Do Your Best Work

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When I look back over my journey as a woodworker, there have been three great leaps that marked turning points in my work. They didn’t have anything to do with buying some fancy machine or hand tool (though I kicked up my heals when I first roped a Unisaw), these leaps had to do with pushing my skills to new heights.
The first leap was when I broke through the sharpening barrier. At the time I had only one scabby block plane that felt like a car that had been wrecked and drove with a stutter. Somehow I knew that a razor sharp blade might set it right but I had no idea how it would transform that blob of unruly metal into an extension of my hand. To my surprise, wispy shavings poured off the blade leaving behind tiger maple that sparkled. That one skill opened up the world of hand tools and with it the opportunity to venture where machines couldn’t.
The second leap was when I built a solid workbench. Not sure why I took so long to get around to it but I spent nearly fifteen years working on a variety of bench like things that were more suited to small engine repair than cutting dovetails. Finally I broke down and pulled together all the heavy timbers I’d been skeeving away and built a Frank Klausz style bench. Dang. Immediately my joinery and execution took a giant leap for the better and again the possibilities broadened as I felt confident about tackling more challenging projects.

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The third leap is a bit harder to explain. Broadly speaking it’s when I finally steered away from printed plans and ventured into design. But more specifically the leap came when I learned to see with my inner eye. It wasn’t quite the big eureka moment like when that block plane came alive in my hands but more like a gradual dawning on a whole new world. Of the three leaps, this ability to see and design is the most profound because it enhances all the other hard won skills. My best hand work, my best joinery, my best furniture is in front of me now and I can see it waiting to be built.

If you’ve wanted to venture into design but unsure where to start, or you’ve already begun but could use help focusing your inner eye, 2014 may just be the year. I’ll be holding workshops across the country to help you take that leap. Here’s my schedule with a few more yet to be added as things firm up.

Guild of Oregon Woodworkers, Portland Oregon – Two Day design workshop March 14 -15, 2014.

Port Townsend School of Woodworking (PTSW), Port Townsend Washington – Five Day Foundations of Design Workshop – March 17 – 21, 2014

Port Townsend School of Woodworking (PTSW), Port Townsend Washington – Two day Workshop with Jim Tolpin “By Hand & Eye” – March 22 – 23, 2014.

Lie–Nielsen Toolworks, Warren Maine, Two day workshop – May 17 – 18, 2014.

Kansas City Woodworkers Guild –  Two day workshop – September 19 – 20, 2014.
The Woodworkers Club, Rockville MD –  Five day workshop – November 3 – 7, 2014.

George  R. Walker

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5 Comments

Filed under design workshops

5 responses to “Do Your Best Work

  1. I’d like to purchase an old sector for use in instructing. Can you recommend a source? I’ve come across next-to-none on the toll sites, despite a long search. I would have sent you an e-mail, but I misplaced your address. Waiting for you to present closer to the environs of Pittsburgh. Thanks.

    • Antique sectors are a rare bird, though surprisingly were available commercially till the early 20th century. You might try sites that specialize in surveyors instruments or drafting tools. I’d actually think for instructing you might be well suited with a shop made sector. Jim Tolpin has written about it in Popular Woodworking Magazine. I do have a design workshop in the works in NE Ohio, will post that as soon as it’s firmed up.

  2. Well, I’ve purchased a good sharpening stone set. I guess I better open the box and get busy. Thanks for the motivation.

  3. Phil Coulter

    My guess is that virtually every woodworker can identify with discovering the importance of sharp tools. I appreciate the way you articulate it.

    A breakthrough for me was the importance of precision. If you hold a hair between your fingers you can feel it, yet it is only a couple of thousandths thick. Similarly, inaccuracies of a few thousandths are perceptible in furniture. It may seem that our tools and machines are not designed to be so dead on, but with care, forethought, and practice you can get machine shop precision when you need it. For me it started with eliminating the phrase “good enough” from my vocabulary and adding a dial caliper to my shop tool panel.

  4. Can’t wait for the NE Ohio workshop to open up. I’m really hoping the timing will work out.