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Why software engineers like woodworking (zainrizvi.io)
334 points by ZainRiz on June 9, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 247 comments

I have a few hundred hours under my belt with a dining table, chairs, and even something with a roof to show for it.

For me, a huge chunk of each project’s fun was planning. Going through my first two prototypes in Sketchup (rather than in real life) was a massive amount of fun. That part really was not so different to hacking code, really.

The physical work itself is then completely different to software engineering. Nothing is simple — every step of the project presents some unique problem that you have to work around carefully. Maybe you forgot to include the width of the saw in a measurement. Or your stock has a knot in exactly the wrong place. Or you didn’t plan the assembly in the best way to optimise for clamping. Or you drip glue awkwardly and have to clean the first of six benches up before oiling. Or you want to add a shamfer in an awkward place to a piece you’ve already partly assembled.

Imagine having to stop work every few hours to hone the edge on an IDE that’s gone blunt. Imagine running out of 8mm if-statements (dowels) and having to improvise some more so you can peg a project together.

There’s no homogeneity with a natural product. Everything is slow and methodical with few opportunities to hack / test / prototype. You have to think and solve problems that you never thought would happen in a new kind of way because you can’t roll back or undo.

Above all, there are many things you just cannot automate. Sanding up the frame of a pergola getting it ready for oiling is going to be O(n) at best, with only ever a single processor to throw at the problem which itself is hard bounded by mealtimes and hours-in-day.

I love it because it’s not like software.

> Imagine having to stop work every few hours to hone the edge on an IDE that’s gone blunt.

So emacs?

Please. I sometimes I can go one week without fiddling with my config.

My first idea was merge conflicts, but this works better.

it does have a certain organic nature that’s got more in common with woodworking. ha ha only serious.

My emacs-config gets only sharper. Or so I like to think.

> The physical work itself is then completely different to software engineering.

It’s funny, but I often think how similar they are after doing a project. Maybe I haven’t written enough software for it to feel routine, but I often enjoy the unique and unexpected challenges in each that require creative thinking to solve.

One interesting woodworking tip I carried over was “Know your tolerance”, i.e. does it need to be accurate to within an inch, an eighth, etc. I often apply that when working on software now (i.e. how “perfect” and bug free does this component really need to be?)

People often say that “code is malleable” and you can change anything, whereas working with wood and tools is unforgiving. I actually think they’re comparable again, in that your time is what costs the most, and you can fix anything with minor materials cost compared to the time cost. Throwing away a piece of wood I worked on for a while and messed up isn’t much different than deleting a working branch that didn’t pan out. (Working with a contractor makes this more apparent. They’ll happily change almost anything after they’ve done it if you’re willing to pay for it).

Oh, and another similarity: I start lots of projects that interest me, but the ones that get finished are the ones my boss (the wife in this case) keeps hassling me about ;-)

Wood is malleable as well. Building a swing set for my children I learned the trick of taking the bow out of a warped 2x4 by applying leverage and screws as I assembled sections.

Better glue and screw that or it will surprise you at some point (unless you used screw overkill :) ). Better still: ripsaw, reverse one part then glue back together. (a lot more work, but that way the internal stresses in the wood will cancel out).

Would you use screws over internal dowels/biscuits for such a project? curious about best practice for something that is going to be outdoors 24x7. i agree that you need something to counteract the shear forces from the wood trying to bend back to its original warp. Not arguing, just intellectually curious.

In something like a swingset my first consideration would be safety, make everything from stuff that I'm 100% sure isn't going to surprise me one way or another, and given that it is a dynamically loaded structure with kids doing 'creative' stuff with it I'd aim for overkill rather than getting it 'just so' or working for something that looks good but that may not be strong enough.

If it's going to be outdoors in the weather over a very long period of time I would not count on glue (unless you have very good process control and know exactly what the long term properties will be) but I'd use steel to connect the various wooden bits, typically hole through (large diameter), then epoxy the hole and then drill again (smaller diameter). That stops the wood around the hole from rotting away. You also want to take care in what kind of wood you use in the first place a nice wood for stuff like that is Tamarack, which doesn't rot.


Combined with stainless steel hardware that should last longer than you will.

another principle applicable I think is knowing what may or may not change in the future. being able to switch from legs to wheels is useful, so maybe put an interface in between. being able to change a table into a bed - not useful and will sink your project.

> The physical work itself is then completely different to software engineering

Obligatory link (often featured on HN): http://johnsalvatier.org/blog/2017/reality-has-a-surprising-...

But in actuality, it's often the case that one can fix physical things with a few well-applied hammer blows, especially in woodworking.

With some non-wood materials it's much harder to make something fit where it doesn't fit.

In software, it's usually impossible.

From the linked article...

I used to be a Carpenter and Joiner. I gained some financial qualifications through distance learning and needed some experience.

The guy who hired me told me later that there was some resistance from the team to my joining. He told them that if I could work out winding stairs, accounts would be no problem!

Regarding the ability to fix with a hammer, I would say that with software humans tended to just work around the poor fit!

> In software, it's usually impossible.

Lol I guess you have not seen some of the code I have trying to use reactive programming at all costs.

In all seriousness though, I think software is quite flexible. A lot of what programmers do is take two APIs which don’t quite go together and find a way to bridge the gap.

Even the word “shim” is borrowed from woodworking and used in programming as well.

While writing my comment I thought about whether it was really correct (happens to me often).

I think the analogy for a software hack in the real world is not a hammer blow but rather, pieces of string tying together things that don't want to work with one another.

Strings tend to wear with use, and eventually break, sometimes catastrophically; whereas pieces that were forced to fit, usually stay put forever.

Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Sometimes a hack is also filling in a gap in the back sawdust mixed with wood-glue, and that will generally last longer and be more durable than the rest of the piece.

Maybe that is why people love ruby so much. You can force something to git quite easily.


> Imagine having to stop work every few hours to hone the edge on an IDE that’s gone blunt. Imagine running out of 8mm if-statements (dowels) and having to improvise some more so you can peg a project together.

This sounds like IntelliJ. Have to restart it every once in a while, invalidate caches, tweak some settings, sometimes re-import the project. Oops, an update arrived and now all your settings are reset to bizarre values. That's another few hours trying to get it right again.

My googlefoo is failing me, and I'm out of searches this month on Kagi, but there's a very famous programmer that now runs an arcade/bar in SF. He's got a real long blog post about how he doesn't update anything.

Maybe when intellij tells you it wants to update again, just tell it no

You're probably thinking of jwz, and you're probably thinking of this blogpost:


> For years I've had it drummed into my head that you always have to keep your systems patched, if you aren't running the latest security fixes, the script kiddies will eat you alive, running a six month old OS is like leaving your front door wide open, blah blah blah. Well you know what? Fuck that noise. I'm done upgrading anything ever. The next time I get this shit into a state that seems even remotely stable, I'm never touching it again. If we get hacked, oh well. I have backups. It has got to be less work to recover from than constantly dealing with this kind of nonsense.

Or possibly this CodingHorror blog entry that summarizes a few other instances of jwz saying this:


I just love what happens when you click a link from HN and it's something related to jwz. Why does he do it though?

I'm sorry, didn't find anything strange. Which link and what happens?

This one (although it works with any link he owns) , just so you know it's NSFW https://www.dnalounge.com/backstage/log/2006/04/

I try to instill in people the idea that their judgement is compromised at the end of the day and especially the end of the week. If you don't fight the urge to 'finish' something before going home, then what you're doing is dropping code that isn't up to your normal standards on your coworkers and then leaving the building. If you are the sort who comes in late and leaves late, you're painting a giant target on your head doing this, because everyone has had time to stew about anything you broke (possibly before their morning coffee has kicked in).

