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.
As you design, think simple. It’s actually much more difficult to design something that is simple than to design something that is complicated. We have so much knowledge at our fingertips that adding difficulty and adding layers is not hard anymore.
The challenge is in finding a way to make the same thing with less. It’s also in doing more with the same amount of materials. As you design your work, think about the most simple way that you can accomplish the goal, and that is your starting point.
Have you ever noticed that the best foods tend to have the simplest recipes? The simple things tend to be the best, and the same goes for woodworking. If you over engineer your project, you make it clunky, difficult to operate, and not as much fun to use.
Think of the end user, and think of the experience that they will have with your project. You want to give them the simplest time, otherwise you are going to lose a lot of them.
This also ties into designing the function. A dining chair needs to keep you off the ground while you eat, so why can’t a three legged stool do the same thing? After all, a three legged chair never wobbles, and is very sturdy.
Thinking simple, you can solve a lot of woodworking problems without having to cram too many extra things into the design. That is one way to make your design more simple, and make it work better too. It will be easier for people to understand, and easier to make as well.
Having worked with a lot of different people that use tools, one of the most interesting thing that I noticed over the years is that the more skilled the person was, the less tools they tended to use.
They still needed certain tools for certain jobs, but they did not need to haul around the same kit that a less experienced person did.
I think that after a while, you learn what you need, what you don’t, and how to use what you have to do more. This is where you become a much better woodworker, when you can use a smaller tool set to accomplish the same thing.
Over time, you are going to collect a lot of tools, but you will find that you end up using the same few over and over again. This is where you develop your main tool kit, and you ultimately shape how you attack certain tasks.
Some people like to sand, some like to scrape, and some like to plane. None of them are wrong if you get the results that you are looking for. Some may be faster, and some may be better for one reason or another, but none of them are wrong.
The tool choices that you make in the beginning tend to be the ones that you get comfortable with, and those become your bread and butter.
We love familiarity, so make sure that you are experimenting with a few different ways of doing things in order to expose yourself to a lot of options before you get too comfortable.
If that happens you can miss out on something you might have really enjoyed working with. The tools are out there, so enjoy the hunt and give as many of them a try as you can.
As you dwindle down to the main tools that you will use, resist the temptation to sell or give away any of the tools that you have.
You may run into a point where you have to use the tool again, and in that case you will have to buy the tool a second time. If you are dead set on never sanding again because of your new found love for the card scraper, but you are tempted to use sandpaper when you have it in the shop, that might be a good time to give away something.
The price to get it back is low, and if you need it gone to succeed, then by all means do whatever you need to in order to be successful.
As you get better and better at woodworking, you will find that you don’t need to use as many tools to accomplish your tasks. You start to see how versatile some of your tools really are, and you find more ways to use your tools than you ever thought you would know.
This is what ends up whittling down your tool kit. Instead of having a few cabinet scrapers, you end up with one that has a curved edge as well as a flat, so you can use it on more things.
You end up with a 1/2 inch chisel because it’s small enough to get into most places, but big enough to remove some material of necessary. Even screwdrivers end up coming down to a flat and a phillips that can turn the majority of screws.
As you get better and better, you will end up using less and less, all because you understand your tools more, and you can get them to do more.
Relationships With Tools
This is going to sound funny, but over time you are going to develop relationships with your tools.
There will be some tools that just speak to you, and for some weird reason you end up using them far more than others. In even weirder cases, they can often times not be the best looking or best performing tool in an objective test.
However, since they speak to you in a different way, you can get more from them than any others.
When you feel like this about a tool, you know you have a keeper. It will happen to you, especially if you inherit any tools, or you find some older tool with a really interesting history. These tools especially tend to have a very personal feeling, and this can actually help you become a better woodworker.
I love using my dad’s tools. I don’t know why, but I have always felt like my dad’s tools just work better, and I feel like I can accomplish my task because my dad uses the same tools, so they must be good.
It’s almost like I have more faith in the tools because my dad chose them. There is a certain feeling when I am using his old router that I really enjoy, and I don’t get from my practically brand new router, which is stronger, quieter, and better in a hundred different ways of measuring router awesomeness.
That router is older than I am, but it just feels good to use.
It’s a family thing, a connection thing, and a way of using the same tools to continue making things. We both use our hands to create, and working with the same tools just makes me a more confident and better woodworker.
When you have a positive feeling about something, it can carry over into other areas. The way I feel about those tools has no basis in rationality, but I believe that is does make me a better woodworker.
Working with those same tools makes me happy, and that happiness translates into better projects and less mistakes. The best piece that he ever gave me is still a tool in many ways, but is a little different.
My dad gave me his father’s carpenter’s bench, which has now seen three generations of my family working on its surface.
With any luck, my son and daughter will be the fourth. This bench came to me in rough shape, but I was able to restore it to working condition, and it looks absolutely amazing.
The feeling that I get when I work on that bench cannot be described in words. I wouldn’t trade it for a brand new bench costing several thousand dollars or more, because it would not have the same feeling.
