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What Is Fine Woodworking?

By Tara Barnett
Updated: May 16, 2024

Fine woodworking is the art of creating objects from wood that are aesthetically pleasing or valuable to the creator. In many cases, people make functional objects from wood, but some fine woodworking projects are purely decorative. The tools used in fine woodworking vary depending on the project, but chisels, planes, and saws are commonly used in this craft. Woodworkers must consider not only the structure of the finished project but also the qualities of the wood used and how it may change over time. If the object is functional, the artist must make sure it will stand up to frequent use, which is a consideration unique to functional art.

In areas where wood is or has been abundant, woodworking is often an ancient art. Fine woodworking was once limited in terms of supplies to the wood that was native to the area where the craftsman lived, but woodworkers are now able to import all kinds of woods for specific projects. Given that wood is a unique material that can be hard or soft and may have a number of additional physical qualities, traditional woodworking techniques of a given area are often well suited to the wood available in that area.

Some of the most popular fine woodworking projects include furniture items, sculptures, and boxes. Furniture in particular remains a popular type of woodworking project, but the degree of artistry applied to the furniture depends on the woodworker. Some items of furniture reach nearly sculptural levels of ornate decoration, resulting in furniture that is not necessarily functional. On the other hand, many functional pieces of furniture made by woodworkers highlight the qualities of the actual wood used for the project.

Although it is common for fine woodworking to display the qualities of the wood used, such as the wood's grain and color, paint and stains also play a major role in many woodworking projects. Many woodworking sculptures and decorative items use multiple types of wood for visual effects rather than for any physical or structural qualities. In most cases, some type of finish is applied to the project in order to protect it over time.

Many woodworkers use large machines and electrical tools in order to complete woodworking projects or make certain tasks easier. There are, however, people who are devoted to accomplishing all parts of the fine woodworking process by hand using traditional tools. In some cases, large pieces of furniture and other items may be constructed entirely without the use of nails or other non-wood elements like glue. These different ways of accomplishing these projects are not necessarily better or worse than others and instead should be thought of as reflective of the artist's style.

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