I mention this because the alternative is to have a cutoff of 90 minutes before you leave, and then have a lot of days where you end up with 45+ minutes to kill before it's acceptable to go home. What can you do in this time that makes sense? Basic maintenance is one thing. Rebooting your machine, restarting that IDE, clearing up disk space, upgrading things. Documentation is another. Cleaning up the Wiki is a good thing, especially on that odd day when you finish a project 1pm on Friday and starting something new makes no sense.

But for upgrading software? I think the best option is to look at your team and think, "who would I go to if my code/machine is behaving like the magic smoke got out?" Those people should be doing all of the upgrades, and then reporting their success/failures to everyone else.

I think what Jamie is seeing here though is the downside of open source. Nobody is getting paid to care as much about your use case as you care about it. Sometimes that's empowering, but it's also a huge responsibility. People who pay a lot for software are trying to delegate that responsibility. Win, lose, or draw, that's why they do it.

And what Jamie is missing here is hackers with a vendetta. "If we get hacked, oh well. I have backups." They know you have backups. If they just want to count coup, then your backups will be fine. But I've known of two different services where a slighted user hacked them and made it hurt.

In the first case it was something I hadn't used for a year or two, but I knew a guy who knew a guy who got banned. Found out through my friend that this guy put a time bomb in the backups, and managed to kill their server and all of the backups on the same day. That site was down for months, and almost didn't come back at all.

In the second case, the hackers didn't even take down the site. They exploited a kernel bug and logged all of the private conversations of the administrators, then cherry picked all of the worst bits and some spoilers and posted them online. That site was supposed to be down for a month+, and I think was down for almost 3.

Do you mean JWZ?


>Imagine having to stop work every few hours to hone the edge on an IDE that’s gone blunt.

I had instant flashbacks of memory leaks in eclipse.

>with only ever a single processor to throw at the problem which itself is hard bounded by mealtimes and hours-in-day.

If you use

  #import friends
you can increase the processing power. Depending on the quantity of beerSupply can increase the errors and decrease effeciency of the extra processors

I've tried it but it keeps throwing this cryptic error. I'm not sure what this means. Can you help?

> Module not found: Error: Can't resolve 'friends' in '/creakingstairs/people/`

The friends library is well known to have lots and lots of dependencies, and can be very rough to work out the multiple things available to have a working friends class.

  #require loyalty
  #require compatible
  #require sincerity
  #require compassion
You can try commenting out some of the required packages, but the quality of the friends class does become questionable

I'm so old that I can remember when Dale Carnegie released the friends package and its sneaky, buggy dependency on the LoveOfMoney package.

on edit: the old it's / its problem got me.

> Nothing is simple — every step of the project presents some unique problem that you have to work around carefully.

I dunno dude, that sounds just like software to me, lol

There's also the Home Depot Game, which is whether you can go to the hardware store once at the beginning of the project, and then not have to go a second (or third) time before you're done because you forgot something or you broke one of the pieces and didn't buy spares.

Honestly this just sounds like you're just happy to be a junior at something again, where you don't know what you don't know and can't plan accordingly, and each time you solve a problem you get dopamine.

100s of hours of wood working is nothing, A wood worker that does this for a living with 1000s of hours doesn't run into these issues nearly as often, same for senior devs with programming.

I respect that, but tbh I get a kick out using Svelte repl to generate SVG that I use in my CNC machine to cut wood. Feels fun to use software for some non-business purposes.

The planning is it for me too I think.

- How can I get these parts/cuts etc accurate without measuring them all each time? Or without measuring at all but just transferring the dimension.

- Can I clamp that glue joint together with the weird angle?

- How can I get the most from these sheets of plywood / beams of lumber? How to fit the stuff in the car, or do I split up etc?

- Can I make 2 things of the same dimension with 1 cut?

- Can I make that without needed other tools?

> Can I make 2 things of the same dimension with 1 cut?

When I realized that "measure once, cut twice" is actually the superior methodology I laughed for a week.

(As in, set up your cuts or use jigs so that you aren't trying to mark 34 5/16 inches on 6 separate pieces of wood and expecting them to be the same length afterwards.)

Or shims. I always feel like I am responsible for a personal feeling when I need to use a shim, even if it’s because the wood I bought didn’t have the right dimensions.

> Imagine having to stop work every few hours to hone the edge on an IDE that’s gone blunt.

Sounds like my brain...

This is great. I took up woodworking last year. The only thing about it that bummed me out is how expensive it is. I didn’t expect that. There’s a saying: “Why would I buy my wife a $500 dresser when I can build it myself for $1000?”

Very true with wood unfortunately.

It starts like that, but experience builds and in the end you get to ‘making cool stuff out of scrap wood and discarded furniture picked up from the road side and maybe €10 in hardware’, ‘repairing a rotted window sill for €50 in hard wood’ (a fraction of the cost of getting someone to do it for you), and ‘building the perfect built-in closet that only you could do knowing the house and your wishes’.

And then there's just the efficiency of having a little workshop where you fix stuff in a jiffy and hardly notice the amount of things that get their lifespan doubled. Good for your bank account as well the environment.

Oh, and seeing your children grow up with the idea that their parents just make/fix stuff, and that repairing things is the natural way to go about life. My three year old son regularly takes his portable toy kitchen, his toy tools, and starts 'repairing' it. That's priceless.

The problem is, if you own a "nice" house, you need very good skills to do many DIY home improvements, for them to actually look good enough to match the house. Otherwise, you are reducing the resale value of your house with shoddy-looking work.

If I owned an old cottage or something like that, I would be quite comfortable doing DIY work on it. It's a little bit like doing DIY auto repairs on a brand-new Acura TSX vs. a 2002 Honda Civic. The stakes are different.

Disagree. Cookie cutter newer houses which may look "nice" and have "nice" values (probably inflated) don't have the craftsmanship you are describing.

I think its quite the opposite. If you owned an old cottage with exposed hardwood trim, stained glass window, exposed hardwood stairs with a carpet runner, and custom built-ins it would be much harder to DIY improvements. That type of older house may also have older plumbing, older electrical, and possibly plaster walls, all of which will require more care and knowledge to DIY things than new electrical, plumbing or drywall.

Take for instance fixing a piece of trim that is an exposed hardwood vs. fixing a piece of trim that could be PVC/composite and some-shade-of-white. You can caulk over mistakes with white trim vs. trying to do a miter on exposed hardwood trim with not-square walls.

Can confirm. I’ve owned both and the new house is much, MUCH easier to repair.

A comment made by a carpenter friend of mine some 20+ years ago still sticks with me.

"The only difference between me and the guy who goes to Home Depot and does it himself is that I get it right the first time. This isn't rocket science."

His entire value proposition is that he can do something at high quality and get it done quickly. Yours is that you can do something high quality because we assume that you can take multiple attempts until you get it right.

While it is true you can often buy IKEA furniture for less than the wood would cost you, for any “real” furniture made out of real wood, anything you build will be far, far cheaper than what you can buy. Of course that is valuing labor at $0 and cost of tools at $0.

If you are making something like cabinet doors that are mostly labor and not much wood, you can easily make them for one fifth the cost of what you’d pay from ikea… but tons of labor!

The same thing can pretty much be said about any hobby. I know several people that do handmade clothing with both sewing or knitting. The knitters buying the really nice yarn will spend more in the yarn than a finished item from the store.

Aside from the pleasure of just doing something on your own, what you will probably have is something unique. People making electronic projects will probably adding features not available retail, or clothing in patterns and stitch design their own, etc.

Lots of way to value something other than $

No way! I built myself an oak side table. Solid oak, $200 worth of wood. Now, this was during the beginning of the pandemic when wood prices were through the roof, but still, I bet I could get the same oak table for $150 or less.

