Canadian Woodworking

Learning to Woodwork (Concluded)

Author: Don Wilkinson
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: June 2010
Learning to Woodwork
Learning to Woodwork

There really is something to be said about trial and error as a method of learning.

As mentioned last issue, the ideal method of learning or perfecting a talent or skill is the universally approved process of trial and er­ror. Just look at doctors! They simply keep practising until they finally, hopefully, get it right. Heck, they even refer to it that way themselves.

Some things may not be as suitable for learning by trial and error as others, how­ever. Flying a helicopter may be one of them, although I did teach myself hang gliding by reading a book and then throw­ing myself off progressively larger cliffs until I finally got it right. Then I quit. I’m not an idiot!

I learned how to drive cars and motorcycles the same way, so I figured woodworking should be just as easy, although I figured woodworking had more potential for personal death or injury than driving did. Those tools scared the crap out of me, even before I fired them up and experienced the banshee wail of the table saw screaming away at full bore. That’s when I learned to check the dust cabinet for nesting raccoons before starting work in my somewhat insecure shop.

As anyone who has ever purchased any­thing can attest, ownership manuals are of little or no use in terms of how to actually use your purchase. Woodworking tools and equipment are no different, which is quite shocking if one considers the potential lethality of said tool. A table saw manual for example, will inform you in 23 different languages – none of which you or anyone else happen to understand – the name of a particular handle or lever as well as the part number for re-ordering when you inevita­bly lose it. Unfortunately, the manual won’t actually tell you – in any language –what the piece is used for, which means you are left to figure it out at your own peril. It also neglects to remind you that the aforemen­tioned item voids the warranty if not used correctly. Or at all.

Keep the manual, however, it has valuable safety tips such as: “When use of!” “Do not if water in” and “Place not the hand if blade when round.” Then there is my personal favourite: “When if, then do not.”

Valuable information, my friends! Information to be strictly adhered to, when if and do. Or not! It depends.

Eventually, however, I got my shop rewired, fuses replaced and proper plugs attached. Who knew woodworking equip­ment wasn’t supplied with plugs or that it ran really, really slowly when plugged into a normal outlet? Certainly not the manual! I checked.

Finally I was ready to start learning. I stepped behind the big planer, crouched down and poked at the start button of the table saw with a long stick until it finally kicked in. I waited for a bit till I was fairly certain that blades weren’t going to fly off before standing up and slowly edging towards the screaming beast. After a while I grew brave enough to pick up a board and feed it to the ravenous creature. That went well, all parts still attached where they should have been, both on the saw and on me, so I tried it again. This was fun. What a great way to turn large, expensive pieces of wood into smaller worthless pieces of wood. (I later learned through extensive trial and error that the old books and teach­ers were dead wrong when they stated that it was necessary to turn a wide board into smaller boards before joining them back into a wide board again.)

Eventually I overcame my fear of the mighty screaming machine, although I never lost my respect for it, and soon it was churning out precisely cut pieces of wood. Pieces that came off the saw at exactly the length or width that I wanted them to. Pieces that I was able to join, using some of my other tools, into real items of furniture that people were eager to buy.

Sure, I had the same learning curve with each new tool I tried but eventually, because I was willing to make mistakes and keep trying until I got it right, I was able to mas­ter each tool as they came along. And so can you!

Learning through trial and error isn’t just for doc­tors, you know!

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