Getting Better

In my town, “getting better” is the topic everyone is talking about lately. COVID 19 patients are recovering. Stores are slowly opening.  And grocery stores are replenishing their shelves. People are slowly seeing signs of improvement. But that is not the topic I’m referring to today. I’m talking about getting better at woodworking.

People always say, “Oh your so talented at building furniture.” But the truth is it’s not talent. Talent is an ability that comes naturally. Building furniture is a skill. Skills have to be acquired. And to acquire that skill it involves practice. A lot of practice and self-discipline. 

In the beginning, we were so excited to learn woodworking. We were like a sponge. Watching videos, reading magazines, and buying books. All day long at our job, we count down the hours until we can work in our shop and dream of one day doing woodworking for a living. But as time passes we might lose that excitement. As we acquire that knowledge it’s harder to find new things we may not know. And slowly we can get bored with woodworking.

Another common thing that occurs is we get complacent. Maybe we get used to always using pocket screws or nailing everything together. We don’t feel confident to try a new method. Maybe trying something like a mortise and tenon is too difficult or too much work. Falling into that comfort zone can again lull us into becoming bored with woodworking.

And the worst thing that can happen is we become overconfident. We think that we now know all there is about woodworking. Why do a mortise and tenon? Pocket screws are good enough! Nails and glue are good enough! Our way is the only way, there’s no need to learn more. If we are not careful, we can stumble into this troubling pitfall.

So how do we avoid falling into one of these comfort zones and still continue to get better?

There are several ways. 

Shake it up.

Let’s say for example you make tables and you really enjoy making tables. You have no interest in building a chair. Just tables. That’s fine, but can you make the table better?  Can a drawer be added to the table? What about making an inset drawer front instead of a full overlay? What about dovetails on the drawers? How about a sliding stopped dovetail to be used to attach the apron to the leg? (Unfamiliar with a sliding stopped dovetail? Watch the video here.) Maybe some carving could be applied to the aprons? There are many ways to take the table to the next level by just shaking it up a bit. 

Look to the past

Looking into how things were once done many years ago is not only good for learning history but it offers other avenues for advancing our woodworking. For instance, the book, Encyclopedia of Furniture gives every definition term used in furniture but also has hundreds of photos to give great ideas and features that can be combined together. Click here for the book.

Another point for looking to antiques is for technique. Many times we tell ourselves that we can not do something because we don’t have a tool. Let’s use dovetails as an example. We may have watched videos on how easy dovetails can be cut using a router and jig. However, if we don’t own a router and jig, buying them can be a huge investment. That might be too much money to try a new method. Keep in mind, two hundred years ago they did not have routers and jigs. And yet, there were dovetails. So look for ways to do new techniques with the tools you might already own. Chances are, you can find a way.

Seek out better woodworkers than you.

I was once told, “You never want to be the smartest person in the room because if you are, you will never learn anything new.”  I think that is great advice. It’s one of the reasons I visit Dennis Laney weekly.  Dennis is the best furniture maker I know and is a dear friend. He has over 60 years of professional advice and tips he can share with me. 

Recently I saw a kuksa, (a Finnish wooden mug). I thought about turning one on a lathe and thought it would be so easy. I realized it was harder than I thought. So I searched for videos online. After watching countless videos I tryed the techniques they offered, and I was having no success. On my weekly visit with Dennis, I showed him what I was attempting to do. It took quite a bit of discussion, and a lot of debate on method, but his experience proved to be invaluable. He was able to do it in a way that no one else I saw as able to. Bottom line, there is always someone smarter than you out there. So you might as well learn from them. Reach out to fellow woodworkers and ask them their opinions on how to improve a project you are working on or already built. You will greatly grow from their advice more than their compliments. 

By the way, I think even Dennis learned something from making that kuksa. It’s good to be challenged no matter what our skill level.

If you are looking for a woodworking community we offer one on Facebook. It’s Wood Choppin’ Time, What are You Doing? Group page. (click here for the link to the page) There you will find ideas from other people’s posts and can ask questions for the project you are working on. 

I hope these suggestions help you and inspire you to continue to get better at this wonderful craft of woodworking.

Chad Stanton- Owner of Stanton Fine Furniture. 5-29-2020