I can’t explain it well, but that bench connects me to my father, and to my grandfather, and we all at one time or another have produced work that we needed while at that bench.
It’s almost like we are all standing there at the same time, hammering away at something that we need to fix, or making something, and it’s a very powerful experience.
If you have the rare opportunity to find a tool, or a bench that makes you feel like that, do everything you can to become the owner of that item. I can’t promise that it will turn you into the next woodworking sensation, but you will be happier, and you will work better.
If older tools give you that feeling, then look around in antique shops or second hand stores for older tools. These tools have a spirit in them that newer tools just do not have.
They are made in a simpler time, with less plastics and man made materials. Most are made from wood and metal, and they connect you to the older woodworkers that once used the same tool.
You may never know what your antique hand plane was ever used to make, or who used it. However, you will be able to tell that it saw some action by the small dings and marks that have accumulated over the years.
An old tool has wear, age, and experience. That old hand plane knows how to cut wood really well, so you don’t need to worry about whether or not your tools are holding you back.
An old tool only becomes an old tool when it works well and is useful. Crap tools end up in the trash, or they end up being discarded somehow. The bad tools never reach an advanced age where they are still in good condition, and they can still be used to shape wood.
By the fact that you have a survivor, you have a tool that knows what it’s doing, and that alone should make you happy to be the new owner.
Build a relationship together with your tools, especially the ones that motivate you to be a better and more confident woodworker.
Always Be Learning
The key to any craft, is to always be learning. The hobby of woodworking is always advancing, and by keeping an always be learning mind set, you will not look up one day and find yourself lost.
Tools change, ideas change, new concepts emerge, and woodworkers develop. Stay fresh, and always be looking for opportunities to learn. This is how you stay strong in your craft.
It’s tempting to think that once you are a really strong woodworker that you can stop the learning process and not miss much. The reality is that you are a learning machine by now, and if you stop completely it will be hard to start again.
You will also have a harder time remembering what you know versus what you think you know. It’s best for those reasons to slow down rather than stop learning about woodworking entirely.
There are very few aspects of woodworking that are not advancing as time passes. Even traditional joinery advances, though it is a very old path. Over time, more is learned about the old joinery methods, and therefore more information becomes available.
That is how you advance a several hundred to several thousand year old skill. If you keep up on the woodworking path that reflects your main interest, as things happen you will be right there to learn.
There are a lot of ways to keep up on your woodworking knowledge, but by far the fastest is the internet. It only takes a person minutes to post something online.
Even a full article or tutorial can go from inside a person’s head, to posted online in a couple hours. When new ideas emerge, they tend to emerge this way.
The internet has given everyone a voice, so even someone with a social media account can post a quick video of a new way to make a traditional workbench vise, and the world immediately has access. The trick is finding that information.
The social media aspect of woodworking has been discussed already, but one of the ways that you can always be learning is to follow people that are leaders in your branch of woodworking.
These are more than likely going to be the people that break through barriers, develop new techniques, and discover new ideas. When they do, you guessed it, they post about it. This is how you can keep up on the newest of the newest, all by following the right people.
Finally, as you learn, you end up in the shop trying out the techniques. This means more shop time, and more time spent challenging yourself. This will keep you sharp, and keep your skill level up.
It’s not just about knowing things, it’s also about being able to do them. Stay on the front end, and learn as much as possible, but then take that information into the shop and try it out.
Once you stop learning, you stop advancing. The craft of woodworking will keep on marching, no matter where you decide to stop. If you make it a point to always be learning, you will stay on the ride longer.
Share Your Gift
I absolutely believe that once you become skilled at something, you have the responsibility to share it with others, and help them succeed. This is true especially in cases where you relied mainly on free teaching from others who shared their knowledge with you.
When you become a skilled woodworker, you should share that information with woodworkers that are newer than you, and in turn help them succeed as you were once helped.
You can use one candle to light a hundred others, and the light of the first candle will be not be diminished. As you teach others, it in no way takes from your ability as a woodworker.
In fact, as you brighten the people around you, it makes it easier for you to see as well. Teaching others makes you a better woodworker, and sharing your gift makes you a good woodworker.
There are always going to be woodworkers that are much more skilled than you. These are not the people that you are called to help. Those you can assist are the ones that are not quite where you are on their journey.
Not only are there far more of these individuals, they also need a lot more help than experts. In this way, even someone in the middle of their path can help quite a few others who are not as far as they are.
Once you are good enough to teach, look for opportunities to share your gift. Even if you are just posting tips on social media, you are still reaching people. This is one of the best ways that you can share without having to spend any money. All you need to spend is your time.
Look at the different options for social media and free content sharing, and pick one that you resonate with. Also, make sure that the pick makes it easy to add content, and that the content type is something you like doing.
For example, if you hate making videos, then YouTube is probably not your best option. However, if you really do like making videos, you can have a ball with YouTube.
