Wendell Castle’s Top Ten List

Woodwork_2I was thumbing through an old issue of Woodwork magazine – a great magazine that sits defunct after being purchased back in 2013. (It followed the same path that closed the doors on American Woodworker, another magazine that was at one time the leader in the woodworking field.) In the issue I found a list of Wendell Castle’s top 10 adopted rules of thumb from 1996. (If you’re not familiar with Castle, do a quick Google search and sit back to be amazed by his work.)

What struck me about the list was that his rules are still pertinent today. In fact, more than a couple seem to me to be directed at woodworkers – they almost float off the page. Below is Wendell Castle’s list. The few that stand out to me, I put in italics.

1. If you are in love with an idea, you are no judge of its beauty or value.

2. It is difficult to see the whole picture when you are inside the frame.

3. After learning the tricks of the trade, don’t think you know the trade.

4. We hear and apprehend what we already know.

5. The dog that stays on the porch will find no bones.

6. Never state a problem to yourself in the same terms in which it was brought to you.

7. If it’s offbeat and surprising, it’s probably useful.

8. If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it.

9. Don’t get too serious.

10. If you hit the bulls-eye every time, the target is too close.

I’m particularly fond of #10. It’s a personal favorite. I’ve always preached (and practiced) to keep pushing yourself in life and in woodworking. And don’t be afraid to fail – you learn more from a failure than you do if it all comes out great.

And #9 should be on everyone’s list. You have to have fun. If you cannot laugh at yourself and others, you’re taking woodworking too seriously.

If any listed rule of thumb is special to you, or if you have something to add to the list, please leave a comment below.

— Glen D. Huey

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7 thoughts on “Wendell Castle’s Top Ten List

  1. The ones you picked are perfect.
    They all apply quite well to woodworking.
    I also like #5.
    Translation: Try new stuff, you’ll be amazed what you can do that you didn’t think you’d know how to do.

    Great article.


    1. When you think you have all the answers; you may be closing the door on the best ones.

  2. A teacher once told me “Yeah, learn from your mistakes, but don’t make that your only education.”

  3. Understand not just what your tools can do but what you can do with your tools.

  4. No.8 is the motto of the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute.

  5. When I moved I boxed up all my woodworking mags to give away. Then I pulled out the copy’s of Woodwork magazine. Just could not let them go.
    #6 has always been a help.

    One I would add is
    Question authority – especially my own.
    Thanks Don

  6. Yes learn from your mistakes, but try to never make the same ones twice.

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