Where are you going to find an oak table for $150? $500 maybe if you're ok cutting corners. I was just out yesterday looking around and there wasn't a thing I'd put in my house (and I'm not that particular) that was under $1500.

This seems true to me (as a non-woodworker whose ex-partner got really into it), but what she explained to me was that her own furniture would be higher quality and also made the way she wants it (which you can't really put a price on)

You can definitely pick up used solid wood furniture for cheaper than building it yourself (especially if you consider the opportunity cost of your time), but you might not get exactly what you want.

Mass-produced hardwood furniture (OakFurnitureLand etc.) seems to be made of absolutely tiny scraps glued together, whereas if you are making something yourself you're more likely to use larger pieces of wood and less able to make use of small offcuts. I think that accounts for a lot of the price difference.

Are you buying rough lumber?

There is some arbitrage as certain species of wood are cheaper if you are closer to where they come from (for example Douglas fir is cheaper on the west coast vs pine on the east coast), and for a small item it can be built where the wood is cheapest and shipped from there.

However, I think it’s not likely to make that large of a difference. Wholesale lumber prices aren’t that far off from what a hobbyist pays if you go to the same places.

Auctions for new and used wood are a great place for bargain.

I built my workbench out of $5 of scrap wood by buying a homemade platform that had been used for judging volleyball games, because no one else wanted a volleyball judging platform and I was willing to break it apart and cart away a couple hundred pounds of lumber.

I recently purchased a good quantity of rough cut maple, locust and oak for around 10-25 cents a board foot from another auction because the owner of the woodshop in question was retiring and everything must go.

Truth. You can buy wood, used cabinet saw, used thickness planer, used jointer, all for about the same price of my dining table.

I can’t buy wood at wholesale prices unfortunately. Assuming they have any decent wood at all.

They say if you have an Amish mill nearby, they tend to be cheaper and a 2x4 is 2"x4".

From what I've heard- 2x4 is actually closer to 1.5x3.5" /s

And even then you'll probably need to plane it if you need flatness/uniformity.

I don't think that is the case. Not for quality furniture.

When I build furniture there is no MDF or masonite anywhere in the build, no veneer, no staples (or pin nails) ... usually no fasteners at all.

And as had been pointed out in this thread — it is the exact height, width, depth that I want, with the features I want and the wood and finish that I want.

Started out building MAME cabinets, BTW, ha ha.

This is what I hate about modern society. There are altogether too many voices urging the same thing:

"Why would you do something to augment your experience of reality if it's inefficient?"

The internet also makes it see like a consensus exists when in reality it is a tiny sample of the world. I am also constantly surprised by how many people give advice on a topic they have never actually partaken in, so this consensus may not even be borne of the real world.

> I am also constantly surprised by how many people give advice on a topic they have never actually partaken in, so this consensus may not even be borne of the real world.

Hey, that's why I'm on the internet. I could hardly talk about woodworking to actual carpenters in real life, could I?

I've managed to do it on a budget. Tools can be bought used and wood can be scavenged from the curb or dumpsters. Both have a large time investment to find, so the trick is to do it passively. I take a lot of walks, and when I see a nice piece of free wood, I take it home and make stuff from it.

I think it depends on the final quality and lumber used, too, though.

Pre-pandemic, I built my own cabinets in my garage with cabinet-grade plywood and Ikea butcherblock counters. I over-bought the wood by about 50% (because of a stupid mistake) and bought a really expensive track saw, and I still saved like 25-50% compared to buying the cabinets pre-made with the features I wanted. Even cheap cabinets would still have been slightly more expensive than DIY.

Granted, my cabinets are not perfect and I wouldn't put them in someone's kitchen, but they are more than good enough for what I need them for and both me and the wife are happy with them.

You can guarantee whatever quality you want, though, which is nice. You'll know for sure whether corners were cut or material substituted, and if you do do that you'll know it was done as an explicit trade-off that you made.

> You can guarantee whatever quality you want

For some people, this comes with a condition: "as long as it's terrible" ;)

Try working with metal - lot of tool are needed, and you always need one more. All of my wood working tool together cost the same as ONE tool for metal working. So the end product may cost a bit on the material side, but cost way more with tooling factored in. And most of the tools I have are 30 to 50 years old :D

I'm guessing you're referring to machinist tools like milling machines and lathes? Machinist tools are quite expensive, but other types of metalworking (welding, brazing, blacksmithing) can be done with much more modest budgets.

That's what machine shop auctions are for ;-)

It's expensive? I really don't get that. That solid hardwood dresser that you build yourself, could easily last 100 years. The ikea stuff won't last a fraction of that. You shouldn't compare a store bought dresser with something you make yourself.

Also if you don't want the expense, there's plenty of small things you can make with a handful of tools. Whittling and carving is quite cheap and very satisfying.

Yeah, buying all the tools can get expensive pretty quickly, not to mention how overwhelming the choices in tools are.

If you are just starting out, I'd recommend starting with just the core tools [1] and a block plane.

[1] https://www.lie-nielsen.com/nodes/4219/home-education-gettin...

You gotta find logs (which you can get at firewood places or haul off people’s downed trees) for very cheap/free and then saw your own slabs. The dimensional lumber at stores is incredibly expensive. You have to have a jointer and a planer for this to work though.

So in summary, “Why would I buy $500 of wood planks when I can build them myself for $2000 of tools and logs?”, got it.

Hand tools can be pretty cheap if you're not after some luxury brands. They won't be as nice, I guess, but they'll do the work.

Agreed. I believe that used quality tools can often be found for a reasonable price. This is especially true if you don't mind doing some cleanup/repair on them.

Well the $2000 is a one time investment. You can probably make furniture for the next 20 years with those same machines.

Shouldn't a downed tree take months-years to dry out before it's suitable for working?

At least a year but what I’ve found is a lot of trees that get downed are already dead and dried out before a storm eventually brings them down. In this case, there is no waiting.

Alternatively you can take them to a kiln to get dried and the price still ends up being far below what you would pay per board foot for S2S lumber.

2 years seems to work well where I live, but it depends on type of wood, recent weather, where you live, where you store it and many other things. I have a bunch of timber in various states of readiness for a bunch of different projects. It's a slow start, but once you've been doing it for a couple of years you will generally have something you can work with.

Yes, it depends on the thickness of the slabs, the local climate and the initial moisture content of the wood.

But, that much lumber is worth a lot of money. I think most domestic hardwoods are currently in the $5-$10 range per board foot (e.g. 12"x1"x1"). And that's rough sawn, you still need to mill that into usable pieces.

hosts my own git instance

I joke with my friend: “I can build it myself for more!” And true, some projects cost more than buying it from a store… but the experience is worth it, and usually the end product is better than what you can get from a store.

So many hobbies are expensive. I know I'm not competing with mass-produced pieces. It's like never dining in a nice restaurant because there are so many fast-food chains out there.

So many hobbies are just various themes of consumerism. Like a hobby of buying watches/pens/keyboards/etc. There are a huge number of cheap/free hobbies though.

That’s how you end up with a bandsaw mill

I spent $400 on a drill press!

Why some software engineers like woodworking.

I have been a software engineer all my working life, and I absolutely despise woodworking or anything that smacks of DIY. I find them unbelievably stressful and frustrating partly because I can see how I want things to be, they never work out nearly that good and I can never fix them.

Woodworking is rooted in reality. Angles are not perfect, measures are not perfect. In coding, everything is perfect. That I don't like the first and like the second.

> In coding, everything is perfect

We must be dealing with different codebases

This is probably why I've spent most of my career in embedded systems. It's the juncture of "this code will always execute the same way over the next 100,000 cycles" versus "the actuator controlled by that code will execute the same way for the first 10,000 cycles then start to go haywire as the bearings wear and the salt water starts corroding the slides leading to a bug that only shows up an hour after high tide."

