Numbers are everywhere. A world without numbers is difficult to imagine. Whichever field you are in, you get to use math – more so in woodworking.
Do you need to be good at math for woodworking? Knowledge of the four basic operations, decimals, fractions, and other advanced concepts such as geometric shapes and angles is good enough to start with. This is for hobbyist woodworkers. Math is more advanced for those who want to take up woodworking as a profession.
The Role of Math in Woodworking History
Mathematics plays a very important role in woodworking. We can see the involvement of mathematics in woodworking in the very first stage, that is measurement. Many people think math isn’t fun, but math is based on logic and teaches you to be precise.
Making use of the power of mathematics will make you a talented woodworker. But you don’t have to be a math wizard to excel in the field of woodworking.
Woodworking Math in Ancient Times
Tools made of wood enabled ancient humans to build strong and durable homes for themselves. Over time, humans honed their woodworking skills and made more sophisticated weapons to hunt animals, clear land for growing crops, and build furniture for their homes.
Civilizations from ancient to modern have used wood to create lovely and appealing objects. Woodworkers of ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, and China used different styles and techniques.
Ancient Egyptian paintings depicting wooden furniture date back to 2000 B.C. These were found well preserved in tombs because of the country’s dry climate. Archaeologists also found some sarcophagi (coffins) crafted from wood in tombs.
Ancient Egyptian woodworkers were noted for developing techniques that advanced the craft for future generations. They invented the art of veneering. Veneering is the practice of gluing thin slices of wood together.
Veneering is over 5,000 years old and we can see the first examples of veneering in the tombs of Semerkhet, an early Egyptian king. Many pharaohs in those days were buried along with objects that had ebony veneer and ivory inlays.
This is where they brought in math. Mathematics developed far beyond basic counting. Logical reasoning, counting, measuring (using hand span and foot), and describing the shapes of objects began.
During the earliest pre-dynastic period (circa 3100 B.C., about the time of the first pharaoh), they also used mortise and tenon joints (mortise is a hole or recess cut into a part that is designed to receive a corresponding projection-tenon) to join pieces of wood.
Geometry in the field of mathematics is essential for woodworking. Even ancient people liked the symmetry in objects around them. If you go through pictures of ancient palaces, you will notice the geometrical knowledge used by people of that time.
Woodworking Math in Biblical Times
One of the Bible’s first woodworkers was Noah. God gave him and his sons precise instructions to build the ark. The length of the ark was to be 300 cubits, the width of 50 cubits, and the height of 30 cubits. The cubit was a standard measure used at that time, equal to the length of a forearm approximately.
If you convert cubits into feet based on the common cubit of 17.5 inches used by the Hebrews, you get an Ark that is at least 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet tall, about the size of a 4-story building! It took Noah and his sons 120 years to complete the project!
Woodworking Math in the Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages (from about 400 A.D. to the 15th century), as wood was the building material commonly used, carpenters prospered. They were among the most skilled craftsmen, but they had to belong to guilds.
The tools were simpler than what we use today, but they had to know how to use them and math and woodworking.
Woodworking Math in Modern Times
From crafting a small jewelry box or a kitchen drawer to the layout of a massive patio or deck, multiple building projects require that you “square up” the corners of any project. Woodworkers still use the ancient mathematical theories put forward by Pythagoras, a Greek mathematician.
We use the Pythagorean Theorem wherever there is a right-angled triangle. When you know the length of two sides of a triangle and want to find the third side, you can use this theorem.
A Classic Mathematical Principle
Pythagoras was credited with many mathematical theories in ancient times, which would later be famously known as the Pythagorean Theorem.
Whenever a woodworker needs to get a 90-degree angle while working, he uses the Pythagorean Theorem. The theorem defines the fundamental relationships among the three sides of a right triangle.
The square of the hypotenuse, the side opposite the right angle, is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. For example:
a² + b² = c², where a and b are the two sides opposite to the hypotenuse, and c is the hypotenuse.
It may seem difficult at first, but once you understand the concept, it becomes very easy. Just imagine, this age-old concept still helps woodworkers in the 21st century!
Woodworking isn’t hard to learn, and everyone can be a very good woodworker. Both hobbyists and professionals should have a basic knowledge of mathematics, and this math is the math an 8 to 9-year-old school kid learns.
Level of Math for an Amateur Woodworker
The basic math an amateur woodworker should know is the four mathematic operations, which are the pillars of all mathematics.
You should know:
Importance of Geometry and Trigonometry
If you know and are fine with these four basic math operations, you won’t have any problem pursuing your hobby as an amateur woodworker.
The four basic math operations will help you while taking measurements. Sometimes you might have to add or subtract certain values and take the total length of objects. You need to multiply to find the total cost of the paint you require for your project.
Accuracy is the most important factor here, and if you don’t measure your wooden surfaces right, your wood projects will have serious issues.
Level of Math for Professional Woodworkers
Yes, the professional woodworker needs to know more math than the amateur. Professional woodworkers should visualize and imagine their projects at the 3D Level, not only 2D. Knowledge of basic math is necessary. They should also train their brain to visualize the plan from A to Z in the 3D space.
The professional woodworker will be called to place these plans inside houses, above walls, or any possible place imaginable. These wood plans must be 100% correct vertically and horizontally.
These professionals often use the Pythagorean Theorem to measure distances in triangles. They also need to calculate areas and volumes.
Trigonometry comes into use while doing house roofs, where rectangles and triangles are connected. They should know how to measure the cubic volumes of triangles, squares, circles, and cylinders to know how much space their wood plans will take up in the wall, or any specific spot inside the house or building.
The professional woodworker also needs to consider in their mind the measuring differences from the contraction-expansion of the wood due to various reasons. Professionals need to be excellent at their jobs to create a reputation in the market.
A knowledge of math concepts involving geometry, algebra, and trigonometry needs to be mastered to excel at woodworking. You can produce quality products without any flaws just by making use of the mathematical concepts you learned at school and over the years as a woodworker. If you have the passion, you can succeed in woodworking.