Think of things that you wish you knew in the beginning, and start posting about those. Even simple little tricks that you have known for years can be helpful to someone that is browsing around.
You may never hear about it, and you will probably never get a thank you letter, but you are helping others. New woodworkers go online all the time to learn, and as they interact with your content they benefit from your knowledge.
Finally, there are also other ways to share, which include writing books, teaching classes, and creating courses. If you are thinking about a way to share a lot of information, and are willing to invest some money for a possible return in the future, then consider one of these choices.
While there are no guarantees, you may be able to create something that really helps others learn about woodworking.
This is how you take years and years of experience, boil it down, and share it with people that are newer than you. They benefit from your teaching, and you brighten the woodworking world.
Raise Your Overall Skill Level
As humans, we tend to do what we are familiar with, and avoid struggle. As an advancing woodworker, in order to raise your skill level, you will have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. This is how you learn, and how you increase your overall skill level.
Think about a grade point average in school. If you are getting an A in a class, raising that grade and an A+ will only move you up a short distance. In contrast, if you move a D up to a B, then you really change your average.
With woodworking, the process is similar. If you are really skilled at making box joints, then you can only get so much better by practicing box joints.
However, if you are not the best at edge joining, or laminating wood, you can make your projects look noticeably better by getting more practice in that particular skill.
You do need to keep your higher end skills sharp by practicing them regularly, but shift your focus on a skill that will improve your overall ability. As you pick up that lagging skill, it will mean a marked improvement in the look of your projects.
Improving on something that you are already really good at may never show through, because you are already producing great looking examples of that skill.
Focus on a weaker skill, and bring it up to where you are more comfortable with it. In this way, you become a more rounded woodworker, and raise your level faster.
Learn to Say No
Once you become a woodworker, a lot of people are going to want you to make things for them. If you are making things for money, then feel free to take as many jobs as you can get.
If you are not, then you need to learn how to say no. If you can’t way no, then think about making gifts instead.
I rarely take a custom piece anymore, and it’s just because I am too busy. I hate deadlines, they frustrate me, and I tend to procrastinate a bit. This is a recipe for disaster, so I just don’t do custom work anymore for a fee.
What I do instead is charge my friends and family the cost of the materials, and then I make the project for them at no additional charge.
This does a lot for me. The payment for the materials covers my costs, I get to take pictures and make a tutorial and possibly even more articles for my site about the process without spending money, and I also get to complete the work on my terms.
This means if I can’t get to it for a few weeks, then that’s when it will get done.
Being honest with people is the best way to work. If you really hate a certain project, just say no. If you want to make something for them, but are worried about the time it will take, have them cover materials and explain the open ended deadline.
This gives you the freedom to create, but also removes the deadlines that paying customers expect, which can lead to frustration and rushed work.
Two Types of Woodworkers
Having been around woodworkers for a long time, there seem to be a couple main types. There is the friendly, helpful, and talkative woodworker that loves to tell you all about what they do.
They enjoy being asked questions, and they really enjoy sharing in the knowledge that has taken them a long time to acquire. They understand learning is a process, and they encourage others to try out the craft that has become their lifelong passion.
Then, there is the grumpy old asshole type, that thinks only idiots ask questions. They do not share information, are rude when you don’t understand something, and are not pleasant to deal with.
Be the first type. Even though this is a gross generalization, you are going to run into some people that know everything, share nothing, and are rude to you because you don’t know something.
Truly, only the ignorant know everything about woodworking. The craft is too wide, and too deep for anyone to know it all, so only the know-it-alls end up learning everything.
Be the kind of person that you wish you met when you first started woodworking. Imaging the impact you could have on someone if you gave them the right impression about woodworking when they came to you with some questions.
You could be the person that ignites a lifelong passion, and forever alters their world for the better, all because you were kind enough to answer a question.
Think about the power that you have in a moment like that. Think about the profound ability that you have to show someone else a craft that has been in use for thousands of years.
You might teach them to be more self sufficient through woodworking, and that could trickle into other areas of their life. It might make them a better employee, a better leader, and a better family member, all because you had a pleasant conversation.
The world is changed through personal interactions, and sometimes you only get one chance to show someone the good or the bad.
When you are the first type of woodworker, you encourage others to try, and you unknowingly make it ok for them to get into the hobby because you are the kind of person that they are happy to be like.
Nobody wants to be like a jerk, so if you present yourself like that, you can end up turning people off to your hobbies because they associate them with your attitude.
Be the first person to stop, and help another person with their project before finishing yours. If you are in a classroom setting, be the first person to volunteer to work with the newer students.
Be the first person that is always willing to help, to teach, and to learn in the process. This will make you a valuable person, and someone that others are thankful for having in their lives.
Who knows, a simple question from a person about woodworking could spark a hobby in them that drains their wallet and fills their heart for the rest of their lives. That is a profound moment, use your powers wisely.
Part 48 – Wrap Up
I hope you liked Part 48 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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