In addition, you discover methods to fix the issues that do arise. I would not have known how to close small gaps in my early dovetails (place a saw kerf beside the “gappy” dovetail then drive a wood-matching wedge into that kerf) if I had tight-fitting joints. Or, if I hadn’t sprayed the finish too heavily around the door frame on a cupboard, which creates a sag only visible with light directed from above, I wouldn’t have unearthed how to use a single-edge razor blade as a small but efficient scraper. These events build our knowledge as woodworkers, as well as add to our experience. That experience makes us better craftsmen.
By making mistakes and dealing with the consequences, you begin to fully understand the processes. With a complete understanding of the processes, you know why a joint fits accurately or what a good finish looks like. The woodworking picture comes into focus. It becomes clear. You can then make small changes and anticipate the results. You can tweak a step here or there in the process and know you’ll not have a problem from which to recover.
But if you do the task at hand without incident, do you stop and question why it happened the way it did? No. So what have you learned? You don’t know why the joint fit or why the case assembly is square. It just happened.
If you can precisely duplicate the process again, you can complete the same task many times. Can you remember the exact steps? More than likely you cannot. And if you cannot, you’re destined to make another attempt and hopefully the process runs successfully a second time.
So don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Get going. Do something. Even if it doesn’t work, you’ve gained as a woodworker. No, I don’t particularly want to toss a half-carved cabriole leg into the trash or throw away an ill-fitting joint – but I’ve done just that. And it hurts.
They don’t call it the “school of hard knocks” for nothing.
As I stated at the beginning, I make mistakes and I accept that fact. What I don’t accept is making the same mistake twice.
– Glen D. Huey
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