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Five Life Lessons Woodworking Can Teach You

Looking back on 18 years of being a woodworking hobbyist, there are five life lessons that I've learned. Here they are:

We Do the Small Jobs Right, So We Can Do the Big Ones Right Too

When I bought my first home almost two decades ago, my father, who'd spent his life as a "do it yourself," agreed to help me build a shed in the backyard. It was a 12'x12' shed with double barn-style doors and pine board siding; not particularly complicated.  

Tool Shed
After laying the floor joists and deck, we framed up some 2"x4" walls and raised them. He was really fussing over the plumb and square of these walls. Honestly, I was getting antsy with this and said, "Dad, it's just a shed, why are you getting all worked up about the walls?"

He stopped what he was doing, looked at me and said, "my lad (he still calls me 'my lad' at 47 years old), we do the small jobs right, so that when we do the big ones we do those right too."

To this day, that comment has stuck with me. When I'm tempted to "cut a corner" here or there on something that I'm doing, especially at work, I vividly remember that exchange and try to remind myself to do the job right, no matter its size.    

But, Sometimes Good Enough is Good Enough

Building furniture with wood is not an "exact science." Wood is a living thing with which we work. It moves with moisture. It changes with the seasons. It has imperfections.

In addition, nothing is perfect - including our tools and especially us. Woodworkers by nature, though, always seem to be striving for perfection. Look at any serious woodworking forum and you'll see myriad opinions about how to make an exactly square cut or get a perfect French polish finish.

You reach a point, though, when you realize that sometimes good enough is good enough when it comes to woodworking. The same is true in life. Not everything can be perfect. You have to pick your battles, whether it's woodworking or life. 

You Really Do Learn from Your Mistakes

Jewelry Box in Quilted Maple & Walnut
We are not perfect. We make mistakes, especially when it comes to woodworking. We fail to measure something correctly, make a cut, and then realize that we've wasted a nice piece of stock. So we learn, "measure twice, cut once." 

We spend weeks doing a project and we know the mistakes we've made. A mitre cut that's not perfect, a joint that isn't tightly fit, a finish with a blemish. But, we learn to accept that mistakes will happen. We realize that next time we will do it differently, so that we'll improve and be better.

The benefits of making mistakes, though, is that we also learn how to adapt and fix them so that they aren't so obvious. And, sometimes in life we have to do the same thing, we have to accept our mistakes, try to fix them and make them less obvious. It's life. 

You Do Get What You Pay For

In woodworking, like life, there are high end tools that cost top dollar and then there are lower end tools made for smaller budgets. Many times because we want a new tool, it's so easy to get tempted to save a few dollars and buy these lower priced models. 

We get excited about the new tool, get them home, break them out of the box and try them out on a new project. Then the reality sets in. The tools are poorly constructed. They don't work properly. They make terrible cuts. I have a workshop full of many tools that constantly remind me that we get what we pay for. 

People Who Love You Really Love the Things You Make for Them

In the end though, life is all about the ones we love. And, when you build things for the people you love, they love those things because you took the time and put in the effort to make something for them. 



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