WM: How did you get started in woodworking?
VT: When my daughter was born 17 years ago, I had an urge to make something for her. I found a design and adjusted the plans to fit what I needed. I then proceeded to make the ugliest side table you’ve ever seen. I wasn’t allowed to throw it away because of the sentimentality around it. Today it serves as a great reminder of how I got started.
WM: Did you have a shop at the time?
VT: I had about 40 square feet of space underneath the basement stairs of my house. Of course, there were no machines in there. So I went to the local wood hobby club to break down the lumber and do any necessary machining. Then I’d take it back home to finish it up with hand tools. That’s when I realized that you can actually do minimalist woodworking.
WM: Is your minimalist approach philosophical?
VT: It’s not philosophy so much as reality. If you can’t run a table saw because you have a newborn baby in the bedroom upstairs, then do something else. It doesn’t preclude you from woodworking, it just means you have to come at it from a different angle.
WM: Are you strictly a hand tool woodworker?
VT: I’m not one to blather on Druidically about hand tools. Do I think that a hand plane gives you a better surface than sanding? Yes. Do I think that a hand-planed surface is always the way to go? No. If you want to hitch up your wool underwear and do it all by hand, then by all means, go for it.
WM: What machines do you have?
VT: Now that I have space, I have a
14" bandsaw with a riser kit so that I can resaw material. I came to appreciate the bandsaw’s versatility while studying at the Rosewood Studio, a woodworking school in Perth, Ontario. I use my jack plane on every piece of wood that comes through the shop. I get my one face and one edge, then I’ll go to my thickness planer and continue processing from there. I haven’t owned a jointer now for four years, and I don’t miss it at all.
WM: Can you talk about your day job?
VT: I hang my hat in the Veritas R&D department. I work with our designers and engineers to suss out tools and figure out…ya know…does it need a laser? Actually, a big part of my job is to stop the engineers from putting lasers on things.
Once we have a prototype of a new tool, they’ll hand it to me and say, “What do you think?” I’ll bring it into my shop and use it instead of another tool to see how it performs. That provides them with good feedback.
WM: What advice do you have for beginners?
VT: Somewhere along the line we got hyper-focused on accuracy. We try to make up for a lack of skill by buying hyper-accurate tools, like fences that you can dial in a half thou’ at a time. Look at furniture done in antiquity. They managed to do this without dial indicators. I’m working on a bench right now for our mudroom. I took a stick and I held it up on the back of my wife’s leg and marked where her knee bent. That’s the height of the bench. I don’t care how tall it is in numbers—it doesn’t matter. It’s freeing to understand that.
And don’t be afraid to screw up. I worked with an older fellow at the wood hobby club. His line was, “If you screw up, you can always drill a hole in it and call it a birdhouse.”