This is a section from A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects, which is available on Amazon. Over the next couple months, you will be able to read the entire book, and I hope that you like it enough to get tour own copy. Enjoy.
Chapter Six – Advice & Best Practices
When I wrote this book, I envisioned a way to help new woodworkers make decisions, and feel good about those decisions. I remembered many of my past trials and errors, and thought that it would have really been nice to have someone just tell me what to do.
One of the big problems with woodworking is that people like it, so companies end up liking it too, because they can sell you stuff. When that happens, suddenly you have fifty different kinds of glue, because the store shelves look awful with only two kinds, and each one is “the best” for some specific task.
This is where it can be really tough for a new woodworker.
Imagine not knowing anything about glue, and standing in front of a dozen different options in a big store. Wouldn’t it be nice for someone who’s been there before to just tap you on the shoulder and tell you which one to pick?
That is my desire for this book. I want you to find yourself in a new situation, and remember that I rambled on about the same topic for seven pages. (That’s me tapping on your shoulder.)
Then, you confidently buy the only two damn types of glue that you really need, and walk out of the store. (More on glue later in the chapter.)
My big goal is to give you as many practical bits of advice as possible, and help you avoid some mistakes. I will also help clear up some confusion, and give you the knowledge that will allow you to make confident decisions.
After all, sometimes all you really need is someone that has been there before to tell you what you need.
Once you have the knowledge, making good buying decisions becomes really easy. You will also make fewer mistakes, and your projects will look better. In the beginning, nobody really knows not to build with new wood, they don’t know that brad nails aren’t the same as regular nails, and they think measure twice only has to do with measuring.
Sometimes it’s not until you make some mistakes, and get that hands-on appreciation for the sting of a costly mistake that you appreciate the seemingly small bits of advice that you are about to learn. Enjoy.
If you have patience, you will do better work, and faster too. Rushing is one of the biggest causes of mistakes, and oddly enough the biggest waste of time.
When you rush, you tend to rush from mistake to mistake, rather than step to step.
Having patience can actually make your project go much more smoothly, because when you make less mistakes, you actually progress through the build quicker.
People have a lot of reasons for rushing, but one of the most common is lack of confidence. When you don’t really know if the idea is going to work, you tend to push through quickly.
This is because the sooner you get to the end, the sooner you will know if your time was wasted or not.
Beginners tend to rush out of fear more than anything else. In the beginning, everything is new and interesting, and the process has not become a chore. The only element that is missing from a new woodworker is the confidence in the process, and that the outcome will be good.
If you find yourself rushing because you are unsure about the outcome, you need to stop. One of the best ways to overcome doubt is to do more reading. The more familiar you are with the process, the less stressful it will be.
For example, if you are bending wood, that can be very stressful. It can also cause you to apply more pressure than needed, causing the piece to crack. In reality, you were not a poor wood bender exactly, you were just a hurried wood bender.
Anyone, even an experienced woodworker would creak their pieces if they bent them too fast. In this way, you are not a bad woodworker, you just went too fast.
In a case like this, spend more time watching videos or reading about wood bending. For processes where feel and finesse are required, like bending wood, videos are going to be more informative, because you can get a better idea of how much time is passing between steps.
Reading about bending wood is good, but actually watching it unfold in real time gives you an additional layer of information.
Once you have more information, and you feel like you know more about the process, then you are free to go back into the shop. Take your time on the step or the process, and have faith that it will come out right.
This will help you believe in yourself more, and you will have less problems from going too fast. If you hit another sticky point, and you see yourself ramming through the step, stop and research more.
Confidence in your knowledge leads to confidence in your hands, and the cycle repeats over and over.
There is something you can do if you are worried about a process to the point where you are not spending enough time on the step. You can use a consequence free practicing method.
This is easy to set up, doesn’t cost much in most cases, and can give you the freedom to make mistakes without ruining a project.
In the case of the wood bending example, set aside the wood that you need for the project, and make up some new pieces to practice bending with. Since these are not needed for anything, you can destroy them without a care.
