A view of Barb's workshop,
including bench, handtools and router station. "Anyone starting in a small
shop should set up work stations, and the more mobile the better," Barb says.
Siddiqui admits that having a small woodworking shop has its drawbacks, especially
since her shop is situated in half of a two-car garage she shares with her landlady.
"The landlady always complains about all the dust on her car," Siddiqui
says. "She initially thought I should string a shower curtain across the
garage. Now I have a dust mop that I clean her car with every time I finish working.
Of course, I want the whole garage."
laughs easily as she tells that story. The landlady in question is Barb's mother,
who Barb calls the "greatest admirer" of her woodworking. "My mother
is 82 years old, and she started watching Norm (Abram) on New Yankee Workshop
because of my woodworking," Barb says. "Now she'll stop by the shop,
watch me work, and say, 'OK, you're using your featherboards and doing it right,
just like Norm.' "
tablesaw rests on a rolling, shop-made cabinet.
It can be rolled out the door for more interior space, and tucks under the drill
press when not in use.
process of "doing it right" is something the 52-year-old Siddiqui takes
to heart. Barb, who lives in the small town of Wenatchee in eastern Washington,
refers to herself as a beginning woodworker, even though she's actively pursued
the craft since the mid-1980s.
largely self-taught, relying on books for information and trial and error for
experience. She's also a determined advocate for women woodworkers, offering support
and guidance in her popular Starting Points column on this web site. Barb has
also written for woodworking publications, including Woodworker's Journal and
"Like a lot of women, I didn't start woodworking as a hobby until my (four)
kids were into and out of college," Barb says. "I'm old enough where
I grew up in the days of, 'Girls don't do that!' I asked the high school principal
to be in the high school shop, and I was refused. A few years after I left they
made the boys take home ec and the girls take shop. I had wanted to, I just wasn't
given the opportunity."
her own experience in learning how to work in the shop, she says, "I was
just shuffling around on my own. I went to the library and got a lot of books
and found there was a whole world I didn't know about. It was sort of an up-by-the
bootstraps approach. That's why I wanted to do the Starting Points column. The
basics are what I really aim to do with that column. You just need to ask someone,
'Whoa, what am I doing wrong here?'"
who start with hand tools tend to learn about wood first, and not the machine,"
Barb says. "They learn what stresses it can take and what joinery fits each
project. I think you're a better woodworker for that."
years ago, Barb decided to commit herself to woodworking when she sold the bookstore
she owned for 20 years and fully equipped her shop. She now works part time for
a bus tour company, which gives her enough time to immerse herself in woodworking.
best advice Barb has for the beginning woodworker is to learn how to safely use
the equipment. "I've seen so many posts on (Internet) message boards from
people who say, 'I have the money, I'm ready to go.' And it scares me that they
just take a table saw out of the box and are ready to go," she said. "It's
the obligation of any woodworker to learn the safety issues for each piece of
matter how experienced and skilled a woodworker is, she points out, there is always
something new to learn, whether it be a different joinery technique or mastering
an unfamiliar tool. That's also one of the great rewards of being a woodworker;
you are always evolving. "After I sold the bookstore and got into woodworking
seriously, my interest was learning about wood and getting good woods," Barb
says. "Then as I developed my skills, I developed a serious interest in hand
tools. Now I'm more interested in design. The possibilities open up like a lotus
blossom. You think, 'I can do this if I just apply myself.' I consciously make
the decision to not make something like someone else had built. It's made me more
creative and try different joinery techniques. I don't know what's next."
Shaker-style cradle with dowel sides and ends. "I've been busy with cradles
and all kinds of stuff," Barb says of her most recent projects. She often
builds projects for her five grandchildren, including three who were born this
spends about three hours a day in her workshop, primarily specializing in small
projects. Her power tools include a Laguna 16" band saw, 12" planer,
radial arm saw, Grizzly drill press, and Craftsman table saw.
set up her shop in three different configurations over the years, each time making
it more efficient as her skill level developed. "Anyone starting in a small
shop should set up work stations, and the more mobile the better," she says.
"Everything except my band saw is on a mobile base. The problem is you need
assembly space, and you need to move things in and out of the way for clamping
and finishing. You have to be organized."
said one of her greatest satisfactions is building projects for her five grandchildren,
including three who were born this year. She recently finished a Shaker-style
cradle that has dowel sides and ends. "I've been busy with cradles and all
kinds of stuff," she says. "Everything I make I give away."
Apple wood keepsake boxes with sliding lids made from air-dried orchard wood.
Barb, who grew up working on her father's 25-acre apple orchard in eastern Washington,
harvested the wood from apple orchards around her home.
from Yakima, Washington, Barb grew up working on her father's 25-acre apple orchard.
One of her current projects is building keepsake boxes with sliding lids made
from fruit-tree wood she has dried for the past year. She harvested the wood from
apricot and apple orchards around her home.
also proudly points out that she's a "dumpster diver. "I get a lot of
pallets from the alleys downtown. If we get pallets from California, they could
be black walnut or oak - just thrown away! I've also been told, but haven't found
them yet, that a lot of tractor and motorcycle dealers bring in pallets and cases
from Japan that are Japanese hardwood. I have become a real scavenger."
Barb puts a high value on the wood she uses in her work. It's an appreciation
she fostered early in her woodworking career. "People who start with hand
tools tend to learn about the wood first, and not the machine," she said.
"They learn what stresses it can take and what joinery fits each project.
I think you're a better woodworker for that."
Puzzle chairs. Barb built for her grandchildren.
illustrates how important it is to select the right wood with a story about her
son, who wanted to make a hand ring out of ebony wood for his girlfriend. "I
tried to warn him that ebony is quite a toxic wood to put next to the skin. He
said, 'It's just wood.' He used up my whole block of ebony, breaking several rings
because the wood is cross-grained."
completion of the project, Barb says, he proudly presented the ring to his girlfriend.
The result: "She wore it one day and took it off because it gave her a rash."
hopes the advice and knowledge she shares with others will prove more helpful.
Most important, she encourages women woodworkers to not be afraid to ask questions.
She also stresses that you should be creative; put your own personal imprint on
every project. "There are so many different ways to accomplish what you want
to build," she says. "There is never any one way to build it."
courtesy of Barb Siddiqui
Text by Keith Wandrei
This article originally appeared in the Woodworker's Journal eZine.
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Copyright; 2010 Woodworker's Journal
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