Try coding something that interfaces with the real world, like a robot.

I'm writing rain simulators all day long right now : nothing fits those observed droplets data :-)

So one more good reason not to do any woodstuff at home when I can work with perfectly predictable things like the rust borrow checker instead :-)

that's the struggle of learning any new skill, though. at first you're going to suck, and you're gonna know you suck, but you have to keep going to stop sucking eventually. same with programming.

With programming you have source control and some form of an undo command. You also have a compiler and (if you can be bothered writing them) tests.

If you need another tool or another component you can just search for it on the internet and if it's available you can have it in seconds. No trips to a shop that may or may not have what you need, or queueing, or explaining what you need to a shop assistant who couldn't really give a shit, or being upsold on some other thing that you don't really need or understand, etc.

Also, crucially for me personally, there's no mess that needs to be tidied away before the rest of the family come find you. There's no storage area needed for half-finished crap, odds and ends you can't decide if you need in future, potentially dangerous power tools, that kind of thing.

Building software is like taking all the fun parts of DIY and leaving all the boring / dangerous / physically taxing parts behind, and you can pretty much do it wherever you have a power supply and internet connection. That's why I first loved it and why I continue to do it today.

> With programming you have source control and some form of an undo command. You also have a compiler and (if you can be bothered writing them) tests.

There is always an undo, just get another board.

> Building software is like taking all the fun parts of DIY and leaving all the boring / dangerous / physically taxing parts behind, and you can pretty much do it wherever you have a power supply and internet connection. That's why I first loved it and why I continue to do it today.

I have a different point of view. The software you build is ephemeral. You can't show it to someone. The architecture and the beautify of it's interplay is hidden and it's art is only available to you. I can show you my dovetail and let you feel how smooth the finish is. It's real. You can explorer it with your senses.

I also think a lot more people than just devs like woodworking. Some time ago, I spoke to a GP (family doctor) who was going to take woodworking classes because of COVID-fatigue. Perhaps there's a baseline that the author needs to take into account.

If I don't see them on hacker news then they don't exist ;)

I would consider knowing when things are 'good enough' is a core skill in software engineering too. There's always time to take another swing at it later. Nothings perfect

Agreed, and I'm more than fine with that in software. My attempts at woodworking/DIY are definitely not "good enough" by any objective standards.

Bookcase that fell off a wall shattering a glass desk and filling an entire room with books and papers laced with splinters? Yup. That was me.

Shed with gaps inbetween the walls large enough you can see in from the outsides? Also me.

School woodworking project to make an engraving that was so terrible it transmuted into an ashtray even though none of my family smoke? You got it. Me.

Ikea bed assembly where I got so frustrated that my friends banned me from helping assemble it and did it for me even though it was my bed? Err I'm not proud of it, but it did happen.

I could go on, but in any case. I don't like woodworking and I have plenty of good reasons not to. Perfectionism is not the problem.

I try to evolve satisfaction at my own jobs badly done. I also admire anyone that has done something, even when they fail.

There are uncountable skills to learn in one lifetime: there can be joy in accepting that one will always be crappy at most crafts. Celebrate tiny improvements.

I think we all have an IQ of 60 in different areas of our lives: being kind to our low IQ selves and encourage the best out of our poor weird misfired brains, like we would any child. Encourage the disabled you, usually nobody else will help much, or worse, lots of people will meanly cut you down. Be kind to yourself, mostly say positive things and be constructive.

> Bookcase that fell off a wall shattering a glass desk and filling an entire room with books and papers laced with splinters? Yup. That was me.

This one sounds as the worst "failure", but in general, hanging a book case off the wall is hard even for experienced professionals: books are notoriously heavy, and walls are of vastly different constructions, so sometimes, hanging it up is simply... impossible (eg. with a drywall if you can't find the drywall frame behind, or if that is too weak).

When I did remodelling of my place, I've planned for steel support behind wherever I wanted to hang heavy items (like a double vanity sink unit [people also lean on them], book cases, TV with a wooden panel behind it and similar). And you need to use special screws for different wall types and load (concrete anchors, wall/rawl plugs, toggle bolts, drywall anchor plugs... — though my English names might be off for these :).

So in short, don't hold this one much against yourself: it's sometimes hard even for seasoned pros, let alone hobbyists. I am just a seasoned hobbyist that's a sucker for hanging items (or actually, having clear floor to clean).

Anyway, the thing that attracts me to woodworking (and previously, chipboard cabinet construction) is that you get to make your own ideas: just like with software. But building stuff is not limited to software development or woodworking, and while there are plenty of software engineers enjoying woodworking, there are other ways to enjoy building your own stuff, and some might even enjoy not building anything after they've been doing it for 8+ hours a day.

>Shed with gaps inbetween the walls large enough you can see in from the outsides?

if it makes you feel any better, there's advantages to that too. If the wind can get through it, it's unlikely that moisture will be trapped inside. as long as the gaps aren't so wide that it's raining into the shed, anyway.

Fellow coder and woodworker here. I can relate to the article for sure and I'd add that in my case I make a point of avoiding using software or computer-assisted anything in my woodworking. So no Fusion 360, no SketchUp, no CNC, no laser cutters, no 3D printers.

It sounds radical but it feels important to my mental health to keep my woodworking physical an analog as possible. Now, I'm still a power tool junkie so I'm not about to give up my table saw or planer.

Aside from being phisical I think it has also to do with real time play and the easier ability to enter flow state. And nowadays with all the dev stacks, frameworks, cloud platforms and all the other noise, with coding it has become harder reach that zone. I don’t do woodwork but paint and I imagine it registers quite close to woodworking. Enjoy the experience.

No need to spend hours reading a poorly written manual first

Same here. I love woodworking and got some tiny skills but I keep it totally separate from the digital world. Now: at times I wish I had a 3D printer and 3D modelling skills and could models some plastic pieces I'd need for this or that.

Power tool junkie FTW too.

I found Sketchup helps plan larger items where there are dimension constraints like a built-in for a closet or a workbench. Once you learn enough (and restrain yourself from becoming an "expert") of the tool it can be easier/faster to plan things out than pencil and paper. It could be that as a rookie, Sketchup lets me experiment with things where if I had a few projects under my belt of the same type I could just get rough dimensions jump in.

I do love heading into the shop and just making something though.

You should try giving hand tools a try, if you want to take even one step further from avoiding The Machine.

Hand tools take a bit more practice but the rush of seeing your skill progress never goes away. Just yesterday I made a well fitting mortise and tenon joint. This is something I've done a thousand times, yet I still get the deep sense of satisfaction every time I see it set nicely.

I bet I could square up rough stock with my hand plane faster than your power planer/joiner, too. Cutting to size the hundreds of 1X3" I needed earlier, on the other hand...

I tried doing things with no cad step and the result is just garbage. Maybe if you have a lot of talent you can pull it off but I ended up making mistakes and then being unable to recover from them.

Same here, I really enjoy sketching it on paper. I've only made small, handheld objects so far though, I may change my mind once I decide to take on larger projects

I'm a coder for a furniture company. I can confirm making it digital takes the fun out of it. Well maybe it's the mass manufacturing side.

However I've picked up some skills along the way. It's nice to be able to design and build small projects around the home.

Yes, same here. It's my disconnected hobby where I let my creativity flourish.

If I do plans, it is using a pencil. But mostly I just improvise. There is only so much value in doing plans for one off projects.

All this and more. I'm fortunate enough that while I could afford to hire trades to do all the things I've done in and outside of our house in the last couple years (gutted/rebuilt kitchen & bathrooms, built phase one of a three phase deck/backyard oasis) I have to keep telling my spouse, yes, we could hire someone, but I really LIKE doing this stuff. Like really like.

