Friday, March 3, 2017

The key to becoming a better woodworker

I listened to a Tedx talk the other day that, on its face, has nothing to do with woodworking yet, I believe, holds the key to improving as a woodworker no matter your current skill level.  If you have 12 minutes to spare, I think it might be worth your time to listen to it.

I have been thinking along these lines for some time, but the speaker really develops and justifies the idea very well.  Perhaps I am one of only a few who doesn't improve as much as I should or could for the reasons he talks about, but I doubt it.  Generally speaking, when I go into my shop I want to make something and I want it to be the best work I am capable of.   I am in the performance zone.  As the speaker explains, that isn't the best way to learn.  For that you need to move into the learning zone, where the goal isn't to make something but to learn something, to develop your skills and capability.  The end result is not a thing, it's a skill.  That's hard for me.  When I am asked over dinner what I did in the shop today, I don't really want to say, "I really accomplished a lot by practicing sawing more closely to a line.  I don't have anything to show for it because I threw away all the pieces I used."  Who wants to read a blog post about that?

I am going to try to motivate myself to spend 20% of my shop time during which I specifically commit to throwing away whatever I produce because I am trying to develop a skill and want to focus solely on that.  I don't know if I can do this but I think it is essential if I am to improve much more.  I have gotten to the point where I have enough skill that I can make pretty nice pieces that will be used and admired, but I am not getting much better for the clear reason that I am spending most of my time in the performance zone.  I tend to fall back on the techniques I know I can execute well.  After all, who wants to try something unfamiliar or that you know you aren't really proficient at on a workpiece made from expensive wood which you have already spent hours on?  I admit that I do this.

I think most of us know intuitively that what this guy is saying is right.  The challenge is to be disciplined enough to act on it.  The sad thing is that when I actually do it, it is very satisfying.

I'd be interested to know if I am the only one that suffers from this failing.


  1. Very interesting way to look at woodworking! Thanks for sharing.

  2. I do the same thing, with woodworking, at least, which I can only do in my spare time. What's funny is that in my full-time job, which involves web design, I have no problem taking an hour or two here and there to explore something new or try out a different technique even if it isn't directly related to a current project. I have all day to get the "real" work done. But I have so little time for woodworking, or at least I feel I do — I certainly have a lot less than I'd like — that I feel more pressure to get something done. Like you, I want something to show for it.

    I did consider it a small victory over my impatience that in my current project I actually built a partial mockup of a complicated joint before charging in full steam with the expensive wood. Hasn't stopped me making a couple of dumb mistakes on the good stuff, but I tried.