Watching videos or reading books and magazines is certainly one way to learn about woodworking, but nothing substitutes for experience. A few weeks ago, right before the 360 Whirlwind Tour began, I spent two days teaching classes at Ron Herman’s school in Columbus, Ohio, and the students in attendance I think would agree. The classes I taught were dovetail basics and advanced dovetailing. In both cases, the students had limited or no experience at all. By the end of each day’s class, however, they had their feet firmly set upon the path to woodworking success.
No matter how we try to intellectualize the craft, it’s a physical activity. You need to practice and, if you want to get better, you need instruction. When I started learning how to play golf (and I’m still learning…some days slower than others) it was hard to figure out what I was doing right and what was going (so horribly) wrong until I took a few lessons from a pro. Sure, my dad tried to give me pointers, but he was only marginally better than me. And while I loved and respected him, I wasn’t going to really learn how to be a better golfer from him – enter the professional.
Here was a person who dedicated a huge part of his life to honing his craft. He saw the gross mistakes (and believe me for most “gross” is an understatement) and the (few) things I was doing right. Based on those observations and his experience he had me shooting straighter and more consistently in just a few lessons. He gave me pointers on what to look for when things went wrong (“Look at your stance at the end of the swing, the position of the club, where the ball went.”) and gave me insight into how to tweak what I was doing to start getting better results (“Move your body this way or change your grip and this will happen.”). All of that came from years of daily practice and a massive amount of natural talent (two things I obviously lack when it comes to golf). Without his help I would be (even more) clueless as to how to begin getting better.
So, how does all this golf talk relate to woodworking? Saturday morning I walked into Ron’s shop and greeting a handful of newbie woodworkers who had never cut dovetails in their lives. By the end of the day, without exception, each was turning out perfectly respectable dovetails (I said “perfectly respectable”, not perfect – though a few were incredibly close…you know who you are) that were not only serviceable but something they could each be proud of making. This happened because it was easy for me to look at what they were doing and give them those little personal tips (“Move your body this way or change your grip and this will happen.”) that put them on the path. They still did the cutting and removed the waste; I had nothing to do with that. I merely showed them the basics, then tweaked their technique and the rest is up to them. They have to practice what I showed them. Watching me cut dovetails or reading about it over and over isn’t going to make them better dovetailers – that is why we practice.
And because 360 Woodworking is all about making you a better woodworker, and using a variety of delivery systems to do it, I want to announce that within the next week we will be opening registration for a limited number of hands-on classes here at the 360 WoodWorking shop and offices. The classes will take place throughout 2015 and will cover a variety of projects and techniques for woodworkers of various levels. Stay tuned for more information.