Marking A Milestone In Woodworking
So on Saturday, I started the finish to the shadowbox I’ve been working on for my sweetie.
On Saturday, everything that could go wrong with the wood did.
A “shadowbox” is a recessed case – basically, a frame you can put a three-dimensional object into. The object in this case is “a sock.” Because my sweetie refuses to tell me where she wants to go when we go out on dates, and I have to remind her in true Harry Potter style that Dobby has been given his sock, and so I’m officially going to give her her sock so she’ll remember that I’m never going to get mad at her for expressing an opinion.
So I’d prepped the wood on a previous weekend, and Saturday was cutting grooves into it and cutting it into pieces that would fit together into a box. And it was a frustrating day, because I’d lost several tools and had to go hunting around for them, and then I didn’t know how either one of my routers worked to switch bits efficiently, and I couldn’t figure out how to get the table saw set up for bevelled cuts, and when I finally did I cut the pieces the wrong way so the box shrunk from seven inches to six inches to five inches as I kept adjusting, and when I finally assembled it the grooves were half on the outside of the box, half on the inside.
I’d spent two sessions, only to end up with a useless partial case.
A little disheartening.
But on Sunday, my wife was feeling sleepy so at 8:00 I decided to get out and put in another couple of hours in the shop.
I killed it.
Now that I knew where all my tools were and how to use them, I cut myself a perfect shadowbox in 52 minutes. All my measurements were right, my safety game was on, and I was in the zone.
And that may be the first time I’ve felt competent as a woodworker ever.
Woodworking is weird. I do it because I like it, but there’s also that odd pressure because woodworking is a traditionally masculine skill, and I’ve never been good with my hands. (Unless they’re typing words at a keyboard.) Whenever I fuck up a cut, I think of all those videos where the bearded confident guy quietly assembles a mahogany end table in a half-an-hour show and never says “oops” and never has to stand there calling Norm over to go, “Okay, now, how do we fix this damn thing?”
And I know, I know, that’s not reality. I’m told by professional woodworkers that half the time at their shop is futzing around for that tool they laid here somewhere. But there’s this image, somehow, of the woodworker I should be which is partially of the man I should be and I never quite get there.
Last night, dear reader, I got there.
And I know I’ll screw it up again. The guys are coming over to assemble Eric’s shelf on Wednesday, and we’re gonna screw things up like nobody’s business. There’s no shame in screwing up.
The real reason I’m proud of Sunday night’s shadowbox is because everything I did so quickly was purely because I’d screwed up. How did I change that routing bit so easily? Well, I remembered where the wrenches were and knew how to get at the collar. How did I know how to bevel the boards properly? Because I’d spent half an hour learning how to use the table saw and learned a valuable lesson on how to cut angles.
Basically, last night’s speed run was where I turned mistakes into lessons.
That sort of conversion is what it’s all about. There’s no shame in screwing up. In our shop, we call them Valuable Lessons – as in, “Well, I think we’ve all learned a Valuable Lesson tonight” – and that’s how we get better.
Last night, I got better.
I’m marking that moment here so I don’t forget.