November 6, 2008

It shouldn’t be a mystery. It should come as no surprise. There you are, racing through your life, your day, busy with your driving or driving behind an idiot muttering to yourself. Navigating your iPod or navigating the message from your spouse. [You have so many talents. Maybe both jobs at once.] There you are negotiating a business deal or writing that paper. You are driven to succeed and to do every job well. You move at a pace that is fast and efficient. Sure there’s a hiccup every now and then. A bump in the road put there by the fools who would hold up your fantastic progress. But you know your job and you do it well.

Then you take on woodworking.

Woodworking is not like your normal life. It is not a normal activity. Oh sure, if you’re a carpenter all day, then the shift to the work bench isn’t that hard. But how many of us make our living swinging a hammer? Not many. No, most of us spend our time tapping furiously on keyboards not nails. We spend our time processing information not staring down the crooked edge of a 2×4.

Then you walk into the wood shop.

It’s different there, isn’t it? Stuff everywhere, parts and pieces of projects placed carefully about. Or in the case of the rest of us, strewn about like the aftermath of an experiment in centrifugal force. It’s a place where the pace is different. The expectations higher and lower both at the same time. It’s a refuge, a haven, a place where you think you know where everything is put.

Then you start to work.

Now it’s not really surprising that things do not go well for you. You are too much of a perfectionist for things to feel just right. You want every act, every technique to work just so. When they do not, you are understandably disappointed. What can be done? Learn to warm up. I think it’s the most overlooked aspect of walking into the woodshop and it leads to such disappointment, such continued disappointment.

Why is this? It is because you are not in the flow yet when you walk into your shop. Your head is somewhere else, your hands aren’t used to these operations, and yet you expect, think of it, you expect perfect results right from the start! So it’s a bit of a blow when things do not go well. It’s a bit of a come down when your hands seem to be at cross purposes with your goals. You can’t hold the drill in the right position. Your arm hurts when you do hold the drill in the right way. The screws don’t pull everything in tight, the finish goes on splotchy. All you want is a little satisfaction. [Do not have The Stones playing in the background now, please.] A little bit of forward progress.

You want to pick up right where you left off. Isn’t that a pretty thought. You can’t. You need to bring your head and your eyes and your hands all down into focus. A focus that your normal life does not have. A focus that is relatively precise and very small by comparison to everything outside the shop. If you don’t have that focus, you will never move forward.

But wait. Wait for it. It will come. It just takes time to get calm. To slow down from the world. So go easy on yourself. It may take several hours before you become productive. That’s okay. You’re in the shop. That’s a good thing. Putter, clean, sharpen. There are a half dozen jobs I can think of off the top of my head that  will be well served by you putting your mind to them now. And then these jobs will help you prepare yourself for the important work that you really want to accomplish.

Gary Rogowski is the Director of The Northwest Woodworking Studio. Visit us at

Published in: on November 6, 2008 at 12:59 pm  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Warming up is an awesome idea. You do it for everything else, why not for woodworking? I’ll try it tonight.

  2. It’s something that takes a lot of observation, which people just aren’t used to anymore.

  3. I had a bit of a stressful day today. Just reading your description of working in the shop made my pulse rate go down.

  4. Several hours to get going!? I don’t believe it! But what you say about the mindset required for woodworking being somehow at odds with the mindset of the rest of our lives — true enough. For me, it helps to get up early and stumble right out to the shop, before I even get the sleep out of my eyes. I won’t start right in using the table saw in that state. But I do find it’s much easier to pick up right where I left off and work at a proper pace — and find my focus — if my head isn’t yet cluttered with the mundane details and aggravations of a busy day. Woodworking IS my warming up. Nice way to start a day.
    — Bob, NWS mastery graduate

  5. Couldn’t agree more, some days it does take me hours to get going which can make for some long days. There is always computer work to do and that gets done first thing in the morning for me so my brain can get moving. I also try to run errands early so I can get productive work later in the day. Brad

  6. What a wonderful description of the shop. Thank you.

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