This is 10 Woodworking Lessons I Learned in India. I was fortunate enough to travel to India to visit a company that makes wooden jewelry from a specially engineered wood that they produce themselves. It was an amazing adventure, and coming up I’ll share with you the 10 important lessons I learned about woodworking while I was there. Enjoy.
Woodworking in India
Having never left United States of America before, traveling to India is about as far away as I could go. On my very first trip abroad, with a 12 1/2 hour time difference, I met some truly amazing people, and learned a few woodworking lessons as well.
It was an incredible experience working with such talented craftsmen and designers, and I am extraordinarily grateful for being given the opportunity. It was a wonderful part of my life that I will definitely never forget.
Even though I was being brought out there for my knowledge, when you keep your mind open, you can always learn a few things for yourself.
This trip was no exception, and here’s a quick list of the woodworking lessons that I learned, and I’m going to go into each one of them in more detail further down in the post.
- Having an assistant is very helpful.
- One tool can do a lot more than you think.
- Buffing is really the best way to finish nearly anything.
- Keep repeating the process and ideas will come.
- Desire is more important than tools.
- A good setup means a good outcome.
- A good process is important to production.
- Speaking the language of craftsmen even though we spoke different languages.
- The power of generating ideas with a group instead of solo.
- Experiment and try things.
Having an Assistant is Very Helpful
When I arrived at their facility in India, I was given an orientation and then shown into the tool room where I would be working. They had everything set up for me just as I had asked in my emails back-and-forth.
I also had another surprise that was unexpected, I had an assistant to give me a hand with my setups and to give me a hand as the project unfolded. This was unexpected, because I usually work by myself, so I never even really thought of asking for help.
The person that they had working with me was nothing short of amazing. He knew his lathe inside and out, and was a very confident and skilled operator. In fact, without his expert set ups, I would not have been able to perform nearly as well as I did.
It was in this experience that I learned my first woodworking lesson while in India. The value of a good assistant that can anticipate your needs and understands what you’re trying to accomplish is something that can’t be understated.
Even though we didn’t speak the same language, we both knew how to use the tools. That’s all we needed, and it was a great lesson learned about woodworking with a partner.
See Also: Teekriwood from India
One Tool Can do a Lot More Than You Think
Another thing that I learned pretty quickly into my trip was that one tool can do a lot more than you might think. This is something that you should apply to all of your woodworking tools, because I promise they can do a lot more than you know.
That being said, I learned this lesson by watching a man using a grinding wheel. It’s the only tool that he had, and frankly the only tool that he needed. Even with such limitations, he was able to produce work that you wouldn’t think could be made on a grinding wheel.
He was able to turn complex shapes, both flat and round, and into three dimensions very easily. Not only was his work very precise, but it was also done quickly. On top of that, it was uniform and repeatable.
In case you didn’t know, the grinder is a high-speed wheel that’s made of flat metal and has sand paper stuck to one of the faces. It spins incredibly quickly, and you can use it to shape and sand pieces of wood.
After watching this man make all sorts of different shapes from small pieces of wood using this one tool, I felt extraordinarily humbled as a woodworker.
Here I am with this gigantic shop at home, well not really gigantic but definitely compared to one grinder it’s gigantic, and he could do more on that one tool then I could do with my entire shop. And faster too.
That was my second woodworking lesson. I have to confess that I definitely don’t understand any one of my tools with the same level of understanding that he has for that grinder. It’s a shame, because with that level of understanding there probably wouldn’t be anything in this world that I couldn’t make.
The moral of the story? Get to know your tools extraordinarily well, and practice with them as often as you can. There’s no substitute for putting in the time, and I hope one day that you have even a fraction of the understanding of your tools that he does of his grinder.
Buffing is the Best Way to Finish Anything
I’ve always been a big fan of buffing as a finish. It’s something that I’ve talked about extensively on the website and something that I tell people about all the time. There are a thousand reasons why it’s awesome, and anyone that has buffed a finish before knows this.
The lesson that I learned was actually more of a reinforcement than a lesson, but it’s still nice to get confirmation that you’re on the right track. Seeing this factory produced lots of items, I was pleased to find that they buff many of them to shine.
Buffing is one of the fastest ways to add a shiny, finished look to a piece. Nearly everything that they made in the factory that I noticed was buffed and polished to its final sheen. It made me feel good that if a factory uses the same process, then it must be good for me too.
This is your quickest and least expensive entry into the process, and it’s actually one of the best models you can buy. You can get the entire thing for about $100, and it’s absolutely positively worth every single solitary penny.
Keep Repeating the Process and ideas Will Come
As I was making rings for their engineers, I have to confess it was a challenge to come up with new ideas. As anyone that’s made wooden rings knows, the process of making the rings is fairly similar from ring to ring. The difference is in the look.
I was brought over to India to teach the process of making wooden rings so that way they could add them to their jewelry line. My part was all about process and teaching, so I had to come up with different designs on the fly.
Any time that I struggled, I just put another blank on the lathe and started turning. It was through doing the work, and having my hands on this Amazing Teekri Wood Material that they provided for me that new ideas were born.
It’s also there where I learned my next woodworking lesson, and that’s simply doing the work in order to generate ideas. It’s kind of like that saying about striking while the iron is hot. If the iron is not hot, start striking and you’ll warm it up.
Any time I felt like I was coming to the end of my ideas, I just started working with the material and feeling where it was going. It always ended up going someplace interesting and beautiful, and I am very thankful that I just kept on moving forward.
