Advice to My Younger SelfComments (0)
Paul Anthony, age 62
Senior editor, Woodcraft Magazine
Current home: Riegelsville, PA
Began woodworking professionally in 1974
"Don’t let anyone tell you that there’s only one right way to do things."
Hey kid! Yeah, you with the long hair and earring. Could you stop planing for a few minutes so we could talk? Who am I? Would you believe me if I told you I’m you in a few decades? I didn’t think so. So let’s just say I’m the ghost of your woodworking future. Anyway, I don’t have much time, so listen up: First of all, it’s great that you love woodworking. In addition to supporting you, it’s gonna teach you about creativity, focus, patience, pride, and humility. Some things you build will improve your life and the lives of those you love. And if you do your work well, it may outlive you to touch descendants you can’t meet. So here’s some stuff to think about as you make your way:
Soak up whatever knowledge you can from books, magazines, people—wherever it’s available. And, while you’re learning, don’t let anyone tell you that there’s only one right way to do things. Try everything. Revel in your mistakes. Remember that every screw-up is one more screw-up out of the way.
Speaking of screw-ups, quit kidding yourself that cheap tools are a bargain. In fact, the reason you’re struggling planing that board right now has nothing to do with blade sharpness, like you think. The problem is the poorly machined frog on that $25 smoothing plane. Same thing for those junk clamps over there that you’re always fighting during glue-ups. Better tools may mean fewer tools, but you’ll still come out ahead.
And those woodworking classes you’ve been considering? Take ’em! This business of learning absolutely everything the hard way is hobbling you big-time. Yeah, I know money’s tight, but let’s face it; there are certain, uh, recreational, expenses you could cut back on to save the money for classes.
There’s a whole lot more I’d love to tell you (like, WEAR EAR PROTECTION!), but I gotta go. You’d be tuning me out in a few more minutes anyway; I know you. So, back to the future! Oh yeah, make sure to check out that movie. It’s gonna be a good one.
Ric Hanisch, age 72
Current home: Quakertown, PA
Began woodworking professionally in 1970
"Excusing mistakes by blaming bad luck is the real mistake."
Hello there, young fellow. The good news, I’m here to tell you, is that you will surpass your expectation of not making it to 30. Your tail won’t be as bushy 50 years from where you stand now, but your tale will continue to gain a patina of nicks and gouges as well as depth and richness.
I know you’ve noticed that even as you study and gain skill with tools and think things through with maps and diagrams, you still make mistakes. It will be helpful to understand that those mistakes are your best lessons. Mistakes illuminate the way forward. Excusing mistakes by blaming bad luck is the real mistake. Recovering from mistakes and the unintended is an art in itself and one worth getting good at. Be assured, you are going to encounter the “Uh Oh” moment as frequently as the “Eureka” moment. And be aware that mistakes will happen not just in making things but in dealing with your fellow man as you develop as a person. Get good at building things and relationships. It’s hard to overestimate the importance of honest relationships with a network of folks struggling through their own mistakes.
Nancy Hiller, age 56
Cabinetmaker, NR Hiller Design, Inc.
Current home: Bloomington, IN
Began woodworking professionally in 1980
"In 30 years, it’ll be considered cool to be a woman in the trades."
You don’t know me, but boy, do I know you. I’m your future self, writing from 2016; I won a fundraiser raffle at a science museum and got to send a letter to someone from my past. I chose you, knowing that your (our) life will be much better if you take the following advice to heart.
People are always telling you to take yourself less seriously. But you should really take yourself more seriously. I’m not talking about becoming a joyless drudge; what I mean is, your aptitude for design and building represents a viable lifelong profession. Stop seeing that work as something you just happen to be doing until you figure out your future.
I know you care about how others see you, even if you wish you didn’t. You’re happy dressing in old jeans and work boots in your 20s, knowing that people see you as an artist chick who works in a trade dominated by men. But you worry that once you hit 40, this look will suggest “uneducated slob.” Enough with the anxiety about how you’re going to look in middle age. If you’re so concerned about what people will think circa 2000 when you go to the grocery store with sawdust and glue on your clothes, invest in a shop apron to keep yourself clean.
Andy Rae, age 58
Current home: Asheville, NC
Began woodworking professionally in 1970
"Yes, you can make that, and it’ll take longer than you expected."
To the young artist who inadvertently fell in love with wood and now wants to work it, this is your future talking. We only have a short time, but I want to share some stuff with you to help get you started off well.
Wood? Tools? Techniques? All important, yes, but paramount is your attitude. First, pay attention to all safety warnings, and learn what they mean. Your body, especially your hands, will thank you. Second—and I know you’re hungry for information—please take everything with a grain of salt: There’s always another way. That woodworker you admire who extols a certain approach or technique? By all means, try his advice; if it works, copy it and call it your own. If it doesn’t, stash the details in your apron pocket and practice something else. In time, you’ll find your own way, made from bits and pieces of your past, and then assembled and honed into a razor-sharp future. Remember: It takes time. Patience is my third counsel, grasshopper.
Now that your head’s on square, let’s list the nitty-gritty stuff.
- Gain proficiency in the four essentials—design, material, joinery, and finishing. Competency comes first; nuance a delightful second.
- Buy top-shelf tools. They’ll last longer, and you’ll be happier much longer.
- Slow down. Speed is a fickle ally who complies only when your mind is calm. Walk to the tablesaw, don’t run.
- Wear comfy clothes, and remember to tuck in your tie…or ponytail.
- Splinters, cuts, and bruises shall pass. Skin loves to grow.
- The final coat shows all flaws, so check your work in the beginning and in the middle—not at the end.
- Welcome your kids into the shop. (Oops! Am I flouting some essential time-travel directive here?) It’s good therapy, and it makes ’em smarter.
- Yes, you can make that… and it’ll take longer than you expected.
- The business of woodworking is a hard way to make a living, particularly when a project balloons into extra hours. ’Nuff said.
- Practice the organizational arts: I’m in your 14th woodshop as I write this.
- Remember your woodworking ancestors. You’re standing on their shoulders, so take advantage of their collective wisdom. Some day you’ll pay it forward too.
- Have fun! (You already know this, but it’s always good advice.)
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