Perhaps you can relate. My day-to-day job requires me to use my brain, not my hands. Analyzing, thinking, planning, communicating and many hours behind a computer screen. Mentally challenging work is very rewarding, but I picked up woodworking as productive, hands-on outlet for when I’m not “on the job." Hours spent on woodworking projects have reinforced some basic lessons that contribute to business success as well.
Here are some “shop tips” for you to ponder…
- Create a vision. Even if it is not defined in tremendous detail, you must have a clear vision of what you want to build. Sketch out designs. Search for other work that inspires you. Document your aspirations. I am currently doing this for a dining room table. I know it needs to be approximately 8ft. x 4ft. and fit with the décor in our home. I also know it needs to be sturdy and resilient to withstand the abuse from our family for many years!
- Establish a detailed plan. Draw detailed plans to scale. Identify all the materials that will be required and build step-by-step instructions on how to achieve your vision. Put the thought in so you can minimize rework and be efficient in execution. I’m not there yet with my dining room table, but I have built detailed plans for *most* completed projects. For those I deemed simple enough to not need plans, I was undoubtedly inefficient or sloppy at some point. Always have a plan.
- Have the right tools for the job and circumstance. It is easy to convince yourself that you need to buy big, expensive power tools to accomplish tasks. But that’s not always true. Space, cost and frequency of use are often limiting factors on tool purchases. A brief digression on this…Wood needs to be square and flat in order to be properly assembled. Achieving this is called milling. Up until this point, I have been able to accomplish all milling with hand planers. Not having a planer at all would be disastrous, as the materials would not be square and the work would be poorly aligned and weak. Planing by hand takes time and effort, but these tools get the job done. It is also a great way to learn and creates a deep sense of pride with the work. HOWEVER, I have two dozen projects in the queue and I know I can build them in 25% less time if I purchase a planer. For me, time and output are more valuable than the pride, so this $400-600 investment has a quick ROI. If I properly maintain the planer, it will serve my purposes for many years. @woodcraft, here I come!
- Execute the plan, BUT be open to modifications if they make sense. Shop, cut and build according to the plan but allow for some adjustments and hiccups along the way. Sometimes in woodworking, the materials can afford the opportunity for different results. Furthermore, things will be learned along the way which can be incorporated in to your design. I am currently making a bathroom vanity out of rough walnut. Mid-way through the project, I identified a live-edge board in my stock and decided to incorporate it in to the design as a backsplash. Doing so added some unplanned time and effort to the project, but it looks SWEET!
- Reflect on lessons learned. Was there rework involved? Did I make mistakes? What can be done to ensure these same mistakes are not repeated? If you created something that you intend to build again, modify your plan so you can be more efficient in the future.
- Take pride in what you have built. For me, there is absolute joy in the work; the process. However, there is a payoff with a beautiful and functional kitchen island, wooden mallet, charcuterie board, Christmas tree ornament or vanity stool. Celebrate your success and share it with others!
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