The Upside of Downtime

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This article is from Issue 99 of Woodcraft Magazine.

I appreciate working in my shop this time of year, when the frenzied gift-making that overtakes the holidays is in the rearview mirror. I like the calm, the re-centering. Clearing my bench. Clearing my mind. No banshee-wail from the dust collector or whir from the air filtration unit. My saws and routers are quiet. It’s time to reset the shop after the wreckage left in the wake of a holiday-project monsoon.

I sweep the floors, tuck away my tools, and organize stray hardware. Now’s a great time to resharpen my chisels and planes, clean my bits and blades, and tune-up the machinery. I even find joy in emptying the dust collector, taking out the trash, and replacing filters. Hey, it beats sanding.

But when the dirty work is done, and I don’t have a project deadline banging on my shop door, I’ll settle into the respite by practicing some techniques. I find that no matter how accomplished I am at a particular task, it never hurts to test my talents by, for instance, cutting dovetails by hand. Sawing straight lines requires rehearsal, and paring consistent pins take practice. I also take the opportunity to learn entirely new skills and techniques.

If you, too, are looking to make good use of post-holiday downtime while working your way into the new year, you’ll discover plenty in this issue to help you out. For starters, on page 31 you’ll find a lesson in hand-cutting dovetails wrapped in a gorgeous display cabinet. Why not gain or polish a valuable skill while giving birth to something beautiful? A companion story on page 40 demystifies the handsaws used for such joinery. Another project rife with lessons is the distinctive vase-on-stand on page 45. It highlights unusual procedures like cutting coves at the table saw and applying a shop-made patina to the copper pipe vase. And the quilt-pattern cutting board (p. 24) features unique design and glue-up challenges. Fun experiments when you don’t have looming obligations. 

The point is, you showered your loved ones with presents, so take some time to give yourself the gift of continuing education. You better make the most of the unrushed hush before someone starts tugging at your sleeve again!

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