It's now got to a point that the requests, and "He can build that" comments to friends are not accompanied with the trademark eye roll.

All the points the author hit ring true - planning, design, tool choice, etc have similar parallels to code and systems I work with during the day. But, I can cook meals for my family knowing that I built that space, then sit on the deck watching the wind in the trees knowing how many pieces of pressure treated lumber are holding me up and how it felt putting them all together. I never get that visceral connection using a web app.

I have a different angle: I love the idea of woodworking and metalworking and building houses and all those manual professional activities, but much more than actually doing it. I enjoy reading professional books about the theory and practice of those things which are both extremely old (thousands of years) as well as always adopted to the latest machinery trends. They're all grounded in reality and do useful things (usually). That's inspiring for me and a counterpoint to a lot of the short time shit we do in software development. I'd like to think that ideally I'd mostly work on software that is similar in use to what woodworking, metalworking and traditional construction produces.

Ahh! Then you need a router table. You can make jigs for it the rest of your life, you don't need to actually use the table.

This rings very true! This 1000%:

  Once my wife learned of my plans, the requests for custom pieces started rolling   in.  Knowing that whatever I build has an eager recipient awaiting it is rocket fuel for motivation.

  And since it's my wife asking for it, it's easier to justify buying the tools I "need".
I've grown my tool collection repeatedly this way :)

Give home renovation a go. Endless tool purchases, all easily justified because hiring out the labour is so expensive!

Exactly. Why purchase a new roof ventilator for 150EUR if you can spend 1000EUR for a small lathe and fix the ventilator that was broken?

But a VW campervan, whole new genre of tools required :D

If your work is abstract, making something concrete is very satisfying. I used to have a big yard, and loved spending an hour on the riding mower enjoying the clouds and the birds. When I was done I could see something that I had accomplished.

"Why would anyone do drugs, when they could just mow a lawn?" - Hank Hill

Can't buy a house with a lawn in this market, so I'll do drugs ...

Machining and metal work is the same for me. And now we have a lathe and mill and lots of precise measuring instruments. It is fun to re-create things like stirling engines and steam engines and work your way through the technology of the industrial revolution. Machining and precision are more fun than wood work for me. It made wood working seem rather easy by comparison as the level of precision required is often less by an order of magnitude or more when wood working. If your goal is just to build useful things MIG welding is very accessible and with a bit of practice you can fabricate useful strong things with metal as well. Wood work and metal work can also be combined of course. Metal working and machining definitely gets more expensive than wood working though.

What kind of mill did you get? I've been interested in one but I don't have that much space and I've heard that benchtop mills are not that useful, I hope that's not true since it would be my only option.

I have a lot of space, but check out Blondihacks on YT. They are quite useful, they just have limitations you have to respect. Just depends on what you are trying to do.

(My mill is a Sharp LMV 49 DVS btw). Lathes are a better starting point for most beginners BTW. But really both are fine to start with if in budget.

I like my wooden table because it isn’t built out of smaller tables which are built out of smaller tables which are built out of voodoo incantations which are built out of something that occasionally causes the table to collapse into a pile of dust.

On the other hand, you can discuss with your friends whether Makita or Bosch is the better language^H^H^H^H brand.

>>whether Makita or Bosch is

You mean Hilti, right?

For many power tools yep, but not for all :-)

You mean hammer factory factories.

An early facetious definition of "hacker" is "one who carves furniture with an axe". Loyd Blankenship, author of the Hacker Manifesto, had an e-commerce site in the late 90s/early 2000s through which he sold furniture he made.

There seems to be some connection here. I think it's just that hackers love making stuff, and woodworking is one of the most ancient and fundamental ways of making stuff. Materials and equipment are plentiful and easily obtained. A basic wood shop can be put together in a garage without special facilities. No special qualifications are needed, outside of time and practice. Almost anyone can get started, but the skill ceiling is high.

I built HTML emails once upon a time - "in the trenches sending spam emails" is how I describe it. One can only send so many undesired trash missives that literally have no effect upon the physical world before you need an outlet. Woodworking allows me to use my skills, raw strength, and attention to detail to create things that look beautiful, are useful, and don't get deleted instantly.

I got out of HTML email a long time ago, thankfully.

out of curiosity — since it sounds like you might have been working on promotional or unsolicited email — did you ever see responses from your emails?

i’ve been responding to marketing emails recently — often CC’ing generic accounts like marketing@company, help@company, etc to try to reach actual humans in the loop. the process has been fascinating to me and the number of (intentional or unintentional) choke-points makes me wonder if — even in the more enlightened organizations i’ve worked in — i could ever stand a chance of understanding our email campaigns, inside and out.

These were largely upsell emails to existing AT&T customers, and I was a designer/developer for a marketing agency, so I barely had anything to do with the sending. Think like the largest of the large; audiences in the millions.

So, no replies, but my grandmother got one of the emails my agency designed! That one made me feel queasy.

Apologies if what I said was misleading. That agency laid me and over a hundred coworkers off; hence no qualms about divulging our primary customer.

I like woodworking because it takes me away from the world of purely mental, metal things. It also doesn't hurt at all that it was the profession Jesus worked before fulfilling the Messianic prophecy.

I also find the products of my work aesthetically pleasing or useful. I am very happy, grateful to be able-bodied to do any amount of woodworking. I hope everyone else gets to enjoy something like that feeling for even just a minute.

Interestingly, woodworking is where I get to apply math, 3d modeling, drawing, and other things I dreamed tech would let me do. As a software engineer I don’t do many of the things I envisioned, at least not the way I hoped, so woodworking scratched the itches still.

I got into woodworking as my first real job. It’s such a great pastime too, though. Just like this post says.

Something I highly recommend if you find woodworking too expensive is to look into what you can do with basic hand tools and found wood. Try making spoons from green wood, for example. If you can get into it, it’s practically free and incredibly gratifying.

There are plenty of cool things you can make and even gift to people without a single power tool.

Can confirm, I started woodworking this year. It's every bit as satisfying as they hint.

It started as building project boxes for my Rasp Pi projects, and scaled up from there.

In fact, when we were putting together a highchair, one of the legs was the wrong parity (we got two of Left leg instead of R+L), so I pulled it out to the drill press and drilled the proper holes. The company gave it to us for free for our trouble, which basically paid for the drill press.

Also built small bookshelves for the nursery to match the wife's "Vision", coat hangers / key rack near the side door. All kinds of useful things!

I love wood working. I wish you could see my massive deck and outdoor sauna I made last year. It was one of the most fulfilling things I've done. It's also like meditation for me. You need to keep a clear head and maintain focus. In much of meditation there is a mantra you repeat to yourself. In wood working my mantra is the length of cut I need to make. I keep on repeating 15 and 5/8's (or whatever measurement I need) and I think it calms me down just as a meditation mantra.

Interesting! I actually grew up building residential homes and apartments with my brother and father. Later, took over part of the business ran it for a while before making the switch to software engineering.

These days, I have my own little workshop for carpentry and welding when I'm not writing code. I think it's all about the fact that you're using your hands, it "feels" more involved and intimate than designing software sometimes and it's relaxing.

Exactly. This is the same reason I garden. Physical work is just freeing sometimes.

I used to like it when my grandfather was alive; he had this large barn with all the tools and he made everything by hand, teaching me from a young age. Unfortunately all his tools etc disappeared into some kind of family feud and it is too big a hurdle to start again. I enjoy electronics and robotics and cooking and walking as hobbies; not much time for other things. But I miss the smell of wood and work. Who knows, maybe later; not dead yet.

Woodworking does come with a distinct lack of "undo" though... that's the thing that tends to get me :P


All my woodworking involve metal inserts (m4/m5), and standard machines bolts. It takes more time (but I switched to 5min epoxy, instead 24h one), but it's totally reversible, and I have proper stainless steel fasteners, and I can use threadlock (if I feel like it).

