Canadian Woodworking

The soul of woodworking

Author: Clive Smith
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: June July 2005
The Soul of Woodworking
The Soul of Woodworking

When was the last time you thought about how much you truly enjoy woodworking?

When was the last time you thought about how much you truly enjoy woodworking?

I must admit the thought never crossed my mind until I actually stopped working with wood on a daily basis. After a while, it dawned on me that I was missing the enjoyment that I had been getting from woodworking, and I started pondering why it had been so enjoyable.


The more I thought about it, the closer I came to understanding my enjoyment, and the closer I got to understanding what I have come to know as ‘the soul of woodworking’. This new appreciation has led me to discover some important benefits to woodworking.

Surprisingly, I discovered that one of the greatest benefits of working with wood comes from the way it requires me to think. You will probably agree; when you are working with wood, and the associated tools and machines, there is definitely a need to concentrate. Daydreaming, even for a second, can result in an accident, or at the very least, wasted materials.

Successful woodworking requires that I maintain a focused concentration on what I am doing, from the design right through to the finishing. The benefit of this focused concentration is that it excludes all other thoughts for that period of time. Instead of considering the weather, the leaking faucet, or whether hockey will ever return, I simply think about one thing: the project I am working on. This state or condition, where I am focusing my attention, can be called a meditative state. It is similar, but not exactly the same as, sitting crossed legged and chanting a single phrase. In essence, the results are the same.

When I do multiple repetitive tasks such as square up a face and edge on a joiner, or rip or crosscut numerous pieces on the table saw, I am actually benefitting physiologically from the process. As I focus my attention on the single task of the project, I actually allow my mind to relax. The relaxation occurs because the mind is only processing one item at a time, which takes a lot less energy than trying to multi-task. The relaxation is directly related to the length of time that I maintain the focused attention.

Woodworking does even more than just relax your mind. When the project turns out as well as hoped for, you have an immediate sense of satisfaction. This occurs as you work on a project, and experience it coming together as the parts are assembled.

Psychiatrists tell us that the happiest people are those who fulfill their job descriptions in the shortest space of time. Their best example is the hand ditch digger. With every swing of the pick or shovel full of dirt, he fulfills the job description. Clearly, there is a lot more to woodworking than digging ditches, but there are some similarities, in the level of satisfaction. This may be one of the reasons that turning is so popular; it provides an immediate benefit from your efforts. The need we all have for a sense of satisfaction in what we do may account for the resurgence of interest in woodworking.

Woodworking is obviously about working with wood. As I think about it now, the quality I appreciate most is its beauty. Whether it’s the colour, figure of the grain, or subtle texture, wood is a beautiful material. Its powerful beauty often leds to the simplest designs; the beauty of the wood is enough on its own.

Our interest is always renewed as wood is available in a myriad of different forms, including flitch matched veneers, quarter cut boards, and exotic turning blanks. The diversity of its beauty is endless. In addition to its beauty, wood is easy to work with, to join, and to construct assemblies into larger projects. Wood also accepts a variety of finishes that are as varied as the material itself.

As I searched to understand ‘the soul of woodworking’ I discovered three things:

• The act of working with wood is therapeutic

• The direct connection between our efforts and the finished project gives a strong sense of satisfaction and accomplishment

• We are blessed by being able to work with such a beautiful material.

I am sure there are many other aspects of woodworking that could be added to describe ‘the soul of woodworking’. There is probably a slightly different definition for everyone who works with wood. If you have the time, I would love to hear your thoughts.

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