Mess Stuff Up!

When a web developer tells you to give them content to get your site up, there’s so much to think about, so much to write about, and little time to do it in.  So, when I was asked for two blog posts to get started, I kind of panicked.  I had planned to write about our soft opening… the words were there, I could get it done fairly soon, but two?  Oh gosh, what else could I write about?  Over our morning coffee, Katie and I chatted about the days activities when I mentioned the pickle I was in.  As usual, she led me to my conclusion with simplicity.  She said “Write about what you have a passion for.”  As ideas rolled around in my noggin, a great story came to mind, that I think would fit not only the people who come to take a class, but Katie and myself as well.

A little over a decade ago, a dear friend found himself in his doctor’s office being informed that he had a bit of a heart condition. His condition was being complicated by the stress of running a business and the doctor explained having the right hobby to sink himself into might go a long way to reducing his stress.  My friend asked the doctor if woodworking might be the kind of hobby that would work, and without hesitation, the doctor replied yes.

A week later, my friend called and asked me to stop over for a beer and provide him with some tips and tricks to get him started.  When I stepped through his garage door, my chin nearly hit the floor.  As my eyes darted from one shiny new piece of shop equipment to the next, my brain frantically tried to add up all the dollar signs.  Delta, Dewalt, Craftsman, Ryobe, even those fancy new Festool items… tools… new tools everywhere!  I don’t know what he spent, but I wasn’t so much green with envy for his largess, as I was for his opportunity to start out with some top-of-the-line tools.

As we sat each side of his new table saw, beer in hand, discussing the fantastic things he could do with all of those tools, he got down to brass tacks.  He had a wealth of tools, a pile of rather expensive hardwoods, and a complete lack of knowledge on where to start.  I asked him if he had a project in mind to begin with.  He told me about wanting to make a beautiful table for in the shop.  He knew what species of wood he wanted to use; he just didn’t know how to put it together.

I’d been a carpenter for years, and had the benefit of my older brother Paul, who owned a commercial cabinet shop.  When Paul was young, he had apprenticed under a German man who flew for the Luftwaffe during WWII.  Paul learned craftsmanship from an old-world craftsman, and he passed some of those skills on to me.  Two of the most important lessons I learned from my brother are these; You must crawl before you run, and as agonizingly difficult as it is, you have to make that first cut.  

A good amount of my carpentry training was provided by the Navy.  I learned the basics, but nothing compared to what my brother taught me.  My brother was wise enough to know that I had to learn things the hard way, so where he could, with a watchful eye, he let me make mistakes and explained where and why I went wrong.  That was the first lesson he taught me…  you must crawl before you can run.  Brand new shiny top-of-the-line tools are awesome in the right hands, but they won’t make you a craftsman overnight.  

I explained this to my friend, and he kind of had a dejected look on his face, but I reassured him that true success isn’t measured against others, it’s measured against oneself.  Regardless of how your project turns out, if you learned something and are better at the end of the day, than when you started, you are a success.  It takes time and effort to develop the skills of a professional, but for most of us, with a little help, and a little effort, we can make things to be proud of.

 The other important lesson my brother taught me came years later after I had developed some serious skill.  I was nearing completion on a kitchen remodel in my first home.  I had gutted the kitchen down to the studs and built it back with a carefully laid plan.  I had rewired, plumed, finished the walls, tiled the floor, and custom built all the cabinets.  The last piece of the puzzle was the counter tops.  My brother and I had constructed more than a few solid surface tops in our time.  The type of solid surface tops I was building must be cut to rough size, the dropdown edge glued, shaped with a router, then polished to the desired finish.  As I sat in his shop, the expensive material laid out on saw horses before me, I poured over my plans again and again.  Minutes ticked by, turning into hours.  My brother must have sensed that I was sort of brain locked.  I was full of doubt.  He calmly walked up and said something that changed not only my status as a craftsman but changed a big chunk of my life too.  He simply said, “You’ll feel better once you make your first cut.”  In his own way, he was uttering the same thing as famous philosophers have said for years – A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – he just put it into language I understood.  Momentum is a thing in physics.  Once an object starts moving, it tends to stay moving until something stops it.  Humans experience momentum too… but in a mental form.  Sometimes, you just have to make that first cut.

I passed that little nugget of gold onto my friend with the new tools, but I brought in the acknowledgement that he had to crawl before he could run.  I suggested he save his stack of nice hardwood, make a run to the big box lumber yard, and grab some dollar 2×4’s.  Economically priced lumber is still milled, shaped, assembled, and finished the same way as your exotic hardwoods.  It just doesn’t feel so bad when you screw up and need to start over.

Ok, there was a small lie in that last paragraph…  I think my words were more like “Go buy some cheap stuff and mess it up!”  Only the words “Stuff” & “Mess” were more like words a Sailor would employ…  After all, I am what I am.

Oh, my friend’s fine table?  Pine 4×4’ legs, 1×2 edging wrapped around a chunk of birch plywood, and the veneer sanded through on the corners… yeah that table?  I can’t tell you the number of beers I consumed at that table, but I can tell you that I felt pride every time I sat down at it.  So, if you are contemplating picking up some sort of crafting hobby, remember, it doesn’t always turn out like the YouTube video shows, but that’s ok.  Learning is what we do every day, sharing what we’ve learned is called teaching, and you’re qualified to do both if you are still alive.

It was a fantastic exercise for me to share this story with you.  As Katie and I are busy with getting everything ready to open, we have to be reminded that neither of us have operated a B&B before, and although I have some teaching in my background, neither of us have run a school.  We have to cut ourselves a little slack and remember to commit to getting better each day.  We have to learn to crawl before we can run right?  Hopefully our web developer understands this content is also like making our first cut.

Measure twice, cut once, be kind, share.