However, while nice and all - there is not much 'like' part into woodworking.

I'm a metalworker and use this process in wood, but I always thought it was cheating.

in that case (cheating) all power tools should be banned, they use way more advanced tech than metal inserts + machine bolts.

Where do you get your epoxy? I hate the 24 hour stuff.

I did a lot of woodworking and lutherie during my PhD in High Energy Theoretical Physics.

When you work all week in 20 dimensional non-Riemannian manifolds with torsion, it's really nice to come back to Euclidean 3D space and make wood chips the weekend!

Yeah, this is me. The main reason I don’t have any personal programming projects is because all of my free time is taken up with family and woodworking. I’m on sabbatical right now and I’m spending almost all my time in my workshop.

Funny, I started woodworking partially because I was doing less development (more on the management side).

Woodworking scratches that "build something" itch.

Plus, it has a high SAF (spouse approval factor). If I spend a Saturday writing a software tool, my wife is wondering why the lawn wasn't mowed. If I spend it building a coffee table, she's delighted :D

You also see over representation of coders climbing and in the martial arts (particularly grappling) - I've done both myself. I'd do wood working if I had the space. I don't really know why its like this, except that they all make sense to me in the same way that writing software does. Any other reason is a just so story.

For me it's been art. I started shortly after covid began. I started simple, cheap paint brushes, cheap paints, cheap canvases. Watched youtube videos (there are tons of tutorials) and tried. I post all of mine to instagram. It's fun to look back at how it began and how it's going. I got bored with it for a bit, then got back into it earlier this year. I changed my format. Still acrylic paints, but now I get 2ft x 2ft sheets of drywall from lowes precut, use drywall plaster or tile mortar (both have different effects) and brush the acrylic on or airbrush it on.

It's to the point where I have to either start rotating out pieces or attend an art show and try to sell some. Just running out of wall space in the house. To attend an art show means I think my work is good enough that someone might pay for it and same as with programming, theres some imposter syndrome happening here.

We'll see...

Do you mind sharing the youtube channels which helped you the most?

no one specific that I follow - i just searched google and youtube for "acrylic painting tutorial"

scrolled through until i found something i could do or was interesting.

I didn't start to truly enjoy it until i stopped watching tutorials, took what I learned and made what I wanted to make honestly. But it took the tutorials to gain some skill to do what I wanted to do.

A lot of this comes down to getting into a flow state. https://www.headspace.com/articles/flow-state

For a lot of people, software engineering is a craft. It's not exclusively about completing a task as it is working on something, getting into a flow state and designing/building something elegantly for a specific outcome. Woodworking is no different really and probably why so many software engineers like it as a hobby too.

Interestingly enough, I remember visiting and touring the https://www.lie-nielsen.com/ showroom. The business has been around for years, but from what I remember, they mentioned developing a really strong community of developers/engineers over the last 10 years or so.

There's a saying at my workplace that goes like

> Something with wood

It's a short, dumbed-down version of "screw it, I'd rather do something with wood instead" and every dev recites it every once in a while when they encounter strange bugs or other annoyances.

Software can often be intangible, abstracted and make you feel disconnected from the implementation.

Whereas woodworking is highly tangible and physical, which can make you feel connected to the work.

The same can be said for many other types of craft work too...

I would argue that software engineers like woodworking and other manual activities because of their differences with software engineering rather than their similarities.

I like to take photos because when I press the button a photo is taken, it's not going to output an error that will need a debugger to solve. I like to draw because when I move the pencil on the paper, a line appears, instead of the paper having an error message that requires me to contact their support to solve. I also don't need to update my paper to be compatible with my pencil.

I like those things because of the certainty that a specific action will lead to a specific result.

I am a software engineer and started making wooden table tennis blades. The only frustrating part is finding good woods, tools, ... In software you just need a computer and you can start being productive :-).

TIL that a table tennis racket is made of a blade (the wood/composite/whatever substrate with the handle) and the rubbers which are the sheets of rubber that you glue (?) on. Thanks.

As with everything, name brand blades can have prices that appear expensive to a complete outsider.

[1]: https://www.stigasports.com/eu/dynasty-carbon-xu-xin-edition...

And as with every sport, until you're at a <<very>> competitive amateur level (low level tournaments), getting equipment which is more expensive than say, 20-30% above the absolute basic level from reputable brands is a waste of money :-)

Something like this: https://www.stigasports.com/eu/allround-evolution-table-tenn...

Can take you very far if you're just beginning. By the time you're actually tired of it (probably a few years into the future), you're knowledgeable enough to figure out if you want something more expensive and exactly what you'd like.

From your link

>Very offensive 5+2-ply blade.

It took me a moment to get this, the racket looked pretty pleasant to me. I wonder what makes a racket more offensive or defensive, would it be the shape? Or maybe the weight distribution.

Not shape, per se, they're the same shape for competitions (+/-).

It's the weight, weight distribution and rigidity.

A very heavy, stiff and top heavy blade would be very offensive, since it would generate a lot of speed but you'd be lacking in control.

> What would I do if I was born a hundred years ago, before computers were invented?

> And the answer is now clear:

> Find something to build.

My great-grandfather was born ~110 years ago and became a master machinist. Kept those giant steam locomotives functioning. Grandfather was a construction worker who went into civil engineering and two of his brothers made airplanes in their garages, father is an electrical engineer turned software engineer and now I’m in software as well. Hopefully the party isn’t over just yet.

If I lived a hundred years ago I’d like to think I’d be building as well.

This post reminds me of my dad. He was a software engineer but also a luthier (guitar maker) and talked about a lot of these things. Sadly I inherited absolutely zero practical skills whatsoever (I think I'm probably most of the way to dyspraxic) and find stuff like that hugely frustrating. The ability to refine, repeat, and be precise that computers bring is hugely comforting to me, whereas real world work is so messy and non-deterministic when I get involved(!)

> real world work is so messy and non-deterministic when I get involved

Wait till you start writing code that deals make requests over the internet

Or has to talk to hardware

You'll see the real world :)

Touché! I guess there is a better term I am looking for ;-)

I never noticed that trend. None of my coworkers do woodworking specifically, some know enough not to mistake wood chisels for screwdrivers, and they may actually be rather good at it, but it is out of a wider set of skills that may include masonry, electronics, sewing, mechanic, etc... the usual jack-of-all-trades hobbyist crafty kind who do stuff themselves.

I can think of a few reason why software engineer appear to like woodworking.

- They are overrepresented on the internet, me, a software engineer who mounted a shelf a few years ago is more likely to exchange woodworking tips on the internet than my granddad who was an actual 8 fingered woodworker.

- If most of the people you know are software engineers, the ones who like woodworking are likely to be software engineers too, a simple statistical bias.

- Woodworking is technical work, software engineering is technical work, it is more related than, say, team sports, dancing or organizing birthday parties (some software engineers do that too of course, but it is not something they are known for).

- Software engineers earn the right amount of money for that kind of hobby. Woodworking is rather expensive, good tools are not cheap, neither is the space your workshop takes and the wood, especially now. But is not as expensive as racing cars and flying helicopters.

The same applies to music production, in my opinion.

You build a working environment of your own (with your choice of VSTs, presets that you have saved...), you definitely have way too many tools, you have a finite monetary budget (although the toughest limitation is your time and your sanity), you have the fastest feedback loop ever, and hopefully you'll have some users eventually :_)

"Ohhhhh, I see why I'm not making progress! I just need a new MIDI controller with start/stop recording buttons for Ableton, THEN I'll be able to finish this track..."

