On Improving skill

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    I am sharing with the Group these thoughts as I am pretty sure that most of us are novices at this woodworking thing.

    I have found that my skills as a novice woodworker, (anyone with less than ten years of substantial experience as I have read many a times) have improved dramatically every time I have cast aside the “fear” of ruining something.
    I have learned to say to myself, the worst that can happen is I do this piece over again, or even more conservatively, I can do this piece over again using an easier joint, etc.
    Funny thing, once the tension of making a mistake is removed from the equation, I have been able to do things I honestly thought were far beyond my grasp. ie. : Half blind dovetails, drawbored mortise and tenon joints, and the list goes on and on.

    I find myself enjoying the projects more, and improving my competency level.
    My friends look at me funny for spending so many hours in the shed, but that is a story for another time.
    Anyhow, I wish you all happy learning, and cast the anxieties aside.

    Matt McGrane

    Excellent post, Orestes. I used to struggle with the same thing – the debilitating fear that I’d be making expensive firewood. But when I finally told myself to “just do it” and not worry about making kindling, my woodworking improved.

    I’m still a major cheapskate so I don’t like to junk pieces of wood that I bought and that I’ve put some work into. But I know that I’ll never get better if I don’t realize that you have to sacrifice some pieces to learn a few things.

    I’m still slow and very careful. Doesn’t mean I haven’t cut on the wrong side of a line or put a mortise in the wrong location resulting in a useless piece. It’s the price of learning.

    Matt, Northern California - Started a blog in 2016: http://tinyshopww.blogspot.com/


    Yep, not much different than learning to play shortstop.
    Once you get over the fear of getting hit in (you know where) you learn to field grounders.


    Good post. I’m the same way. I used to not try something if I didn’t think it would come out right the first time. I realized this was ridiculous. It’s not a failure if we can learn from each piece and apply it to the next to get better.

    Happy woodworking friend

    Xavi Molina

    Thanks Orestes, a very encouraging post!

    Musician and wood lover (Girona-Catalonia)

    • This reply was modified 6 years, 9 months ago by Xavi Molina.
    Xavi Molina

    Thanks Orestes, a very encouraging post!!

    Musician and wood lover (Girona-Catalonia)


    Hello All – I too am a beginner, and here is a success technique that has helped me. After I have had some successful experience with a skill like squaring an edge, I sometimes will visualize the end result I am after. It does not always work as to the mired variety of factors that are involved in this piece of wood in this present moment, but by visualizing what you want, intuition kicks in (sometimes?!) and the result improves!


    I feel the same way. I’ve stopped worrying about making “expensive firewood” as @mattmcgrane said. Now I just enjoy the process of “making.” I tell people that I’m “making” and they inevitably ask “what?” I usually reply “sawdust” because it’s the act of taking tool in hand that gives me the joy I feel. I’m not really making anything right now. Just memories between me and Ben, my 8 year old son. That’s plenty.

    Cheers from New York City!
    ~~ Spurs forever; forever Spurs ~~

    • This reply was modified 6 years, 2 months ago by wpollock.
    • This reply was modified 6 years, 2 months ago by wpollock.
    • This reply was modified 6 years, 2 months ago by wpollock.

    Good post. I make a point to make projects that are “shrinkable” just to learn new joints. That way when I inevitably botch the joint I just cut it off and start over. It takes so much stress away from learning a new skill.

    Tuscloosa, Alabama
    Lung T'an Hu Huesh Kung-fu Woodshop

    Paul Dallender

    I know exactly what you mean and I’ve only just started on my first project which is actually building my workbench. I’ll be honest though, a lot of my fear came from the financial cost. OK the wood (pine) I bought for my bench in comparison to buying a ready made bench is far cheaper, but what it did cost is still a lot to throw down the drain if it all goes wrong. OK maybe my mortise and tenons aren’t up to Paul’s standard so what? If anyone makes a comment it’s a ‘Rustic’ bench…..Hah!

    I will say one thing though, even in the short space of time I’ve been doing this I can already see an improvement in my sawing and chiseling skills.

    My first project using Oak (which I’ve already bought) will be to make a wall clock; now that will really get the nerves twitching.

    Paul - A southern lad living up north - Nr York England


    I built Paul’s bench myself using HD “crapy” 2 X 4’s and other than messing up one leg where I cut the motice wrong no complaints. I didn’t have the funds to buy some nice hardwood and have less than $100 in my bench and figured if it didn’t work out I didn’t loose a lot. But it is rock solid and I love it and would build another one using laminated 2X’s again. Might go with 2 X6’s in lieu of 2 X 4’s but like I said no regrets.


    Steve Massie, I live in the great State of Florida, US

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