Wednesday, April 7, 2010

An Ounce of Frustration

Making things is hard, and maybe it's supposed to be. Most of the time, I feel like it's my job to simplify, demystify and make possible even the most daunting tasks of chairmaking for my students. I take great joy in seeing the results of a good explanation or process. But a simple task has recently brought to mind the experience of learning.

Lately I've shown a couple of students the process of jointing edges for the gluing up of seat stock. I've posted here about the method that I use. It's pretty simple really. But watching students work to master it, I've realized that there is something missing. That something is the countless hours that I've spent learning everything from the feel of the handplane itself to the sharpening, wood technology and perhaps most importantly, the practice.

I keep thinking of musicians, and the process of mastering an instrument or music. No one would dare to think that just picking up a violin would make them ready for the stage, yet with the purchase of some tools, it's easy to mistake that one has acquired the skills that drive them.

So what's my point? It's not that I believe that we should abandon the optimism and boldness that pushes us forward into the unknown, but that we shouldn't be so surprised to find it a strange and awkward place once we get there.

It's easy to measure success of a project by the final results, but perhaps focusing on the small lessons along the way is more appropriate. Watching students confront their frustration and get their foot in the door of a new skill stirs a lot of empathy in me. Sometimes I wish that I could spare them the trials, but then there would be no real chance of success at all.


Tico Vogt said...

Hi Peter,

Great post. It was really nice meeting you and your poster girl at the NWA show in Saratoga. You were effective in demystifying your turning technique and your approach to sharpening, all the while keeping up a nice banter with the enthusiastic onlookers.
But I wasn't fooled: we're talking endless hours, days, weeks, months to reach that stage.

It's a good analogy, a musical instrument and a woodworking tool. So often we mistake "ownership" as conferring knowledge and ability.
Thanks for pointing that out.


greg p said...

Focusing on the small lessons along the way is why I keep building chairs. It's what I look forward to. The final result, although nice, isn't really my goal. It's improving all those techniques and trying new ideas. The final result is kind of like the period at the end of a long sentence. Good post Pete.

Shannon said...

Peter I like your thoughts on defining the success of a project not so much by the finished results but by what you learned during the build. I just tackled a simple table that I made all the more complex by turning eccentric center legs. I learned a lot about my tool handling techniques and what needed to be improved. That table will be infinitely more valuable to me now.

Peter Galbert said...

Thanks for the comments!
It was great to meet you, believe me when I say, I could heat the shop for a whole winter with all of my lathe screw ups!

Greg and Shannon,
Exactly, the chairs leave the shop, it's the skills that stay with you,