Following up on my post “Perpetual Beginner Mentality“, I encouraged the amateurs/hobbyist woodworker to be bold in their woodworking. This post is also written for the amateur/hobbyist.
Many, many moons ago when I was coming up thru public school students were separated into two distinct groups. College bound and vocational bound. Although there was some overlap, the curriculum varied dramatically. The college bound group were placed in advanced trigonometry and chemistry. While the vocational bound were in basic math and geometry as well as wood shop and industrial arts classes. Shortly after I graduated from high school the program was abandoned in favor of the “everyone goes to college” theory. Looks good on paper, but the result is that a large group of people now graduate high school with no applicable skills and a real sense of failure due to being forced through a “college bound” curriculum.
What does this have to do with woodworking?
I believe there are also two distinct paths for woodworkers. There are those on a professional path and intend to build furniture for a living. Then there are those, like myself, who are on the amateur/hobbyist path and simply want to build furniture for the pleasure of it. The two paths overlap in many ways, but diverge in many ways as well. So does it really matter what path your own? I believe that it does.
If, like myself, you get your woodworking information and instruction from anywhere and everywhere you can. That means we are gleaning our information from professionals and amateurs alike. Here is where the problem begins to sneak in. While I believe that it is of paramount importance to obtain information and instruction from the best sources possible, I believe that we must also temper our expectations based upon our own path. Some of these sources can have better than 50 years experience. We cannot a watch a video or take a class and hope to match that amount of experience and skill. I know that this seems obvious, but I wonder sometimes as I read blog posts and comments. Folks tend to be very hard on themselves, or worse do not even attempt something for fear of failure. Woodworking is a journey of skill building, not a “one and done” activity. Just because an aspiring musician watches a video of a concert pianist doesn’t mean that aspiring musician will be able to replicate the performance. Why would you expect to do that in woodworking?
The professional path is generally an intensive one. Similar to the apprenticeships of old. A high level of skill is sought out in the shortest time possible. Often the professional path leads to a specialization. Examples being a particular furniture style or technique. Inlay and marquetry being technique examples. There are other aspects to the professional path as well that are not directly related to skill and technique. Those on the professional path need to be concerned with the matters of running a business. The understanding of marketing, purchasing, production and accounting will play heavily in their success or failure. From an ethical standpoint, those on the professional path must be able to consistently perform at a level commensurate with that of the industry standard or better. What is built is also heavily dictated by either the intended customer or the current market trends.
The amateur/hobbyist path is more of a meandering path. Skill and technique tends to be built up in spits and spurts as time allows. Shop time tends to be measured in minutes rather that days, months or years. Proficiency at any technique can take months due to this limited linear flow of “shop time”. Most of us are driven by the simple act of creation in wood, with no thought as to the making of money. In many ways we are practicing woodworking in its purest form. Beholden to no one other than ourselves, we are free to explore various styles, forms and techniques. Yes, often times progress is slow, but we progress nonetheless. Pursuit of unattainable perfection at a snail’s pace is often the path of the amateur/hobbyist. We are free to error without any real consequences. Besides, as you progress, your definition of perfection will evolve. What you consider to be “perfect” now will not be the same a year from now. In fact, I will venture to say that in some instances it will be drastically different.
So what is my point? Be realistic about your true path and judge your work accordingly. Embrace the freedom that is enjoyed by being an amateur/hobbyist. Embrace your successes, as well as your errors. The fact that you recognize an error means that you have attained the knowledge to do so. Relax and enjoy the journey, its only wood after all.