You Cannot. You Should Not. You Will Not.


Peter Follansbee’s brain switches off when someone begins a sentence with, “You should….” Mine does a similar thing when I am told, “You can’t….”

Part of the beauty of modern communication – you can get a message rapidly to the whole world – is also its flaw – soon everyone is repeating that same message. If you repeat something long enough, it will soon become a facsimile of truth. (If you want to test this theory, start reading a lot about wood finishing.)


In some ways I am grateful that I did not learn woodworking in the Internet age. I did a lot of things that are so incredibly stupid that I have burned the evidence, lest it end up on someone’s blog. I made up joints that probably shouldn’t exist. And I built furniture that by all rights should have exploded by now (it didn’t).

Oh, and I spent the first six years of my life as a newspaper reporter being fed outright lies everyday.


So I like to test declaratives (three-legged chairs are tippy), assumptions (you need special tools to build chairs), writ (you cannot bend kiln-dried wood) and common practice (drawboring is for timber-framing and old work). Most of the time I find that these ideas are based in some truth, but they have become twisted into holy law.

Woodworking doesn’t have a lot of laws. They are similar to the laws of physics, but not much more.

In other words, wood can be shaped by your mind and your hands, but not by words.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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23 Responses to You Cannot. You Should Not. You Will Not.

  1. hgordon4 says:

    …based in truth… twisted into holy law…
    When the spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, the cat who lived in the monastery made such a noise that it distracted them. So the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice.
    Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up.
    Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice.

  2. amvolk says:

    “Wood can be shaped by your mind and your hands, but not by words” Hmmm… Sounds like you have your slogan for the next LAP T-shirt!

  3. blefty says:

    I’ll have to say that turned out quite well…

  4. Hey Chris, Im curious. Are you using green wood or seasoned wood?

  5. I’ve been experimenting with different finishes on top of wax and also waxed shellac, because people keep saying you can’t do it, but waxed shellac implies that shellac bonds with wax just fine, and shellac will stick to other finishes nicely, so shellacking wax, then varnishing that seems like it might work. So far conventional wisdom seems to be if not wrong, at least partially misinformed.

  6. bsrlee says:

    Well, at least your BS detector should be finely tuned.

  7. terrygday says:

    Never say never, you can’t is a challenge. Ther was probably a time when some old woodworker saw the dovetails a young apprentice made and laughed at him. There was always a time when something that exists now didn’t exist.

  8. misterlinn says:

    When I worked for the MOD in Glasgow in the mid eighties, I was given the new role of Executive Officer of Management Services. I was the lowest management grade possible and the job was the one none of the other EOs wanted. But I thought the title made me look important, and I used to introduce myself to the ladies with it. Yes, I now cringe at what they must’ve said behind my back.

    My task was to go through the entire building of 90 people and write job role instructions, then trace all the connections, looking for duplication and dead ends.

    Every Friday, this one young clerk spent the entire afternoon sorting hundreds of documents into alphabetical order, then posting them by internal mail to another office in England. I phoned them up.

    “Oh, it’s you that sends us that stuff, is it?” Said the guy.
    “Yes” I said. “Would you mind terribly telling me why you need it?”
    “We don’t need it” he said “we just put it straight in the bin”

    I found loads of dead ends like that.

    Every so often, ask why.

  9. beshriver says:

    i can not comment now…i’m shaping wood with my mind…jedi style

  10. You speak the truth oh wise wood whacker and beer connoisseur !!!!

  11. drewstout says:

    Defecating on sacred cows every now and then adds the necessary spice to woodworking.

    • beshriver says:

      I had a boss one time that had a plaque above his desk that said “sacred cows make great steaks” 😄

  12. abtuser says:

    You can’t not like this post (snicker).

  13. virgil62 says:

    Hey Chris.
    How are you holding that seat while you plane away in photo 2? Is it nailed to the stick underneath or just held by strong words and determination?
    Cheerio, Virg.

  14. Chris Reck says:

    I love it! Rules are for fools!

  15. isthatso says:

    By day & trade I’m a ranger of woods and by night and hobby an arranger of words and re-arranger of wood. Once again you’ve reshaped my mind with your words. Thanks for what you do.

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