Your innate intelligence, your achievements in the corporate world and the number of degrees you have earned at university won’t help you much at the bench when you start woodworking.
To be sure, some people have some natural dexterity (I didn’t) that helps them take the first steps in the craft. But after teaching a lot of beginners during the last 10 years, I have found there is only one way to get good at woodworking: Do a lot of woodworking.
As David Savage says: “You need to build a shed-load of furniture.”
This simple fact is sometimes hard to accept for people who are used to being a star pupil or an outstanding employee. I’ve had CEOs, attorneys, surgeons, PhDs and one high-ranking politician get quite frustrated when they cut dovetails and their results look no better (or even worse) than the elevator repairman at the bench next to theirs.
When anyone (regardless of their position in society) gets frustrated because they have failed in a class, I try to trace their steps to disaster. Did you do this? This? How about this?
Many of them lie, but their work tells the truth. Their chisel was dull and too wide. They didn’t mark the waste. They used a coping saw to remove the half pin. They used their own cockamamie marking system instead of the traditional “marriage mark” that I begged them to use.
How they respond to this failure determines if they will learn anything or not. You cannot buy a tool to get you out of these weeds. You cannot simply say, “But I’m a doctor,” and have the door opened for you. You have to admit: I stink, and I need to know the steps to become good.
Those steps aren’t usually found in books, I’m afraid. A book can tell you how to saw, but those instructions are meaningless until you are sawing. With some people I had to literally take them by the hands and guide their strokes so they could feel it. That’s humiliating for some, I know. But you cannot download this. It is uploaded through your fingers.
The way forward is, I’m afraid, to destroy your sense of self. Become a small child on the first day of school and do what exactly what you are told. Gradually, you will match the letters to sounds, the vibrations to results, the patterns into words and the wood into furniture.
— Christopher Schwarz