The only thing I dislike about teaching at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking is that I’d rather be listening than talking – especially if Doug Dale is my assistant.
Doug, a 10-year employee at the school, is a low-key, casual and humble guy. But every time I shut my yap and open my ears, it’s like listening to the Buddha (or Yoda). Now I don’t think Doug is a Buddhist – I don’t think he owns a saffron MASW faculty shirt. But some of the stuff that comes out of his mouth sounds like ancient Eastern wisdom – even if it’s about operating a chop saw.
While teaching a class on trestle tables at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking, I got into a conversation with Doug at a chop saw station about mistakes and injuries. And what he said is still ringing in my ears.
“Most of the mistakes and accidents I see are because the person is thinking about what they are going to do next – instead of thinking about what they are doing at that moment,” he said.
I would have slapped my forehead if I wasn’t holding a board at that moment. It sounds like simple advice, but it’s not if you think about it for a bit.
It’s common safety advice to avoid daydreaming while operating machinery, but Doug’s statement goes a step beyond that. Many times when we are working in the shop, we are tightly focused, but on the wrong thing. It’s easy to think ahead – even by a few seconds – instead of remaining in the tiniest pinpoint of the present where the saw is cutting and you are approaching your line.
If you can empty your mind (it’s a lot like meditation) and block out everything except the slippery present, you will find a calmness and confidence that will escape you at the moment you start worrying about the next task, or you start beating yourself up for a mistake in the recent past.
Jameel Abraham – another amazing woodworker and toolmaking guy to listen to – has another way of putting it. Earlier this year, someone asked Jameel how he did such incredible work. Jameel’s answer was only two words: “Pay attention.”
— Christopher Schwarz