You should take a look at Rex Kruger on youtube. He likes to focus on making his own tools, working with older unpowered tools, and looking at historical building techniques. He also is great if you are not looking to do a huge investment in woodworking, and just want to learn how to get by with working with some scraps: https://www.youtube.com/c/RexKrueger

I get enjoyment from the opposite of point #2, 'Too many tools'.

I've got a Shopsmith, which is a reconfigureable multi-purpose machine. It's a drill press, turning lathe, table saw, jigsaw, and several others. You turn different locks to swivel the machine around and attach well-engineered implements to make the single motor power a different woodworking configuration.

As an engineer, it's fantastic. You get to make the machine do what you want. And you are rewarded for being careful and measuring things as you reconfigure, because the swivels and joints introduce the possibility of mis-alignment. Mis-alignment would show up in the finished product (the cut wood). So being fussy pays off!

For programmers, it's great.

Unless it's my tiny phone screen I'm surprised this video did not surface yet https://youtu.be/ShEez0JkOFw (Tim Ewald - Clojure: Programming with Hand Tools)

I hate working with wood, you can't weld it.

I really like this article though, and relate completely. I do metalworking and fabrication (building race cars) as a side hobby because having a tactile, physical thing to tinker with helps cool off from the daily software work.

I suppose the closest you can get to welding with wood is epoxy (or glue) and clamps and waiting for it to cure?

I know two different engineers who quit their engineering jobs to be professional woodworkers (or finish carpenters, is that close enough?). The first one started taking classes in traditional woodworking, then those classes turned into 2-week retreats, then finally he just quit and started making fine furniture and little pieces he sold online. He said he liked it for more or less the same reasons listed in this article: planning, execution, control, satisfaction.

I told the second engineer about the first one, after he told me he'd started getting into woodworking. I was laughing, like: "be careful, you're next!" and sure enough he was.

I had no idea this was a thing, but I did notice Chris Lattner (of LLVM) is a woodworker.


I feel like everyone romanticizes wood working.

as a former woodworker and former many other things, I dont need spinning blades or load noises or things to clean up or mess up that cant be a easily refactored, thanks. the only trade I am still using is cooking

We all know why: Woodworking is a subtractive medium: you build up large structures by irrevocably removing material from each constituent part.

Who loves deleting code? Everyone who’s been around long enough, that’s who!

I would love to get into woodworking. Unfortunately there are no classes available outside of working hours in my native tongue in the country I live :) I have dreams of building benches and such.

Just do it. YouTube is more than enough.

There is also the issue of access to equipment. Usually people onboard these skills at workshops as some form of training or internship. You can do real damage not knowing how to use those machines.

You can do a lot of woodworking without dangerous machines. I am terrified of table saws and router tables and do most of my work with only hand tools.

I used to go to a weekly class where I had stationary machines at my disposal, together with a teacher, and it is certainly helpful in saving time when prepping stock. But it is in no way necessary for woodworking and if you are a hobbyist doing physically small projects (boxes, decorative items, instruments, etc) the amount of time saved isn't even that great.

A saw and a chisel and some elbow grease will go a long way.

Indeed! I highly recommend the Youtube channel "Mr. Chickadee" to see some great examples of hand tools in action.

Most of what I know I learned from this guy: https://www.youtube.com/c/stevinmarin

I started with just using a saw, and then gradually added tools based on what my projects needed

I mostly play with metalwork as a hobby. But I did make some of my furniture, mostly because I couldn't find what I wanted (bed, workbench), or because I wanted to build them in-place (bookshelves, different workbench, some storage).

The furniture thus far as been mainly functional - not that it is unattractive, but it is all very form-follows function. I rather like that in general, but also see my mistakes and room for improvement. But then I'm probably moving soon, and may well need to rethink and downsize furniture anyway.

I can relate to this. I pick up woodworking a few years ago, before the pandemic, when wood was actually cheap. I chose to pursue a semi-'pure' manual hand tools only, and I'm feeling pretty satisfied. I embark on small projects, boxes, book dividers, etc., to disconnect from software development. If you want to pursue this manual woodworking, search YT for Wright Wood, Rex Krueger, Paul Sellers, etc. Craft masters.

Glue takes far longer to dry than even C++ takes to compile. Not a fan for that reason only. Ok, also, no undo button. Wrenching on my car, tho. That's fun.

Back when I worked on Windows, it would take ~24 hours for a full build/test cycle

Close enough to drying glue

That's a long and thorough list of all I hate about software development and hope to fix (at least a bit of it)...

In my case, it’s more like “why woodworkers like software engineering?”

Grandfather was a farmer, father a polytechnic teacher, … i have learned to work with wood, metal, cows, roofs, ducks, cars, … and computers.

The last one paid more in our era. I still do the others when they make sense.

I find woodworking quiet and beautiful. Metalworking, not so much :)

I think that metalworking can also be quiet and beautiful too. Of course, many power tools are loud and that's true for both woodworking power tools and metalworking power tools. I do metalworking (welding and blacksmithing) as a hobby and I find the grinders to be the most offensive. I also do a tiny bit of woodworking too and I find my circular saws, miter saw, and router to also be offensive for my tastes. I always wear ear muffs (for hearing protection) when using these tools and that makes using them much less objectionable. There are also many times that I will use hand tools such as files or rasps where another person might likely use a power tool. For the welding that I do, the loud parts are cutting metal and grinding. For the blacksmithing that I do, the only loud part is the hammering on the anvil.

I'm not into woodworking, but give me a CNC milling machine and you can lock me up and throw the key away.

If I wanted to get into woodworking while living in an apartment in a city, any recommendations on books, places to look, or videos on how to get started? I've been looking for a hobby to take myself out of the whole digital grind and find some type of stress releasing, but challenging hobby

Maker spaces often have woodworking equipment. In LA where I live, and also in MN where I'm from, there were several options.

They usually offer classes if you don't want to start yourself. But you can learn a ton by looking up cabinetmaking or something else on Youtube. For a real trip, watch joinery -- it's mesmerizing.

Other than that, I started by just picking up a saw and going to town, and quickly googling "How do I" to find out much more than I wanted to know. It pays to learn about the basic tools first. Table saw, Router table, Chop saw, Drill press, etc.

I got started (in an apartment in a city) using https://commonwoodworking.com/ and https://woodworkingmasterclasses.com/ from Paul Sellers.

He focuses heavily on using hand tools instead of machines, so much more suitable for apartments. He's also budget conscious, and tries to show ways of achieving things without spending a ton on lots of expensive or specialised tools.

Already some good responses to this, but for something different. Have you considered some other hands on hobbies? Knitting, painting, sharpening knives, advanced cooking.

If you have a kid, it's a nice hobby, provided you have the space to to use as a shop. You can involve the kid and he will love that.

It isn't valid only for woodworking. Anything that isn't very complicated and doesn't take a very long time, will do. Even repairing old cars or bikes.

I've recently taken up basketry for much the same reasons, but it has the added bonus that you don't really need any special equipment and the cost of materials is pretty low. Just so satisfying holding a thing in your hand that software just doesn't have.

For me it’s simple. Woodworking is a problem that I can solve. I mean I am trying to meet market demand and producing a product that I know will be used. Now the part of planning, design, “procuring funding”, building the product and “selling” it is all a story end to end.

I make my own surfboards for similar reasons. I tend to only code in my free time if I can't surf, or work on my next board (night time or no surf). Not sure how wood working it toddler friendly though?

I really enjoy woodworking (building instruments), but like writing boilerplate code - there's a really boring part to what I do: sanding

I'm pretty sure sanding takes up 90% of time spent on my projects.

Smoothing plane and cabinet scraper! There are times when there is no alternative to sanding but flat surfaces are a bit faster and certainly less dusty when you're making shavings.

I also think there is a precision aspect to woodworking which is similar to writing code. I like to take the time to make my cuts exact, make sure things line up properly etc.

Tracksaw FTW!

