Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Preserving the Tradition


Lessons from my Father- Gift Ideas for the Craftsperson


There is little so satisfying as receiving a gift that was hand-made by the bestower.  

Just think, you have been granted an item someone spent hours designing, crafting and finishing. Who cares if the wrapping paper is not sharply crisped at the corners and attached with invisible adhesives?  The item in your possession reflects desire to pass along craft skills, and more than a little imagination.  I liken it to a writer delivering signed copies of his or her first publication.

What we have here is a slice of wisdom my father passed on many years ago.  As an elementary school teacher and principal with over 40 years of experience, he has gleaned more than a bit of wisdom in dealing with impressionable people.  A kindergarten student never forgets graham crackers and milk.  The fourth grade “captive” will always appreciate recess.  And a sixth grade “adult” ceaselessly absorbs compliments suggesting a level of maturity they will not likely achieve until age 30.  

As for adults.  Well, I don’t know about you, but I become a bit maudlin this time of year.  The holiday season is upon us and a desire to leave a gift with a bit of sentimental value is high upon my list.  Temptation to wander into one of the large “box” stores is ever present.  Almost everything one could desire is on sale that Friday after Thanksgiving—to say nothing of what Amazon will ship overnight once picked off the internet.

All so simple…and all so generic.  

The wonderful part of being a woodworker is a plethora of ideas for projects and gifts.  This is another bit of wisdom my father imparted.  Hopefully, I can pass it along here.  

Two items I have found to be a great way to pass time in the shop and further hone skills on employing various tools—be they powered or not—are puzzles.  The reason I throw two into this equation is that one requires no framing or backing.  The second is more complicated, but well within reach of even rank amateurs like me.

Let’s start with project one, a puzzle Christmas tree.  (You can just as easily do a Menorah, the “flames” may then be added each of the eight days.)  Take a plank of 2” x 12” pine (less work for the saw) and cut into 12 inch sections.  This leaves you with pieces that don’t argue with workspace requirements or the area available on a jigsaw table.

Once the “blanks” are available, trace out the pattern you would like to cut on a sheet of paper.  I have found a standard cut of 8 x 11 letter paper works fine—just spend a little time to find a thick carpenter’s pencil or a slightly dull number 2 school version of same.  Trace out the design you want to use as a pattern and then go “borrow” your significant other’s iron.  Yes, that item employed to flatten shirts and skirts.

Turn the heat to medium and place design face down on your freshly cut and sanded blank “canvas,” also known as wood.  Lightly iron the pattern onto your intended sawdust material.  Don’t linger with the iron, it will burn the paper—trust me, I have a bit of experience in this department.

Lift the paper and repeat for each of the pieces you wish to cut.  In short order there should be a stack of saw-ready material.  For the Christmas tree my father designed the “hard” work is done.  Now all you need to do is turn on the stereo, pull out a stool and begin cutting.  Don’t forget to sand off the rough edges before painting and wrapping.

As for the more complicated framed puzzle: once you have transferred the pattern and cut your pieces, there is going to be a need to measure and cut a base plus edging that needs dado time before gluing.  I warned you there was a possibility of learning in this project.  None of it, however, should be considered daunting.  

As the pictures above reveal, you will finish with two potential gifts that will be remembered for a lifetime.  My father was right, there is nothing so satisfying as receiving an object or dinner that someone hand-crafted for you.  

Eric Anderson.jpeg

Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering in his shop when not scribbling on the keyboard.  A new resident of Port Townsend, he is an avid sailor, struggling carpenter, and would-be writer.

Amy SleeperComment