softly over a pile of sawdust in the presence of a fellow woodworker. In another version, the one shared with spouses, there is no distinction, because there’d be no way to justify the cost of the tools and materials. He even provided a little skit to illustrate his point:

Wife: You know it would be really nice if we had a deck off the back of the house.
Me: You’re correct as usual dear. Unfortunately, I don’t really have all the tools needed for such a big project. We could hire someone, but that would end up costing 10 times what it would cost if I could only buy the few tools that I would need.
Wife: That doesn’t sound too bad. Are there a lot of tools you’d need?
Me: No. Only a couple of small tools…an 8″ jointer, 8″ isn’t that big…and then a 12″ sliding miter saw…that’s only about a foot…and maybe a new 3-HP router, my old one is probably not up to the task.
Wife: Sounds great. Maybe you should go out and get them this weekend.
Me: (Under my breath) Yesssssss!

Ross E. DeValois’ wife, to the amusement of his friends, tears out pictures of projects from Pottery Barn and similar magazines, scribbles BUILD THIS, and puts it in his shop. So yes, his projects are often “home” related. Most of his projects are freestanding, stand-alone projects, usually for family and friends. And yes, he does think there’s a distinction in his mind between home improvement and woodworking. There’s a difference in tools used and tolerances required; and one is a chore and one a hobby.

Everything Baer Charlton makes for his wife is home improvement. New wood earrings, a nightstand, and built-ins that take a visitor’s breath away, go a long way with his wife. More seriously, undoing 65 years of what he called “remuddling” on his 1929 Craftsman Cape Cod has made home improvement and woodworking 50-50 with board footage expended 70-30 in labor time.

At Mark Conde’s house, making jigs, improving the shop, and even making woodworking projects for gifts are viewed by his wife as woodworking. She’s more receptive to direct home improvement projects, such as building built-in bookshelves or new cabinets.

Wyatt Sasser considers anything built-in or structural to be home improvement, and anything freestanding to be woodworking. To him, building cabinets is woodworking, until they get installed. The fact that 100% of his woodworking projects have been for the home has generated his wife’s support for all his tool purchases. He’s remodeled the bathroom, kitchen, and front porch and converted an enclosed back porch into a laundry room and is now ready for some furniture projects … for the house, of course.

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