• Thursday, September 19th, 2013


The previous post discussed the creative destruction that I optimistically think contributed to my development as a woodworker. Thus, probably slower and with more angst than necessary, I think I’ve learned a few things worth sharing. Surely, readers, you have many points to add, but here are some key factors that come to mind that I believe contribute to a successful woodworking project, which, for me, is one that brings the “quiet joy” of which Krenov spoke.

  • Plot a smart order of construction steps. Don’t back yourself into corners that make succeeding steps more difficult than they need be. Think and think ahead.
  • Recognize appropriate tolerances in stock preparation, joinery, tool tuning, and so forth. Know where you must be very close and where you have some room. We all recognize the damage caused by sloppiness, but compulsive attempts at unnecessary perfection waste energy when building.
  • Know where the critical junctures are in the process. Some steps are make-or-break, so bear down on these.
  • Likewise, be cognizant of the major pitfalls. Usually, they are apparent only if you stop and think.
  • When possible, work in a self-correcting manner. For example, it is often a waste of time trying to get two surfaces to meet right off, and easier to plane small excesses flush as a final step.
  • There are many small touches that cannot be shown in the shop drawing, such as how ends and edges are softened. These decisions properly come along as the work progresses, but they must be consistent with your style and the design concept, and so you must maintain aesthetic awareness as you build.
  • Choose finishes as part of the design, not as an afterthought when the piece is assembled. Experiment on scrap to find a finish that supports the design concept.
  • It is nice to challenge yourself, but not to the point where you cannot maintain reasonable composure as you build. That’s no fun, and the piece will probably show it!

In marked contrast to the disappointment that can sometimes come from trying to make fine things, it can be exhilarating to work in control, in the flow, and in the moment, making something that you dearly want to be.

Here are best wishes as you pursue your path to the joy of woodworking.

Category: Techniques
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5 Responses

  1. I was going to post this on your article about flow that you linked to here but comments are closed so I’ll post here instead.

    As you referred to, it’s a known phenomenon called ‘Flow’. It applies to any craft, or process of performing a task. I’ve been programming computers for 15 years and have only experienced flow when solving my own problems, writing code for myself instead of somebody else.

    It happens for me when I’ve solved all the problems in my head before even starting to work on it – I’ve worked it over a million times, seen where the problems will be, solved them, envisaged interactions with other components, and effectively written the entire program already. When it’s time to write the code on a computer, my body is merely a conduit for getting what’s in my head into the computer’s memory. There’s no feeling like it!


  2. 2
    Tico Vogt 

    After more than three decades of building I see your comments as spot on. The trickiest for me is to “maintain reasonable composure as you build” and it is a daily challenge. If you don’t believe me ask my wife.

  3. 3
    Larry Jackson 

    This blogpost is laden with wisdom.

  4. 4

    Choosing a finish as part of the design is so important!

    I try and think about what kind of finish I want before I even pick out wood, when I have the opportunity. Often times, though, the wood is selected by the client, so it is up to me to figure out what finish will be best for the design and wood being used.

  5. 5


    Interesting account. Top level athletes say they prepare extensively and intensively but when game time comes, they let it fly (or flow, I guess).


    Oh, I believe you, and I understand, believe me!


    Thanks for the kind words.


    I agree. And it’s so easy for a finish to trash an otherwise nice project.

    Thanks, all, for reading.