Limits to growth

It is possible that crafting within a particular branch of woodworking can be stultifying.  We get to where we’ve made the same piece, with only minor variations, time after time.  There are reasons for it.  If we make something and it is well received, why change it?  We feel that, since there are flaws in the first model (perhaps only perceptible to the crafter), a second try will refine the process.  And if a second go-round is good, then what about a third?

But staying in a particular style can also cramp your possibilities.  If you only work with seasoned wood, you won’t get to feel the breezy cutting of green wood.  If you only work at the bench, you won’t get to experience woodturning.  If you only use polyurethane, you won’t see how a simple coat of paint strips away all the distracting grain of a piece, allowing the form to show through.  And if all you make is furniture, you won’t feel how unfettered it can feel to use your tools to make timber-framed  structures.

Sometimes it can feel that you aren’t “ready” to tackle a certain project.  That is a valid concern.  Wood is expensive, and the possibility of ruining a piece is a difficult one to face.  But such things need not remain out of reach forever.  A chest of drawers has a multitude of dovetails.  But instead of shying away from that form because of that (or settling for some sort of rebate joint),  why not make a half-dozen boxes with dovetailed sides?  By the time they are done, you will have cut just about as many dovetails.  It will be a practised skill by then and you can move forward.

If you feel like you’re just doing the same thing, only different, try a different medium.  Yesterday I had posted a picture of a pair of bolts.  I made them (some years back) from a length of cold-rolled steel on an old Clausing lathe from the 1950’s.  Digital nothing.  I had learned how to be an okay machinist and I needed some bolts.  So I made some.  There is a vast difference between running an engine lathe like that one and the woodturning lathe I use now.  But the point is not in the medium; it is in the making.  I’ve used hammer and forge to make my own chisels and some gate hardware before.  It’s a fascinating (but sweaty) study.  Looking into the marriage between a piece of walnut and the intricately constructed lockwork of an old flintlock is another avenue of interest.  What about basketry?  Or upholstery?  Or, or, or…

The point is this:  allow time to develop competence, but don’t allow yourself to become specialised.  Try new things.  Who knows what may prove useful in days to come, or what craft you may find exquisite.  The world of making things is vast…and wondrous.  If you stay cooped up in a certain little pigeonhole, you may never experience something fantastic.  The only one limiting your growth is you.