If you do successfully bend them, you will be a step closer to being ready to bend the real thing. If you ruin them, simply cut another set and practice again until you get it right.
Another reason that people rush is they have a deadline for a project, or something else is creating a time line for the build. In cases like this, especially as a beginner, you should not let anything but the project itself dictate the amount of time it will take to finish.
Since you are new, you really don’t know how long it will take, and setting deadlines can result in unnecessary stress. Besides, why start out a hobby with deadlines? This is a hobby in the beginning stages. Don’t rush to turn it into a job, and suck the fun right out of it.
Instead, enjoy the peacefulness of the process, and let the project pace itself. This way, you don’t have any reason to rush, and you won’t have to worry about mistakes that come from going too fast.
Some people are really driven by completing tasks, which is common in more demanding jobs. If this is you, take a step back from that thought process and enjoy the fact that you have no deadlines, no customers, and nobody pushing you to complete what you are making.
Enjoy woodworking for the peaceful pastime that it is, and don’t worry about missing a couple sessions. The project will always be there, and nobody is going to get mad.
If you are on the opposite side of the spectrum, and you are less inclined to do things unless prodded, resist the urge to try and knock out the project in one session. A person like this will run into the shop on day one, and then take several weeks off until they need the project.
Once that day comes, they go out into the shop the night before and try to complete several days of work to meet the due date. If this sounds like you, all you need to do is set yourself a couple reminders to get back into the shop so you don’t have to do everything at the end.
It’s scary sometimes when you have completed several steps successfully, and you are staring at the next step wondering how you are going to make it through. It’s nerve wracking, because right now you have a project that is still in one piece, and you might not be able to say that in another hour.
The last thing you should do in a situation like that is rush to see if you can sneak past the more difficult step. It won’t happen, because it’s nothing like moving fast in real life.
You might be able to run past a person without them seeing you, but you will not run past a step in woodworking and get through with speed over skill. The project doesn’t care how long it takes, all it cares about is that the process or step is done well.
If you can do that, you are granted the ability to move on to the next step. If not, you are sent back to the beginning in some cases, or you have to repeat the step.
Since the project does not care how long it takes, just go slower. Take the time to read the directions a few times, just to check for pitfalls. It’s better to catch it in the beginning than to find it later in the process.
Also, spend a little while going through the motions of the step dry, just to see if you can uncover any issues that might pop up.
Test fit your joints, dry run a clamping job, draw up a full size plan, or ask someone if they have run into any problems before with a similar build.
All of these things contribute to you having a much better experience, and they also prepare you better for the project. None of them require rushing, and they all put you in a better position as the project unfolds.
One of the best things you can do as a new woodworker is to simply slow down. When you slow down, you allow yourself to see and anticipate mistakes, you make less mistakes, and your build will actually progress faster than if you were to rush.
Spend Time Planning
Planning is so important that it was covered in a previous chapter, with strategies, methods, and good ideas to help you get off the ground. Even with all of that, it’s important to mention here.
The time you spend planning will return to you in the form of a less stress during the project, and far fewer bumps in the road. It will also take the information about the project out of your head, and allow your brain to be more creative.
Our brains are beautiful and wonderful parts of our bodies, and we don’t use them for nearly the right reasons most of the time. We cram our heads full of facts, dates, and data pieces, and over time that information can restrict the natural ability to be creative.
Your brain was not meant to be a hard drive. If you need to know what year the battle of Bunker Hill was fought, you have Google for that. If you have a grocery list to remember, you have an app for taking notes.
Don’t clutter your mind with holding onto data when you really need your mind for creating, building, and bringing forth new and amazing ideas.
This is where planning can come in handy, and make you more creative. If you have to make a project completely from your head, you will quickly find that you are spending more time trying to remember the measurements than you are making the project.
This is because you need to have that data in order to make the project correctly. Your brain makes it a priority, and you focus on little else. With such a heavy focus on the measurements, you now lack the ability to make changes on the fly, alter the design, or add to the build spontaneously.
Being bogged down, you can only do so much.
Now, compare that to the feeling of writing everything out and making cuts from the list of pieces. This is a really freeing activity, since you are now just producing pieces rather than a whole project.
