Stop asking 'what if" and just try it!


The Internet, of course, is a wonderful tool, especially for a group as historically isolated as hand-tool furniture makers.  In the old days, apprentices were expected to keep the secrets of the craft. In the more recent past, we've been the weird guys. We talk about citric acid rust removal for a molding plane iron rather than just buying a new router bit. We're the ones who would actually try to resharpen our own handsaws instead of just running down to the Borg for a new table saw blade. We like it when our projects actually look like they were made by a human, rather than having robot-like machined surfaces. An online community that reinforces that its ok to be beyond the Norm is a fantastic thing. But, as in all things, there is a dark side.

We also read far too many things that aren't particularly helpful.  We see commentary about how flat your sole must be to make your plane work, despite many craftsman who don't worry about such trivialities. We hear that you can't cut dovetails without a razor-thin side bevel on your chisel, and to hell with Job Townsend.  If you wouldn't ask a forum poster what size shirt you should wear, why would you ask them how high your workbench should be? Waterstones! No, diamond stones! No, oil stones!, No, Scary Sharp!

The echo chamber of internet woodworking forums is strong. Truths and non-truths reverberate with equal frequency and, unfortunately, the same validity.  Escape! Think for yourself! Try things! Think about things! Make mistakes!  Make discoveries!

If you want to be helpful, don't simply quote what Nicholson said, or Roubo, or Hayward, or Moxon, or Klausz. Anyone can read their words for themselves and adapt it to their work.  What you can't get is the hands on experience of individual craftsman, unless those experienced people actually share their knowledge through posts.  If you don't have experience with something, don't wait for someone else to figure it out for you. Try it! Write it up! Share! Advance the craft!

I have more respect for the man who tries, fails and shares that failure than the man who tries nothing yet knows all...

In the spirit of the American election season remember this; the average person will start to believe almost anything if they've been exposed to it at least seven times (I know this firsthand; I used to be a professional campaign manager).  Now think about how many times you've heard how you must have those razor sharp bevels on a dovetail-chopping chisel. Have you actually tried to chop the waste with a firmer? I bet you'll find that you can do fine if you just tried it... and that's the point.



  1. Zach,
    Very nicely put I couldn't agree more!

  2. here here brother!
    I had an art teacher in college who said "just make art, don't think about it, just make it!"
    Though I feel I've learned an incredible amount about wood working from other sources, I know I've learned the most through practice.

  3. There is no better teacher than experience. It allows you to put into practice what you've learned.

  4. Nice post Zach. I just spent the last 2 days at the MidWest WIA 2012 helping Mark Harrell into Bad Axe booth and got to see some wonderful examples of hand tools. It was great discussing the use of the tools and the techniques people use to reach the same end point.

  5. Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I was inspired by a certain thread on a woodworking forum where a poster asked a question about a technique, where it literally would have been faster to simply try it out than it was to make a post on forum. Silly, really.