Trust. It’s not a concept. It’s more palpable than that. You can see it in action. You know it when you have it. It’s like nothing else when you can base decisions on it. You had it when you were young: Catch me! you would cry out to your trusty and fling yourself into their arms. Lose your trust and you sadly know this just as strongly, just as completely.

Trust in the woodshop is something else again. Oh sure, you trust yourself not to stumble and fall into your bench when you walk in. You trust that your tools will be right where you put them. Mmm hmm. You trust yourself that you won’t cut off your finger. [perhaps that’s why anyone who’s had an accident goes into such shock. It’s not just the physical shock of amputation or a deep cut. It’s the cut of betraying your own trust. Why, oh why, did I do that to myself? It’s the shock of losing trust. Your inner child or your inner woodworker is so stunned: I trusted you! Look what you did.]
No, trust in the shop is something you need to develop and practice. It does not come quickly. It comes with time and effort. It comes with making hundreds of wrong cuts, hundreds! This recalls Henry Petroski’s new dictum on design: Form doesn’t follow Function, it follows Failure. Hundreds of wrong cuts later you learn to trust your sawing. You learn to trust your chisel work.

Someone in class recently said to me I don’t like hand cutting dovetails and that’s just fine. It’s a reasonable assertion given the time and technique it takes up. But cutting dovetails is about much more than cutting these most perfect of joints [oops, bias creeping in]. It’s about more than lay-out and sharpening techniques and how to hold your chisel or your saw. Sawing dovetails is about learning to trust yourself. It’s about learning to trust that your lines are right where you want them. That your saw will cut where you need it to. And, failing that, that your chisel will pare just so. Just in the place required and no other place.

It’s about, and this is the key, learning to trust your eyes and your hands. And this trust you can take to the table saw or to the router jig or to any other job in the shop. Because you can trust yourself to be patient, to be careful, to be precise, and to do good work.

Published in: on March 14, 2008 at 7:38 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That’s a tough one to learn. Doubt in oneself is a hard thing to overcome.

  2. Well put, Gary. The way I look at it, trust is another tool in the toolbox. You know, I’ve thought many times about that oft-asked question: What’s the most important tool in your shop? Most people would say table saw, band saw, favorite bench plane, etc. But, for me and I’m sure this has been pointed out somewhere before, the most important tool is my hands. And, after reading this, I’m starting to think that, no, it’s really your mind since that’s what ultimately is telling you what you can or cannot trust.


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