Advancing Our Woodworking Techniques

Woodworking comfort zone #4- Advancing Our Woodworking Techniques

Every one of us can fall into a woodworking comfort zone. Once we do, it will hinder our progress to advance as a woodworker. This is the fourth part of a series about the common comfort zones we fall into and how to get out. Part one covered the comfort zone issue of time.  Part two covered the issue of tools. Part three covered looking for inspiration. And this final article will cover advancing one’s technique in woodworking.

Let’s begin by saying you finally decide to push yourself to make a new and more challenging project. You have the plans, the materials, and the tools. But you realize that the project requires some fancy joinery. Having never done the joinery, practice must first be done. That practice is going to consist of many sloppy ugly joints. It takes practice and confidence to successfully execute a good joint. That can be a lot of work and goes back to reason one, time. Not to mention, the thought of the time to practice can discourage us into a comfort zone of contentment, thus hindering our ability to improve our skill level.

Developing your technique will take your skill level from fair to great. Some ways to develop your technique are through books, magazines, blogs, videos, and classes. In each category, there are a couple of key things to consider in these options.

Blogs and websites

These are great because they are easy to access anywhere and they are FREE. They are short simple reads that can give advice on a technique. But how thorough are they? The author who wrote the blog, is he truly experienced? Has that person perfected the technique or did they get lucky on the first try and then publish it online? Plus, because they are short easy reads, they tend to leave out fine details to execute a successful outcome of the joint being made.

Books-

A book, on the other hand, goes through a lot of fact checking and they have a lot of detailed information in them. I can personally say, that I have a book coming out later this year and after I wrote it, my editor, corrected things. Then he sent it to a second editor and then it is being tripled checked by a third editor before it comes back to me for a final check. That’s a lot of checking. This is not to say mistakes won’t still happen, but the odds are cut down. (Oh, and those 3 editors also have background and knowledge in woodworking. So it’s not just grammar they are correcting.)

Videos & Classes-

Videos are great and help tremendously. It’s one of the reasons I do youtube is to help show people woodworking. But it’s not really teaching. It’s more a glorified demonstration. However, when I teach classes I can customize my skill to the needs of the student. This helps them fine-tune their technique to assure a successful outcome of what they are trying to perform. For instance, I can watch a student that is having difficulty trying to saw. By something as simple as moving there elbow in, or adjusting their foot, it can make all the difference. You don’t get that kind of personal attention in a video. Taking a class truly helps a student learn better than videos.

Keep in mind, not every skilled woodworker is a good teacher. Some are good at what they do, but not when it comes to clear, easy explanations. That’s why I have developed a series of classes that teach a student not only good woodworking techniques but will teach them to make just about anything they see using minimal tools. But that’s for another episode.

Exercise-

The last point on technique is a simple exercise. I suggest doing warm-ups before actually working on the project. Think about it, a runner usually stretches before running. An artist will draw circles or lines to loosen up, shouldn’t we do the same? I recommend doing 15-20 minutes of a simple joint before starting on the project. Practice making a tenon, make one dovetail. Or just try hand sawing a straight line. This technique does two things. One; it causes us to focus before we start on our project and two; before long you will master whatever that technique is and improve your skill level.

Improving our technique is not a fast thing that can be done overnight. It’s a combination of all the things previously listed. Reading, watching, learning, and actually doing are what will improve our skill level and get us out of that comfort zone. But doing so requires time. Which is where I believe we started this blog series. 🙂

-Chad Stanton