The Best Beekeepers…


The best words of advice I’ve heard sound simple until you give them some thought. Here are three things to consider.

“Good beekeepers have to figure some things out for themselves.”

This was a simple statement made by a beekeeper and mother to her teenaged woodworker who was struggling with sharpening, setting up a handplane and producing a nice surface.

She didn’t know about woodworking, but she knew about farming and bees. And when her young son despaired that he could not get his plane to work, she spoke those 10 fantastic words:

“Good beekeepers have to figure some things out for themselves.”

A couple years ago I heard Mike Siemsen of “The Naked Woodworker” DVD fame discussing workbenches with a new woodworker.

Question: What about moisture content blah, blah, blah?

Siemsen: Don’t worry about it. It will work out fine.

Question: But the wood species yadda yadda annular rings shinka shinka gymnosperms?

Siemsen: It will all work out fine. I wouldn’t worry about it.

Question: So E-value, Janka rating and tangent grain? Roubo, Nicholson and Klausz?

Yoda: Fine it will all work out. Worry not.

…this conversation continued for another 30 minutes in the same format.

Third vignette. Matthew Sheldon Bickford, author of “Mouldings in Practice,” ends his book with the best single-word ending sentence in the history of woodworking writing. Stick with me here.

“Be willing to succeed by being willing to fail,” he writes on page 241. “Tie yourself to your actions. Stop reading. Err!”

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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25 Responses to The Best Beekeepers…

  1. Thomas Scott says:

    Hey Chris,
    As someone very close to me once said, “No one is born knowing how, we all have to learn.”

  2. Reblogged this on Sawdust & Woodchips and commented:
    Great advice!

  3. xxxmike says:

    Oh horsefeathers! And smellier stuff.
    That is so much BS zen nonsense. Until I found your articles on what was a good hand plane and then how to set up, sharpen, and use it, the only thing that I could accomplish with it was to put a dent in the wall where I threw the darn thing in utter frustration.
    Surprise – it was a “modern” Stanley, and next to useless until thoroughly gone over, and without guidance, no chance in heck of fixing it.
    It’s the same way in music, arts, martial arts, science, and……even zen. Unless “grasshopper” is a natural genius, not much progress is going to be made.

    • hgordon4 says:

      And the fact that we’ve all found and read Chris Schwarz’s writings means that he values knowledge and the dissemination of that knowledge. However, one reaches a point where all the book knowledge has to be put into practice. You have to do it, and be willing to fail, to develop your own skills. The second vignette above is a little troubling to me because Siemsen is portrayed as being dismissive of all the new woodworker’s questions. Personally, I’d have preferred a response along the lines of “These are valid technical questions, but they are things you should ponder after you have a 1000 hours of actual working with wood, with your own hands, under your belt.”

  4. greenwooddl says:

    I had a wonderful acting teacher who would say to a student who hesitated about getting up to do an exercise, “Do it badly!”

    Best wishes, David

  5. beshriver says:

    Remind me to show you all my roubo book stand project from Christmas…never before has anyone mangled one piece of wood so thoroughly…it’s almost modern art😃

  6. Matt Merges says:

    “Everyone says experience is the best teacher, but no one wants to go to his class.” – Unknown (to me at least)

  7. …and remember, you can never put too much water in a nuclear reactor.

  8. baywoodstructural says:

    ” A smart fellow learns from his mistakes, a wise one learns from another’s ”
    My Papa

  9. jbgcr says:

    They say it takes 10,000 hours to be good at something – I’m past 100,000 hours in my trade and still learning. I still screw up but always follow my first bosses advice – never go back, always go forward as that’s what takes you into the creative zone where you find a way no one else has found before.

  10. Ryan Cheney says:

    Mouldings In Practice is worth it just for the wizened advice Matt bestows upon his readers. I bookmarked those portions of the book and I’ve probably read them more often than I’ve planed mouldings! The book is still worth every penny.

  11. The first hand tool class I attended was a Lie-Nielsen weekend workshop with Roy Underhill several years ago. Learning to make a tenon, I accidentally cut the tenon off while making a shoulder cut. Then I learned how to cut half blind dovetails, joining a 3/4 inch board with a 3/8 inch thick board. I cut some pretty nice looking tails, then cut the half-blind pins twice as deep as I should have! So, among other things, I learned how not to cut a tenon and how not to cut half-blind dovetails. Since then, I have cut quite a few excellent tenons and quite a few very decent dovetail joints. There’s nothing like a few spectacular failures to accelerate the learning process!

  12. disneytodd says:

    Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from my high school automotive teacher Mr. Angle “Your best teacher was you’re last mistake”

  13. Excellent advice! I wonder how many other woodworkers fall into this trap? I know I did when I started out. I always wanted to feel like the answers to all of my issues were just out there hiding. Sometimes, you just have to get out there and power through your problems. Agency is a great ally!

  14. This is bad advice. You’ll never be a good woodworker without a solid working knowledge of shinka shinka gymnosperms.

  15. nathanbreidinger says:

    I love simplicity.

  16. This was great for me to read today. I’m a noob woodworker currently on the cusp of building my first workbench. I have the wood, I’ve read up a lot, I know basically what I’m going to try, but I haven’t been able to make myself make those first cuts, for fear of screwing up. Allons-y!

  17. diondubbeld says:

    I was about 4-5 years old when I attempted my first woodworking project. A cat house for my favorite barnyard cat Sid. “Dogs have houses why can’t cats!?!” I made it using rough, uncut scraps from my geandpa’s new pole barn and 20 penny “spikes” from the same. Upon finishing I stuffed it with that fake green grass used in the bottoms of Easter baskets, I mean what cat wouldn’t want that for bedding. Needless to say Sid never used it, but I was so proud that I had made something that didn’t fall apart when I picked it up, “the spikes helped”

    Lost to time a couple years back my grandpa found it and gave it to me as a birthday present. It looked like a disasterous Tetris game one rectangular peice away from total failure, with bent over nails and splintered wood, it’s a miracle I didn’t kill the cat forcing it into its happy home.

    It sits on a hallowed shelf in my shop as a reminder of where I started, and the passion I had then, and still now.

  18. jdcook72 says:

    One of my favorites:
    Good judgment comes from experience.
    Experience comes from bad judgment.

  19. Wesley Beal says:

    This advice relates to how it is I always find my woodworking experiences more enriching while working Poplar compared to Walnut.

  20. nateharold says:

    Searching for wood for my workbench right now – and the winner might be an old bowling alley maple slab.

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