It occurred to me recently, that I have not bought a woodworking magazine for ages. It was an odd enough realization that I had to sit and break it down. What exactly has happened with the trajectory of this well worn hobby?
When it was all fresh and new, I would spend my lunch hours reading about woodworking; how to do it, what to use, what to build et al. I just couldn’t get enough. I started to collect books which over time became a woodworking library of sorts. Whenever I wanted a bit of whimsy, I read about wonderful things and how to make them.
The real life reflection of this was more messy. It came with some waste and some necessary do-overs. Despite all those great articles I seemed to make every conceivable mistake as a matter of course. Real life just never seemed to match the sanguine success shown in the woodworking magazines. Still, I pressed on because my enthusiasm outstripped the pain of learning.
Over time I also accumulated lumber to build my dream projects. Tools are another thing. I acquired them gradually from garage sales and such. Last year I doubled down and created proper storage in my shop so that everything finally had a place. One particular bank of drawers I use for example, has an abundance of small tools by category. One drawer has files and rasps, one has small hammers, specialized drilling apparatus and such. Storage has made accessing this library of tools more pleasurable and more organized. I now reach for certain drawers without thinking, because the tools are at hand.
Fast forward and today I have a lot of practical skills that could never have come from a book. It has also occurred to me that my knowledge might go to waste unless I find a way to pass it on. I realized this when we had small visitors and I prepared birdhouses for them to put together. I pre-sanded and cut all the parts cut to size, with small holes pre-drilled for the finish nails. I thought the project was too easy, until I saw them struggle. They had a hard time pounding in the tiny nails with the tack hammer. The boy did not pound straight and the nails kept bending. He also held the hammer too close to the head, not swinging from the wrist. This observation made me realize that it’s all baby steps. Even something as basic as hammering a nail is a learned skill.
My experience with woodworking is just one snapshot of how learning happens. You start from scratch like a baby, taking in very basic information, and then processing it. Reading is fine, but you never get to the next level without hands-on application. Knowledge becomes real when you find out that the doing never matches the cheery instructions you get from a book.
So no, I no longer buy woodworking magazines, mainly because real life has replaced the quizzical and vague ideas I entertained at the start. I have a bucket list of my own plans to complete in a lifetime. At some point I realized that reading about more imaginary projects would only be hypocrisy if I did not complete the list I already have in place. In that way, woodworking is simply a metaphor for all life projects.
My Christian aspirations for example, had to grow up just like my woodworking hobby. The fuzzy enthusiasm I had in the beginning passed through some dangers, toils and snares. The whimsy was nice, but it burns off like dross through the course of experience. Revelation comes by doing.
The Apostle Paul said, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” Understanding comes with age. Knowledge becomes wisdom and practise becomes virtue by force of habit. Eventually we are no longer apprentices, but disciples.
Some of my initial plans were unrealistic. They did not stand the test of time, and had to be abandoned. A reality check also strained whimsy into hard action. Some of the fancy techniques I tried out gave way to less glamorous basics that focused on getting the thing done. I also had to let go and forgive myself for some of the inevitable mistakes I made along the way.
Perhaps most ironic with any learned skill, is that you will never get to do it all, especially if it is a hobby. You simply will run out of time, or run into a wall where you will never match the skill level of someone more accomplished. Pitting yourself against any discipline is an exercise in limitations and perhaps a cure for hubris.
I am sitting here thinking over the ultimate question: in this quest to grow and learn, have I become the man I wanted to be? Hands-on is never like the whimsy you start out with. It is always a little more ugly, and a little more sublime. Still, unless we want to remain children, we must suffer the pains of growing up. My thoughts about being a Christian have also been tempered by the experiences of a lifetime. I hope that what I believe now has become more real by force of all that hands-on training.