Sunday, December 3, 2017


Now that I have finished making Christmas gifts I have started thinking about new year's resolutions, which I do annually.  Though it's fair to be skeptical about their value, I think making resolutions is a useful exercise which, at the least, can do no harm.

I think there are three criteria for judging your woodworking as an amateur:

  1. enjoyment experienced
  2. projects completed
  3. skills developed or improved
I did well on 1 and 2 last year but 3, not so much.  I enjoyed building a number of projects but I mostly relied on skills I already had.  I can't say that I really developed or improved my skills significantly, even though there is lots and lots of room for me to get better.  Here is what I propose to do about this during 2018.

  1. Stop buying tools and spend more time developing skills with the ones I already have.  I am sometimes like the golfer who thinks he is one club away from being really good.  It would be better for him to work on his swing.  I have more than enough tools and really should go a year without buying any, not even one.  Just like the golfer who should spend less time playing and more time on the practice tee, I need to step away from projects more and just work on skills.
  2. Focus on my weakness.  Here in Portland, we are soccer crazy and we have a superb player whose glaring weakness is his left foot.  It makes him much easier to defend and sometimes keeps him from making the most of opportunities.  Why doesn't he spend the offseason focusing on it?  Because it isn't a lot of fun to work on your weakness and he has learned to compensate with acceptable results.  Same thing in woodworking.  My worst weakness is finishing and it shows.  The fact that I dislike it a lot is both cause and effect.
  3. When something is almost but not quite right, stop and figure out why.  To continue with the soccer analogy, some players make good entry passes that sometimes work out but great passes would unzip the defense and make a huge difference.  Good enough is not good enough.  A clear example from my woodworking is a mortise and tenon joint that almost but doesn't quite fit.  I tell myself I can close it up with a clamp or by drawboring.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it almost works.
I actually think that when you reach what I'll call the journeyman stage, 3 is the most important and more or less incorporates the other two.  If I would do this consistently, I would enjoy woodworking more, build better projects and develop my skills.  This isn't complicated so it's just a matter of forcing myself to do it.  Just like losing those holiday pounds!

There is, of course, no reason that you should care about my resolutions, but maybe they will get you started thinking about yours.  Maybe we should have a contest and give away a nice tool for the best resolutions.


  1. Hi Andy,
    I think you are selling the improvement part short. It is nice to learn new things and skills but doing the basics well counts. Each time I saw or use a chisel I can see that I did a little better than the last time. Just think back to the very first mortise and tenon you made. Compare that to your last one.

    1. Ralph,

      I think it is similar to sports. You definitely improve by playing but you can improve in specific areas faster by targeted practice.

  2. Andy, I'm glad I found your work. I'm your height, left handed, and have been gathering ideas for my first real/solid bench. I'm up in the PNW so probably not too far from you. Your Nicholson bench really stands apart from others since it's so heavy and sturdy. I'll see if I can't implement some of the same things into my own bench. Looks like you've recently raised the whole bench higher? What's your recommendation to someone like me?

    1. Proper bench height is pretty unique to the individual but, as someone who uses metal planes, I find that I am most comfortable at about palm height. By that I mean, standing upright my palms rest on the bench.

  3. Working on that humongous slab of wood is a skill that very few will ever achieve. In my book that would qualify as leaps and bounds of skills developed or improved. When and if I ever do any large slab work, you can believe that I will be reviewing old posts from the Oregon Woodworker.