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DSC_5235Today I want to talk about feelings. The warm fuzzies we get from our craft. The soul-lifting, Ch’i enhancing, conscious-expanding personal development we get from woodworking. How the mere act of taking what nature has provided us in the form of resources and abilities to expand the hum…

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Emotional gobbledygook notwithstanding, developing a feel for woodworking is an important experience that will enhance not only your enjoyment of the craft but also your work. I’m talking about the actual electric impulses triggered by the nerves in your hands and skin, resulting in muscle movement, situation analysis and … hands-on learning.

In college I was a diver. Part of our workout was spent analyzing and theorizing the physics of the sport and what actions were required. I fully understood the concepts rotational mass, momentum development, trajectory movement and water adhesion, but when you’re standing on a 5m tower, all theory goes out the window as action takes priority and experience tells you brain the adjustments to make based upon the nerves firing in the ear, eyes, skin, and limbs.

The same is true with woodworking. Knowing what to do and how to do it is important, but refining the act is what will make the results better. And that comes from repetition, just as in any activity or sport. But there are techniques to speed up this acquisition of physical knowledge – and the easiest one to work into habit is leanring how to feel.

Want to get faster and more accurate at setting up your planes? When you get it set to your satisfaction through trial and error, feel the protrusion of the blade with your finger. Running your finger straight down, perpendicular to the blade will allow you to feel how far it protrudes and is as safe as shaving with a safety razor (don’t run your finger across the blade sideways!). With repetition, you’ll be able to set up your plane to take 1000ths within seconds.

Learn to feel sharpness of tools such as chisels and gouges by running your thumb off the edge (not onto). This will easily tell you if the edge is rounded because your skin won’t grab and if there’s any serration – like feeling a burr. Many times this is a better test for sharpness than your eyes or the results on wood.

As you sand through grits feel the resulting surface. Your hands will tell you when you’re done with one grit, or if you’ve missed a small spot that needs to be addressed before moving on. With a little tactile feedback, your sanding will be more efficient.

Designs such as roundovers, ogee, and curves can be greatly refined by a pass of the hand. You’ll feel the high spots easier than you can see them, and will know what to adjust.

Developing this feel will eventually let your nerves dictate your actions subconsciously – then a whole level of refinement and efficiencies will open up.

In what other aspects of woodworking does feeling your way make you better?

— Shawn Graham

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