Did you make a New Year resolution?

I quit making resolutions years ago because it was depressing. I would be all fired up about losing weight, or quitting smoking (finally did kick that habit), or saving money, but it wouldn’t stick. Finally, I resolved to quit making resolutions. Instead, I make a large “to-do” list and go at it like a mad man. Even if I don’t get it all done it keeps me somewhat on track. But this year I’m inspired to try something different.

Do you follow Jen Bower? She’s an amazing engraver with a penchant for inspiring others. She recently posted a creative picture of tools arranged to spell the word “drive,” her guiding word for the year. This seemed more logical than a complex New Year resolution, so I thought I would give it a shot. I chose the word “Learn.”

The environment that I will be in this year is all about learning which influenced my word choice. But beyond the myriad things I will learn on the job, I have a few specific areas that I would like to intentionally focus.

I still consider myself a beginner when it comes to hand tool woodworking.  A while back I followed Kieran Binnie’s advice on learning to saw and improved tremendously. I need to do that sort of practicing with all my hand tools. It is easier to practice when the goal is to learn instead of make something. Mistakes seem less a burden and more an education.

The books written by George Walker and Jim Tolpin are fascinating, but you can’t just read the books and know the information (well you can but it’s like looking at a picture of a stranger and thinking you know them on a personal level), you need to grab a pencil and compass and go to work. Several times I’ve attempted to make a diligent effort to go deep with that material, but ended up shoving it to the side for other things. Along the same lines is Bill Pavlak’s inspiring article on drawing in issue #3 of Mortise and Tenon Magazine.

What about marquetry? Marquetry is something I started learning last year that got pushed to the side by other things. I want to get back to that in full force.

And this is just a small sample of the things I would like to learn. It is difficult to get in the shop and be intentional about learning techniques without having something to show for it at the end. But I believe the practice will make future projects less of a struggle.

Before you go… just in case you’re wondering why I’ve been name dropping, know that it was intentional. We don’t learn in isolation, we learn in community (hence the tagline for this blog). I have learned many things from the people I’ve mentioned, and I hope to learn a lot from you too! I welcome your feedback, criticism, and comments.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Neil Ahrendt says:

    Eric – in the spirit of name-dropping those who have helped us on our path, I’d like to recognize the Joinery classes at the Indianapolis Art Center (as well as a number of other classes there) – Roger uses mostly Japanese tools but was instrumental in getting me of the mindset of how to strike a line and cut to it.


    1. Eric Key says:

      I didn’t realize the IAC had joinery classes…I’m going to have to check that out! Isn’t it amazing how much better your woodworking becomes after learning to layout joinery and cut accurately? Thanks for letting me know about the IAC!


      1. ne8il says:

        I was lucky to also take classes there on western hand planes and hand saws that were incredibly educational – the teacher was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge on them. Unfortunately he stopped teaching them last year! I’m not sure where you can get that kind of in-depth knowledge locally aside from possibly MASW, which is pricier.


      2. Eric Key says:

        I’m not sure either. Maybe someone from the local woodworking club or at one of the woodworking stores. I have a vague memory of seeing a list of classes at Conner Prairie that included woodworking. Of course there are a lot of small woodworking businesses around here and I’m sure that any one of those would be willing to teach if the price was right. MASW has weekend workshops that are pretty affordable and every Tuesday night you can sit in, for free, on the presentations by the instructors of the week.


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