Desire is More Important Than Tools
Another lesson that’s a little bit more obvious but still something that I think you need to experience first hand is that the desire you have is more important than the tools you have. You are nothing without desire, and tons of tools won’t guarantee your success.
The craftsman that I was able to work with, and was fortunate enough to work with had very few tools when it comes to variety. The tools that were provided for them were all excellent quality, they just didn’t have many different types.
These folks had a desire and inability to produce great looking at pieces with only the need of a few different tools. That’s a huge contrast to the normal thought process of just buying another tool when you run into a roadblock.
The next time this comes up, I challenge you to look for a way that you can safely perform the same process with one or more of the tools that you already have. Odds are if you have a few woodworking tools, you might be able to make a jig and not have to buy anything additional.
Remember, if you have the desire to make something extraordinary and that passion fills you, it almost doesn’t matter how many tools you have. You’ll figure out away, and it will all work out.
A Good Setup Means a Good Outcome
Making wooden ring after wooden ring on the lathe, it was really nice to have a perfect set up to start with every single time. After all, the foundation is very important, and your foundation for lathe work is a good set up.
The person I had helping me on the lathe had a lot more experience than I do, especially when it comes to setting up a four jaw chuck where they all move independently. Coming from a small wood lathe then going up to a very large metal lathe, this was new territory for me.
Thankfully, it was a very basic operation for him, and he did nearly all of my initial set ups to get me started turning the rings. It was also nice to be able to take a little break in between sessions, because it let me think about what I was going to do next rather than thinking about my set up.
Sometimes I’m not nearly as patient as I should be, and I know that it would’ve gotten the best of me and eventually I wouldn’t have taken the time to make sure my blanks were placed properly before I started turning them.
Even though I know even in writing this that starting with an out of square blank is not a good practice on the lathe, eventually I know my frustration would’ve led me to that point. Thankfully I had someone with a lot of experience with me, and that made a big difference.
A Good Process is Important to Production
One of the things that amazed me so much about my trip to India was being able to see the manufacturing process for several different wooden items. I’ve always been fascinated with how people come up with their process, and there’s was outstanding.
It seems like there was no time wasted between any step, and that everything was in a perfectly running system to produce a finished product. There were no steps that seemed redundant, and there were creative ways of accomplishing the different processes in woodworking.
It really showed me the value of having a good process, and being able to look at the construction process with the eye of an engineer, and trying to make it as smooth as possible. Just seeing it made me think quite a bit about the steps and the order in which I make things.
See Also: Working in Stages to Increase Production
Speaking the Language of Creating
Of all the different things that I learned, this is definitely the one that surprised me the most. Not speaking the language, I had someone who could translate with me right from the start. Essentially any time I needed to communicate, I told that person, and either they told somebody else in another language or they just helped me themselves.
The same thing happened when I was making rings with the employees in the shop. This continued for a day or two, and then suddenly, and without me even really noticing, my translator disappeared.
I didn’t even really notice until the end of the day practically, but I have been communicating back-and-forth with designers and engineers who didn’t speak my language, and I spoke absolutely none of their language.
On top of that, it was nearly effortless communication. We were able to point at things and make gestures with our hands and fully understand what each other was saying. We even managed to come up with new ideas, and try different things on the lathe.
Literally for hours we were having complete conversations without hardly any words. It was amazing working with such talented people that have the same passion for woodworking that I do.
The person that was helping me translate notice this long before I did, and that’s why he was able to just let us create on our own without anything to slow down the process. It was beautiful.
The Power of Working Together to Form Ideas
I normally work alone in my shop. So, the person that always comes up with the best ideas is me. The person that comes up with the worst ideas? Well, that’s also me. Working alone, I never really appreciated how creative you can be in a group.
Even with the language barrier, we were able to think, design, and create using the knowledge and experience of around five people combined. These are some of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with, and it was almost like we were using a collective thought process the entire time.
We would come up with ideas, try things, and add or subtract what worked and what didn’t. It was so refreshing to have other people come up with ideas and add to the process, and that also helps me generate better ideas.
I think because I wasn’t on the hook for 100% of the content that it allowed me to relax and come up with some of my best stuff. I hope I did the same for them, because they were coming up with some really good ideas.
Experiment and Try Things
It’s important as a beginning woodworker to spend a lot of your time just working with the tools and making different things. It doesn’t even really matter what you’re making as much as that you’re actually making things.
In the end, the price of wood is relatively low, but the value that you get from the experimentation is extraordinarily large. Not only that, your experience and your confidence with your tools will improve very quickly.
This was one of the lessons that I learned while helping teach the process of making wooden rings. No matter what ideas came my way, I just tried them. Some of them worked, and some of them didn’t, but it all kept us moving in the right direction.
There’s no such thing as failure, it’s only feedback. We found some things that didn’t work, and it pushed us in the direction of the things that did. You should almost look at those setbacks as important signs pointing towards discovering where you really need to go.
Without them to act as guide posts, you’ll never reach the end. It’s almost like you need to feel your way to success, and I got to taste a little bit of that first hand. Another lesson learned, and I am all the better for it.
Your Action Assignment
Now that you’ve read about these amazing lessons in woodworking that I learned halfway around the world, it’s time to get out into your shop and take action. Put some of these ideas into practice, and you won’t have to take a 19 hour flight to learn them.
If you are brand new at woodworking, start with just trying things. Start making things in your shop, and learn from every project. Not only will it make you a better woodworker, but you will progress so much faster than if you didn’t.
If you have any questions, please ask a question and I’ll be glad to answer it. Happy building.
- More than 20 Years Woodworking Experience
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