Earlywood: Do Not Think Ahead
Publisher’s note: It’s Saturday morning, and that means it’s time for Earlywood . Every Saturday, we publish a free excerpt from one of the thousands of pieces I’ve written since 1996. Sometimes it’s from a book. Or a magazine article. Or (in this case) an old blog entry. This entry is from January 2015. Each entry has been updated or annotated with some modern context or point of view. We hope you enjoy it.
The most useful woodworking classes I took in college were actually in the religion department.
Though I was a journalism major, every time I was allowed an elective class, I blew it on Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Christianity and Judaism. I wasn’t comparison-shopping for spiritual guidance. Instead, these classes offered me insight into the ways different cultures perceive time, the self and others.
And the classes made me a better turner.
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Though I had been turning since the early 2000s, I didn’t make any real progress until 2010, when I started thinking about some of the Eastern meditation practices I studied as an undergraduate.
The following explanation is a gross simplification: One of the goals of meditation is to focus your mind so you perceive only the present moment. You do not think of the future or the past – only the fleeting bit that you are perceiving. When you get to that point, you can do anything on the lathe (or with a saw, chisel or gouge).
When I can bring my mind to that level of focus, my perception of time can also change. It can stretch or compress, depending on my needs.
Before you start asking me what I’ve been smoking, I encourage you to try it. If you don’t have a lathe, then cut some dovetails and try to clear everything out of your head – everything – except what is happening with the saw in the wood. Don’t think about the next cut or even the next saw stroke.
In photography terms, tighten your aperture to f22, f32 or more. The result will be – also in photography terms – the deepest focus possible in your work and your results.
Afterword: This blog entry is so short, I feel like you didn’t get your money’s worth. To make up for that, here are a few choice quotations. I recently stumbled on the massive file of them that I maintained for years for Woodworking Magazine. We tried to include at least one quotation with every article. So amassing these was serious work. The final quotation below applies to the lesson above.
“If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason.”
— Jack Handy, “Saturday Night Live”
“Many people never stop to realize that a tree is a living thing, not that different from a tall leafy dog that has roots and is very quiet.”
— Jack Handy, “Saturday Night Live”
“The only really good place to buy lumber is at a store where the lumber has already been cut and attached together in the form of furniture, finished, and put inside boxes.”
— Dave Barry
“Practical appeals to me because people will pay for it. I learned that people will buy 10 practical pieces for every room brooch.”
— Hank Gilpin, furnituremaker, quoted in the August 2006 issue of Woodwork magazine
“Go slower — it’s faster.”
— Ian, an employee at the Lee Valley store in Winnipeg
Maybe twisting Dave Barry's point, there is a lot of large, unloved, hardwood furniture at estate sales near me. I scored a 7 ft. maple drop leaf dining table with two removable leaves and table pads for $19. If it wasn't so much nicer than our previous dining table solution, it would be large amount of beautiful project wood.
I don't find I do lesser work when I overthink. I do less work.