• Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


Who is learning? Who is a student of woodworking? All of us, I contend, are, or at least should be, and almost always.

Now, the healthy innocence of a student, not to be confused with a lack of confidence, is apparent when you start learning a new fundamental skill, such as paring with a long paring chisel. The same is true when you apply solid basic skills to a completely new task, such as using your layout, sawing, and chiseling skills to execute unfamiliar joinery, such as a multiple mortise and tenon.

However, the presence of a learning situation is not so apparent at other times. An example, might be when you use a skill set that you have long mastered, such as cutting a through dovetail joint, in a different circumstance. You are very good at making that joint but this time the wood is different, a bit harder perhaps, and your customary slope ratio creates problems. You discover that you must also adjust your tolerances, tooling, and expectations.

Thus, this too is a learning situation but you may not recognize it as such. You are, in effect, overconfident. Worse, you are mentally closed but you should be open.

I believe that an absolute requirement for learning is to first recognize and accept that I do not, right now, know. Experience and previous successes must not obscure this.

To learn – and learn, we must – we have to see the door, open the door, and walk through it.

The late, great basketball coach John Wooden: “It is what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

Category: Ideas
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3 Responses

  1. Bob,

    I’ve been flying airplanes and training others to fly airplanes for 50 some odd years and most days I suffer “flat head” syndrome from thinking “why didn’t I know that?” When you know it all it is time to quit because you are too dumb to know how dumb you are. I believe that applies to most things in life.

    Good post,


  2. I have been doing carpentry and custom woodworking for the last 40+ years now. Everything you do is a learning experience. I have an apprentice that has worked with me for the 5 years now and had no custom woodworking experience. He had plenty of carpentry and construction experience. He spend a ton of time on the internet learning about anything and everything he can regarding custom woodworking. The young pup is always teaching me new things and I am always open to what he has to bring to the table. If your not learning your losing.

  3. 3

    I couldn’t agree more, Greg!