By Jeff Miller
I’ve been teaching now for more than 15 years. And in that time I’ve thought a lot about why students are or are not able to do certain things. Problems arise only rarely as a result of a student not having good information about how something should be done. Most know the steps involved. Many are familiar with multiple methods of cutting dovetails or mortise-and-tenon joints. The problems are almost always more fundamental in nature.
If you’re having trouble with your dovetails, or even your band sawing, here are a dozen fundamental things to think about that may help.
Stand up Straight? Actually, No
Woodworking is one example where standing up straight is actually a bad idea. Why? Standing up straight puts you in a position that is less balanced, less stable and less versatile than what you need for effective woodworking.
That doesn’t mean you should slouch. It’s just that good posture for woodworking is more like that for many sports. Woodworking is not really an athletic endeavor – although it can certainly have its moments. But when you’re trying to do almost anything physical, learning how to use your body better will definitely pay off. Not surprisingly, many of the basic principles from a variety of sports apply just as much to woodworking.
What’s the better stance? Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, one foot pointing forward and the other pointing off somewhere between 45° and 90°. Your knees should be slightly bent, with your hips pushed gently forward. Many woodworkers will also lean against either the workbench or a machine for additional stability.
What’s better about this stance? It provides you a balanced, stable platform for all of your work. And when you’ve got that stability and balance, almost any woodworking task will be easier to control, whether it be planing, sawing, chiseling or even using one of your stationary machines. You’ll be able to extend your reach farther without losing your balance, and be able to use your strength and weight to greater advantage.
This certainly isn’t the only body position for woodworking, but it’s a really effective one.
Lining up your body properly will also help you to do the work more accurately and efficiently. The key to this is proper alignment.
For example, mis-alignment of your arms means you have to rely on multiple coordinated movements to control what you’re doing. It’s both less accurate and less powerful to add in this unnecessary or wasted movement. It’s not impossible to work this way, but it’s easier to just eliminate the extraneous movement.
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From the December 2012 issue #201
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