Friday, February 15, 2013

woodworking 1, 2, 3, 4

Finger jointed boxes
My apprentice Greg, reground and sharpened a chisel last week and began hand-cutting dovetails. A few things become clear. Woodworking is not just about what's in your head. Getting your thoughts around a thing is not enough. Getting the hands to do what's in your head can be a challenge And so while I asked Greg to do what many more experienced woodworkers are reluctant to do (hand-cut dovetails), coming to terms with one's own hands, one's own body and one's own mind and spirit are best tackled hands and head-on at the same time.

The immediate lessons are these:
  1. Everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes are how we learn and how we react to mistakes is the shakeout point, determining who will advance in skill and contribution. The secret is to react favorably to our mistakes. Avoid self-recrimination as it is what slows the process of growth.
  2. Woodworking is not easy. It is easier for some than for others for a variety of reasons, but whether or not your soul and heart are in it for the long run, has mainly to do with whether or not you embrace the difficulties of it. Greg made one bench, then another which he thought he had screwed up, then another which expressed greater skill. The willingness to face difficulties with renewed spirit is essential to advancement. 
  3. You can buy your way into interesting woodworking, by purchasing tools that can do interesting things for you, even without skill, but truly, as they say in Zen, "Poverty is your greatest treasure. Never trade it for an easy life." When it comes to tools, particularly new tools, that have distinctive effect, you can rest assured that those with money will buy them and thence do work with them that too closely resembles all the work done by those who buy the same tools. Doing without all the tools you think you might need builds a stronger relationship with the tools you have, calling forth greater personal creativity to emerge from your relationship with them.
  4. There is a fourth lesson which has to do with childlike wonder and the spirit of forgiveness. By taking pleasure in the moment: the smooth shaving from the plane, the scent of wood arising from the saw, the motions of our own bodies as we shape wood, we have the capacity of entering the kingdom of heaven, finding great pleasure in our work that others will discover and take note.
For those lacking confidence to begin the craft, the website Top Reveal offers some simple DIY projects that might help.

Today in the wood shop, I am working on finger jointed boxes.

Make, fix and create...


  1. Thank you for the beautiful reminder that everything I ever needed to know I learned from a carpenter. Thank you, Dad ... "Measure twice, cut once"

  2. Thanks for posting this. Earlier today before reading this I pulled the plug on buying anymore tools on Ebay or elsewhere and decided to make the tools I do own work for me rather than buying tools to replace the skill that is aquired by the trial and error I'm afraid of.

  3. KP,
    Tools give shape to our relationship with each other, and to our sense of self, and it seems that some of the simple ones do the best job. The ones that promise to make things easier for us, often take from us, opportunities for growth of skill. Ultimately, being in a skilled relationship with society, planetary resources and self, making useful beauty is a very good thing.

  4. And good for Greg! Cutting dovetails by hand is one of those activities that can be so relaxing.


  5. Mario, relaxing for some, frustrating for others.

  6. Well, I certainly won't pretend that cutting dovetails was easy from the start. I still keep my first set of dovetails on a shelf to remind me of what it takes to do it right.


  7. Anonymous12:12 PM

    Thanks Doug I tacked your post on the wall in my woodworking store. Excellent advice.
    Do not follow the ideas of others, but learn to listen to the voice within yourself. Your body and mind will become clear and you will realize the unity of all things. DOGEN


  8. Thanks for sharing this. More power to you!