I’ve personally forgotten how the pieces go together after knocking out a cut list, and had to go back to my plan. That’s how freeing having a nice plan is. The burden of remembering everything is gone, and all you have to think about is cutting out pieces of a certain size.
It’s hard enough sometimes to remember how many of a certain piece you need as you are cutting, let alone all the rest of the pieces you need. Plus, you would have to remember their sizes, their placement, and how you are going to put it all together.
It’s just too much, and it wastes your precious brain on storing facts rather than being creative.
Another thing that a plan does really well is it helps with organization. You will have a chance to build your project on paper, and work out the kinks before you ever make a single cut.
The joints can be planned, the overall size and proportions can be figured out, and the final assembly all plotted on paper. This kind of planning tends to lead to better projects, and far fewer mistakes.
Finally, a plan makes the build less stressful. Less stress means more fun in the shop, and a more enjoyable project overall. Planning removes a lot of mistakes before you ever have the chance to make them.
The plan gives you a guide, a map, and even somewhat of a time line. All of these things are like little reassuring road signs along the way as you make the project.
If you are going to go through the motions of making something, take a few minutes at least and make a loose plan. You can always modify the plan as you go, but at least come up with a basic framework of what you want, and the dimensions.
This way, you can reference the drawing instead of trying to remember everything. Your build will be easier, with less mistakes, and with less stress.
Check Your Measurements
There is an old saying that most woodworkers know, and it’s “measure twice, cut once.” It’s a good piece of advice, but it has to do with far more than just measuring and cutting.
The real message in this time honored bit of knowledge is to spend more time checking things before moving forward.
When we make mistakes, it’s typically from some oversight. It’s not something completely new, or different from anything that anyone else has experienced before. It’s simply because we didn’t see or anticipate something happening.
Oversights often happen because of rushing, and in cases like that it’s easy to miss important things, or signs that something undesirable is going to happen. If you can slow down a little, as mentioned before, you can avoid a lot of those mistakes pretty easily.
Checking things more often is a way that you can spend a little more time looking and thinking rather than doing. In the example, measure twice and cut once, the person is thinking and checking twice as much as they are doing something.
The point is to spend enough time making sure that everything is going to work before you commit to a process that cannot be easily undone.
You can apply this in your shop right away as a beginner, and it will mean more successful projects and less mistakes. For example, a perfect measure twice and cut once practice is to make a test board for your finish recipe.
Especially if you are new to finishing, or you are trying out something for the first time, making a test board is a great way to see what your final finish will look like before committing to the application.
As you are working out your test board, you are in the thinking phase. The nice thing is you can change the steps, alter the application, or even change products to ensure that the finish looks the way you want on the final project.
Since no action has been taken yet on the actual project, you are free to experiment, have fun, and not worry about damaging your work to this point.
Another good example is squaring your wood. The more time you spend working on the pieces you are using and making them square, the easier the build will be. A minute spent here in the beginning will return itself several times over when you are not trying to force a bent piece of wood together.
It will reduce your wood filling time, and make your joints look better too.
Measure twice and cut once is far more than just a way of checking your measurements. It’s really about doing the foundational things that make your project have a higher success rate.
It’s about spending time thinking before you leap, and ensuring that you are making the right decision before you do something that you can’t reverse.
To apply this principle, simply slow down and check on things more often. Double check measurements, and test fit pieces. See how well your joints look in a light, and see if your pieces are square.
Test a new finish, and try out new hardware before committing to the actual project. All of these things are measuring twice, and they help you avoid having to cut more than once.
Over time, many of the practices that you develop now to help you be successful will carry over. They will become things that you just do in order to ensure that you make very few mistakes.
Your builds will be better in the beginning for the effort, which is great because many new woodworkers just end up making firewood on the first few projects. Later in your woodworking hobby, those techniques will help you remain confident, and continue to push out good work.
Part 30 – Wrap Up
I hope you liked Part 30 of A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects. As you can see, this is a different kind of beginner woodworking book, and I encourage you to get a copy for yourself so you have it all in one place.
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