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Want to see what I’m up to in the shop each day? I’m keeping myself honest on Instagram. You can follow me @andrewzoellner and #365daysofwoodworking.

If it were up to me, I’d be able to divide myself into two parts.

Editor’s note: this article appeared in the April 2020 issue of Popular Woodworking

One would focus on my family, health, and career, and the other would focus on making great furniture. Unfortunately, that’s impossible. So, I’ve done the next best thing: I’ve publicly declared that I’m going to woodwork every day this year, all those other things be damned (see issue #251). And it’s actually working (so far).

So much about woodworking is learning new skills, trying things, failing, learning from failure, trying again and succeeding. Yes, reading and learning about woodworking is important. You really can learn a lot about how to approach projects and what to look out for when starting out. But it doesn’t get real until it’s you, in your shop (or back porch or spare room or driveway) with a pile of wood, some tools and an idea.

And that’s where I’ve been spending at least some of my time every day since the beginning of the year. The first few days were surprisingly the hardest. A flurry of gift-making at the end of last year had left my shop in disarray. But simply cleaning and organizing didn’t qualify as woodworking (at least in my mind). But making projects for the shop does, and that’s where I started.

After a week, my shop was better organized, cleaner and I was able to try a few ideas I’d been thinking a lot about. After cleaning up a corner of the shop, I’d reward myself with turning a leg or spindle. After 10 days straight with shop time, I started to have epiphanies about how to move things around and make it a nicer place to spend more time. Most days, I didn’t even mind the January cold (made slightly better with some radiant heaters).

With the shop in better shape, it was time to start making stuff with no excuses. Thankfully I have a bunch of house-related projects that require some time building in the shop—a built-in pantry with a bunch of drawers, frame and panel sides stained to match an old oak buffet, even some precision trim work to make new windows appear part of the original construction.

I’ve also rediscovered that many projects have down time (waiting for glue and finish to dry, milling and acclimating lumber to the shop, etc.). And there’s no reason you can’t have multiple projects going. In fact, forcing myself to be in the shop everyday has helped me chip away at projects that once seemed overwhelming. Having time in between steps to think through what happens next, or being able to simply walk away when things aren’t going as planned is a bonus. It’s all progress, working toward becoming a better woodworker every day, bit by bit.

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