Saturday, July 21, 2007

Dear Allen,

Thank you for your letter. I’m glad the box making has you thinking about your future, and I hope you find success. You are right that set-up and careful planning can help box making to be more efficient and possibly even profitable, provided you have established a market for your work. It seems that for most woodworkers, that is the hardest part, and if boxes were easier to sell at a good price, there would be a lot more competition (and there is plenty of competition as there is.)

It sounds as though you could use a basic introduction to general woodworking, like you would have found in the high school class that you dropped out of years ago. Unfortunately, our system of education doesn’t do very well at showing us the relevance of what we are being taught. Patience is one of the most important things we can learn, and sanding a block smooth by hand is a valuable thing, as it can help us to understand the qualities of the material. Anyone can stick a board into a planer and have it come out relatively smooth, or at least smoother than it went in. Understanding wood grain will guide the craftsman to better results regardless of the tool used, whether hand or power, and I wish at this point of your arising interest, that you had seen your way clear to understand the value of what was being offered.

I assume that you don’t have any opportunities in the Indiana penitentiary to learn woodworking skills. The jointer and planer serve similar but different functions. The jointer is used to flatten and straighten a side or edge of lumber. The planer is used to provide uniform thickness and smoothness to stock. It won’t flatten or straighten stock, so you can think of the jointer and planer as a one-two punch.

There are many good woodworking books that will provide a more basic foundation for your work than my books on box making. A small box can be as complicated and as difficult to make as a large piece of furniture. My best advice is to start simple. There are hundreds of small products you can make. Use your interest in woodworking to express love and sincerity for your work, and you may find others willing to buy what you make and enable your growth.

I have to warn you that self-employment isn’t easy. It requires you to wear lots of hats, and some may not be the best fit. You might look for employment in a cabinet shop upon your release. You may not make the highest wages, but you will have put yourself in a position to learn. Give it your best. Remember that patience is a skill that has to be learned and practiced over and over. People often use “lack of patience,” as an excuse, but when you really care about the outcome of things, you will find patience for what you do. And we either live shallow in the broad surface of life, or we dive deep. Diving deep requires patience, repetition, a bit of bravery, and deep caring about results.

Very best wishes,


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