The best thing I can say about graduate school is that it taught me to think.
When someone presents an idea to you that is the opposite of everything you’ve read before and everything you believe is true, how do you react? Most people reject the new information like a kidney grafted to the place where the liver should be.
I used to be like that until I started reading Noam Chomsky’s criticisms of how mass media works.
Here’s the dime-store paperback version: Look for information that doesn’t match the conventional wisdom. This new information may not be correct either, but you should examine it closely because it will teach you something.
Here’s how this plays out in the workshop.
In 2007, we re-published Joseph Moxon’s “The Art of Joinery” – the first English language book on woodworking – with some commentary from me. In the book, Moxon discusses “traversing” a board with a fore plane to clean it up and remove twist. I demonstrated this operation in the book and readers on the discussion forums howled.
Sadly, posts on the forums expire, so digging up the discussion is difficult. But here’s the gist:
- “Traversing” doesn’t really mean working across the grain.
- You never work across the grain with a plane. You work “with the grain,” that’s why we have this expression in our language.
- Moxon wasn’t a woodworker so he’s wrong.
- You interpreted Moxon wrong.
- You are wrong.
- Please die.
Ten years later, it seems funny that this conversation ever happened. That’s because enough people (the Fox Mulders of the world) tried Moxon’s techniques and were able to discredit the Cotton Mathers.
After 20 years in this business, I’ve seen this happen time and again.
- A.J. Roubo’s workbench from Plate 11 is for carpentry. Not furniture making.
- The bark side of a board cups and the heart side bows? Ridiculous.
- You have to finish both faces of a board or it will warp.
- You have to alternate growth rings in a panel glue-up or the panel will warp.
- Hide glue is outdated.
- Paint is for covering poor workmanship only.
- Nails are for carpentry, not fine furniture.
- Workbenches need a tail vise.
I could go on and on. And it would soon sound like I’m giving you a list of things to believe, or not to believe. All I really want to say is my favorite Russian paradox: “Disobey me.” And I’d like add one more bit of information to that: There is a way out of the paradox, but you have to find it for yourself.
— Christopher Schwarz