I always feel a bit of a fraud because I am not at all into things like woodworking, tinkering, fixing, making. I don't even enjoy solving puzzles much tbh.

I’d think that programmers would love gearworking; building mechanical clockwork contraptions, translating code into the physical realm.

Are there any active communities for that?

I'd say it's not only woodworking, few of my engineer friends are working with leather, growing vegetables, fixing bicycles and one is making knives.

woodworking ~= toy/side software projects

carpentry ~= software engineering (within an organization)

I think woodworking is attractive to software engineers because its akin to building side/toy software projects. Autonomy, building from scratch, requirements/AC's self-defined etc.

Software engineering professionally is more like carpentry/trades. Carpenters work in teams, work on one specific part of a house and may not touch other parts of the house, do not design but mainly implement. You might even liken SWEs to tradesmen generally in that there can be a high degree of specialization: plumbers, electricians, finish carpenters, tilers etc being the devOps, secOps, backend, frontend etc.

Woodworking != carpentry

Again, a big part of the draw to woodworking for SWE is the same as the draw for a software side/toy project: it's more fun and fulfilling to build something in it's entirety, from scratch, and by yourself (especially if you do the opposite in your day job).

Also, be wary of quitting your job to become a woodworker. Woodworking professionally does not necessarily resemble what is posted in this article or linked to. Many woodworkers start out as carpenters and learn on the job or as a side hustle to carpentry. Many woodworkers do not design the pieces they make/install. Many parts of the piece you are making could be prefab. The amount of time you'll be able to spend manually sharpening your hand tools will be limited. Grass is always greener: physical work is rewarding, but anyone who has done carpentry and/or woodworking their whole life will have infirmities, ailments, and maybe even disabilities caused by their career. There is woodworking fantasy and their is woodworking reality.

And also, tastes have changed and most don't care to pay for quality woodwork. Odds are the wealthy homeowner is going to take your beautiful mahogany built-ins and paint them purple because that's what the interior designer asked for. And that's if your lucky. Most folks don't buy custom built furniture, they buy IKEA. By all means take up woodworking and quit you SWE job, but assume that you will very quickly dip into the fortune you amassed as a SWE. I think there should be more craft in this world, so I wouldn't discourage it outright -- but make sure you have the material means to sustain this woodworking fantasy.

Unfortunately the amount of space available makes my budget for tool storage zero. I can imagine I’d like woodworking if I had the chance.

Personally I like woodworking because I get to hit things with a mallet.

It's the small things, sometimes.

Maybe you would REALLY enjoy blacksmithing.

Woodworking lacks rigor, too much "doing by feel" and too few carpenters have proper structural/mechanical engineering training. I recommend EE as a hobby for software engineers instead, RF and signal processing are just as concrete as woodworking and much more practical.

If you're serious, that's the point. We spend much of our lives doing rigorous work that's extremely logical, and unless you have a true connection to your code, there's no chance to "feel it out". Woodworking is that chance for many of us, even myself, building simplistic rabbit cages and ugly farm furniture.

I'd say try wood-lathe work. make a box and it's easy for it to end up wonky is the measurements are off. But make a goblet and the curves are what you make it - not necessarily what you plan.. But it feels good to shave off that wood.

Poe's law in action

Very true. I read the comment a few times and still can't tell if it's sarcasm or real (not that I have a problem with either).

Anyone here switched careers from software to joinery/carpentry?

I like woodworking because it doesn’t easily forgive a mistake.

I know it doesn't cover all the risks (including other tools and even poisoning) but it was a no-brainer for me to upgrade to a SawStop when I decided I was liking this hobby and was going to stick with it for a while.

By mistakes, I mean you can’t make an incorrect cut without real cost. You can’t edit the mistake. There’s no undo. It costs real money.

Our school had a woodworking teacher who was missing part of a finger. Unforgiving indeed, especially with power tools.

In 7th grade, our wood shop teacher lost a finger on the table saw, in the classroom. Not when I was there, and I'm not even sure it was during a class or with kids around, but she'd lost a finger, and that room was closed the rest of the year.

A few years later, a different teacher also lost part of a finger on a table saw, just working on something in his garage.

These weren't major factors, but have been partially responsible for me never developing a taste for hardware. I enjoyed metal shop in 6th grade for a bit, but... it got very loud, sometimes very hot, and the cost of doing anything wrong was great pain or death.

Contrast that with "nerdy" computer stuff... I could sit, relaxed, and 'create' stuff myself (often just typing in code from magazines and books, but it was a start!)

SawStop table saws effectively prevent complete amputations.

You can still do much worse of course, like chewing off all your fingers in a jointer or embedding an angle grinder wheel in your face.

Wrapping yourself around a rotating axle is also fun for the whole family.

Contrary to what YouTube will make you believe, you don't actually need any power tools to take up wood working as a hobby. You can do everything with hand tools, it will just take longer and often needs more skills.

My father was a professional cabinet maker and a decade ago he built a new kitchen from scratch. The only power tools he used were a table saw (which admittedly is one of the worse) and a belt sander. Everything else he did with hand tools.

When was that?

I'm just curious what era of safety devices were likely available.

The primary safety feature on a modern table saw is the riving knife, which helps prevent kickback. My old Craftsman contractor saw doesn't have one.


While not as tight to the blade as a riving knife, I've found these splitters[1] paired with a zero-clearance insert are an excellent alternative, and can be custom-fitted to almost any saw with nothing but a hand drill and the saw itself.

[1] https://www.microjig.com/collections/mj-splitter

I learned respect for my table saw early in my software engineer turned part time woodworker career after a near miss kick back incident. I’ve been using MJ splitters ever since on my old school Delta unisaw.

Neat! I didn't know this existed. A wonderful retro-fit for older saws!

Mid 80s.

We were in a 'newer' school district - the middle school was less than 10 years old at that time. All equipment was relatively 'new'.

Thanks. I only started using table saws a few years ago, so I watched a lot of youtube videos on safe operation.

It seems clear that using (riving knife) + (blade guard) + (push sticks or similar) + (feather board) + (careful adherence to safe operation) eliminates most of the risk.

I'm still unclear how much risk remains when following those rules. Maybe because most injuries I hear about involve people skipping at least one of those five elements.

This is a great example of how developer-centric the conversations are on this site. I get it -- hacker news, not woodworker news -- but next time I get frustrated with how it seems like the hacker news key to solve humanistic problems is to throw more tech at them, I'll remember how this article wasn't called "Why woodworkers like software engineering." The nth degree of this thesis would be something like "Why software engineers like going outside."

There are a disproportionate amount of SWE that like woodworking. What is your point?

It's right after the second set of dashes.

What has a rant about how SWE try to solve (too many) problems with tech to do with woodworking? Or that Woodworkers aren't otherwise into tech?

lots of people like going outside - SWEs aren't disproportionate in this sense.

I thought it was just me

software engineers like fucking too.

Put a bunch of 20-30 somethings in a room. Preferably with at least one attractive representative from each mutually compatible gender.

Add a necessity for distraction free periods to build mental maps of software. Add a modern HR policy. Add an open floor plan to facilitate glances around.

Invent a device to turn sexual tension into electricity. Power the office for free!


This is utterly astonishing to those who have been raised outside this race bubble. Gee, it's like you all find the slightest crack to start spitting "white vs others" rhetoric. It is extremely exhausting. It's 7.30 AM where I am at and I wanted to click on an interesting thread and this is the first comment.....

I don't know where you're from where cabinetmakers and carpenters are overwhelmingly white.

It's not the United States.

Don't engage with people who try to shoe-horn a comment about race as the first thing they notice. Its not helpful to either party I think.

I've both missed the edit window and can't type my own business name. That should be


I highly doubt the average carpenter in Botswana is a white dude :-)

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