I cringe a little when I look at the woodworking book section of my local Barnes and Nobles because a third of the books there refer to woodworking "done easy" and that's a shame because being good at woodworking is hard. It takes a lot of time and dedication.
After reading that you might think I have something against beginning woodworkers, and you'd be wrong. I remember starting myself and all the poor decisions I made. (buy me a beer and ask me about the pencil post bed debacle) But what's missing for many of those would be apprentices is some perspective. The idea that learning is a linear process, that you have to build one mastered skill set on top another, that knowing how to build a picnic table from 2x4's does not translate into being able to build a highboy. You can pull off a highboy shaped object, but not a real highboy. Not one done well and done right with all the right decisions made at the right times. There has to be more in between the two, and I think our modern society doesn't understand that.
|Highboy on display at the Chazen museum of Art in Madison Wisconsin.|
The thing that nobody says in those books for beginners is that anything worth doing well takes time and dedication. In our world of instant gratification that's a tough horse to sell. You've gotta put in the hours, so when you make one of those hundreds of decisions, you have the experience to know what will "most likely" work well, so your piece will "most likely" turn out satisfactory.
I say "most likely" because the interesting thing about woodworking is that there are no guarantees, no matter how much experience you have, each piece is a journey.
|This piece did not come from a novice's hands. A 17th century Joined Chest from the same museum display|
I started writing about decisions because as I work on my version of the William and Mary book stand that Chuck Bender wrote about in the November issue of Popular Woodworking, I have my own set of decisions to make. In the original piece, and on Chuck's version, the corners of the frame were joined with one single stout dovetail. As I built my failed attempt earlier this year, I used that single tail without thinking about it. When it was time for this rematch I decided that one of the mistakes made was letting the cut list and measured drawing I had from HERE make decisions for me.
I have never been good at follow the leader. Things work better when I use pieces as inspiration rather than a strict blueprint. (One reason I am a better woodworker than I am a carpenter) I don't even follow the exact recipe when I make Mac 'n' Cheese from a box. Me being me, I have to make my own decisions and then I can stand or fall on them, and I can deal with that.
It took a while to decide to bypass the single dovetail. I cut some test joints and I looked at them from different perspectives. I actually kind of agonized over the decision divert from the original, but in the end I decided on a pair of tails over the single.
Mark Harrell over at Bad Axe Tool Works. A quality too can make the difference, another lesson I've been learning. The sticky question is, has the saw made dovetail cutting easier and there fore I get better results, or is dovetail cutting just that much more enjoyable so I tend to cut them more and the practice equals better results?
How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop? The world may never know.
Ratione et Passionis