This is a section from A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects, which is available on Amazon. Over the next month, you will be able to read the entire book, and I hope that you like it enough to get tour own copy. Enjoy.
Try Making it First
In most cases, if you are qualified to make the project you are making, then you are qualified to make the jigs and setups that are used. There are going to be times when you need to buy a jig, but you should always try making it first, or at least research it to see how involved the build will be.
At that point, you can decide if you should just buy it, or if you can save money by making it.
Woodworking is just a series of jigs in a lot of cases, and you can make them yourself most of the time. There are catalogs and suppliers that sell jigs, which are helpful, but most of the time they are not very difficult to construct.
Before you buy a jig, you should try to see how difficult it is to make. Some jigs that are created for really accurate measuring are hard to reproduce in the shop, especially at the beginner level. However, most jigs are not nearly as complex.
Look up the jig online and see if others are making it themselves. You will be able to tell because their jigs will all look a little different. Even if they look similar, if you can see color differences, and they don’t look like they came from a store, then they were probably homemade.
If you discover that they are being made more often than bought, the next step is to see how involved the build is, and if you need special tooling. If the build is not terribly complicated, and you don’t need a ten thousand dollar machine to make it, then it is a most likely a safe bet to say that you can make the jig yourself.
Once you get to that point, start looking around for real dimensions, videos, and the data that you need to make the jig in shop.
Sometimes buying a jig or two in the beginning is a good thing, because it means you can get started making the actual project faster. If you are the type of person that doesn’t like the behind the scenes work, just buy the jigs you need and start making the actual project.
If it keeps you interested in woodworking and you can afford the jigs, buying them can advance your projects farther and faster.
For most woodworkers, making jigs is just part of the process, and comes with the territory. Jigs make the processes in woodworking easier and more uniform, which returns the time you spend building them quickly.
If you can make a project, you can most likely make the jigs that you need as well. You should at least research them before buying a jig, just to see if the build is something you can knock out in the shop and save some money.
Don’t Set Time Limits
Being new to woodworking, time limits can really hurt your ability to have a stress free build. It can also cause you to rush, make mistakes, and have an unpleasant experience in the shop.
One of the best ways to prevent this from happening is to not set a time limit on a project, which will allow you to explore the process in a far more natural way.
Time constraints cause stress.
As a beginner, you are also at a real disadvantage when it comes to setting time limits, because you don’t really know how long things will take just yet. Over time, you will learn how long it takes you to build something, but at first it can be a real shot in the dark.
If you over estimate the time it takes, you are not in as bad of shape as if you under estimate it. Especially when clients or money is involved, you would much rather show up early with the project than have to ask for more time. It’s hard to do at first, because you just may not know how long it will take you to complete a build.
For those reasons, you should not burden yourself with a time constraint until you are comfortable and know that you can complete the project in the given time. Again, woodworking is a hobby.
The more you make it like work the more like work it will become. When that happens, you will have to find a new hobby to ruin, and you won’t have the enjoyment that you once had with woodworking.
Having a deadline can cause you to do things that you would not normally do if you were not worried about the time it takes. Deadlines cause you to sometimes skip things, and cut corners.
While a couple things may not hurt, in the beginning it can be hard to know what you can leave out and what you really need to do. If you skip too many steps, or rush through too much of the process, you can end up with a project that really doesn’t work like it should.
When that happens, you might as well have just went on slowly and missed the deadline, because at least the project would be usable. Skipping steps and rushing typically leads to poor results, and without a deadline it’s easier to relax and let the project unfold naturally.
The Last 10%
Most times, the difference between something that is good and something that is great is only a small amount of effort. This effort is typically near the end, or deleted from the end due to lack of patience, and the project is presented before it’s really finished.
This is a bad practice, and a waste of time. You should get credit for your efforts, and not have the last few moments cause your project to live a lifetime of mediocrity.
If you spent ten hours on something, you can afford to slow down and spend one more hour getting the final touches perfect.
It’s only a tiny fraction of time, and you can make the biggest difference in your project with the last few reps.
When people hold something you make, or look at something you make, they are going to judge it on what they see. The person probably has no idea how long it took you, or how difficult it was. They are going to simply look and make a determination of worth right on the spot, simply from what they see.
Fair or unfair, this is the audience that you are dealing with as a woodworker. A few easy to see scratches on a piece, and the fifteen hours you spent on it will never even cross their mind. All they see are scratches, and it makes you look like an amateur.
Thankfully, the time that it takes to get your project from good to great is not very long. It’s the last 10% of the build, and you can use that time to really polish your work for everyone to enjoy.
Typically this means sanding, and lots of sanding. However, it can also mean sharpening your carvings, applying a great looking finish, or anything else that you can do at the end to ensure that your piece is the best it can possibly be.
The way you can determine if your piece is the best that it can be is by deciding if you are tired of working on the piece, or you have nothing you can do to the piece. If you are just tired of sanding, then you are probably not done making the piece perfect.
This is the time that you should leave the shop for a while, take a break, and then come back when you are less frustrated.
If you can look at your piece and say that there is nothing more that can be done, then you know you have done the best you possibly can.
Your best is discovered when you are not tired. Your best is not a compromise because you are tired of sanding, or tired of finishing, or tired of whatever. Your best is an objective decision based on strictly what you see and no other thoughts or feelings.
If you are just done with the project mentally, this is not your best, and again you should leave the shop for a while and take a break. Come back when you are rested, and you will be able to make better decisions about the project.
More often than not, it’s not the project that gets you off track…it’s you. Sanding is not difficult. Finishing is not difficult. What makes it difficult is when you get frustrated and tired of those operations, and decide that it’s worth being looked at as a poor woodworker every time you show that piece to someone.
That’s the reality. People are going to judge you based on what they see. They have no idea what it takes, and no idea how much mental fortitude you need to complete a project.
All they see is a poor finish, scratches, inconsistent staining, and other small things that could all have been fixed if you just stopped for a while.
Taking out something you made and showing it to people is a very enjoyable experience. As you create things that you are proud of, you will thoroughly love presenting them to other people and seeing how they react to the item you made with your own bare hands.
The last thing you want to do is lessen that experience by handing over something that is not quite finished.
If you are going to give a person something to talk about, make sure that it’s something worth talking about. Nothing ruins the conversation about your work like when someone picks out a defect right away.
It’s hard to look like you know what you are doing after that. Spend the time, and you will not need to worry.
Part 6 – Wrap Up
I hope you liked Part 6 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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