Project based learning

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Blog entry by Betsy posted 11-08-2007 08:28 PM 1510 reads 0 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch

So I’ve been doing a lot of “twiddling” in the woodshop lately and have realized I’m not really getting very far. I make a lot of the same things over and over because I’ve gotten good at them. And that’s ok. But I did not get into the hobby of woodworking to make one or two things really well. I got into it to be creative and have fun, etc.

Lately, I’ve been honing my hand tool skills by practicing chopping dovetails, dados, planing, sharpening, etc. But that’s all I’ve been doing is practicing on scrap. I realized that I need a project to work on to really get good at anything at all. I’ve got to be willing to do a project and screw it up to learn how to really do the techniques. In short I need to be willing to make firewood or to make smaller projects out of the rejected larger projects.

I’ve also basically decided that I really enjoy using handtools. There is just something about feeling the wood move under your hands that is kind of interesting and odd. However, I also know that I don’t have the patience of Mother Theresa to do whole projects by handtool alone. So I know that most of my handtool work will be to finese and make the project come together better. It’s really the end project that I am after not necessarily the means to the end. I like woodworking and it’s a hobby, not something to get my tail tied in a wad about. I want to enjoy it and not pressure myself to be the best dovetail maker overnight.

So this is what I’ve decided to do. I really enjoy making small boxes and blanket chests. So I’m pulling out my three favorite books tonight on boxes and I’m going to pick a project from each one and work on those. Going to take my time and if I screw up the first one—- I’ll do it again until I’m satisfied. And I’m not going to berate myself for not being the best box maker ever – but I will enjoy the process, learn a little each time and only be unhappy with myself if I quit trying. After all, I’m not trying to make a living or even extra income off of my hobby – I’m supposed to be enjoying it.

So Lumberjocks——- is there anyone else out there like me that gets frustrated that they are not as good as they want to be and try to do more than their skill levels allow instead of learning by steps instead of leaps and bounds.

I’m going to go back to project based learning and see where I go from here. I’m also going to make myself vunerable by trying my best to post pictures of my projects as I am making them so I can get feedback and encouragement from you all. So here’s to making woodchips!

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

11 comments so far

View TomK 's profile


504 posts in 3874 days

#1 posted 11-08-2007 11:19 PM

You nailed me, Betsy!

-- If you think healthcare is expensive now, wait until it's free! PJ O'Rourke

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3962 days

#2 posted 11-08-2007 11:26 PM

You know, Betsy, when I started building saddles 24 years ago, I knew I didn’t know much. I figured I’d fake it until I got good. I also knew it would get better slowly. I critiqued everything I built and tryed to do it better the next time. I wasn’t satisfied with the ground work in my saddles until about the 100th one. Last winter I made a small improvement in the seat. After close to 500 saddles I’m pretty close to getting it down pat. If I could just do about 25 in 2008 I think I might just about have it together. And then there’s wood….... Doing the same thing over and over is refining in nature. I’ve often felt that until you are bored with what you create, you are not gaining on it. After many years, the gain is very small but still there. Maybe when I’m around 80 I’ll have learned it all. I doubt it, that’s only 20 more years. Look for the small improvements and relish the lessons.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Russel's profile


2199 posts in 3938 days

#3 posted 11-09-2007 12:24 AM

It’s interesting because I’ve kinda gone the other way. My wife has a variety of things that were built so that I could learn a new skill or technique. My regret is that I did not spend enough time to really master what I learned. I’m actually going back and revisiting the things I’ve made and trying to refine those things that I learned. My education has been somewhat ADD driven so I’m working to develop a respectable level of discipline.

-- Working at Woodworking

View gizmodyne's profile


1779 posts in 4089 days

#4 posted 11-09-2007 03:54 AM

I always try to make the next project contain at least one skill I don’t have. You don’t want to far from your comfort level all of the time.
The Taunton “Getting Started in Woodworking Books” are designed to progess in complexity and are actually pretty good. There is one called “Projects you Can Build” That I recommend to anyone getting into the craft.

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View clieb91's profile


3520 posts in 3934 days

#5 posted 11-09-2007 05:02 AM

Betsy, you bring up a great point. I was for a long time just sitting in my workshop planning what I would do and working with the tools. This website has been a great encouragement and I know as I work with each project I will be able to get better at it.

Look forward to seeing your upcoming projects.

-- Chris L. "Don't Dream it, Be it."- (Purveyors of Portable Fun and Fidgets)

View Huckleberry's profile


218 posts in 3852 days

#6 posted 11-09-2007 05:24 AM

I feel your pain. On my mission style table I wanted to do mortise and tenons for the base of the table. However my class does not have a hollow chisel mortising machine. That is where the fun began for me. The tenons were the easiest part of the project. The mortises were the hardest. First I tried using the drill press and found that doing it this way would require me to make the appropriate jigs for that drill press. So I went to a plunge router and straight bit that worked well, but there were 28 of these to make and would you believe that on the last one I broke that darn bit and it was the only one we had. So now here we go with a chisel to finish the last one. Real fun I know and the one thing my instructor tells me is I need to work more on my patience than on my skills. So I dry fitted the slats and aprons only to discover that the fence on the table saw had moved through the course of my making the tenons on the slats. So when I was done throwing a fit like a kid in Toys R Us I started all over again on the slats and my patience. Once I was finished and through a few more errors I can say that I am very proud of the accomplishments that I had made. I just wish someone would publish a book on obtaining patience when you have so little.

-- I cut it twice and the damn thing is still too short!@#$%

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3895 days

#7 posted 11-09-2007 05:35 AM

Huck – I think patience is one of the hardest skills to master no matter the task. Woodworking has actually helped me in this arena – although I still have a long ways to go. I started woodworking when I bought an 11-room fixer upper and realized that paying someone to do most of the work was out of the question. I had a lot of patience lessons in that job. But when it was done I had a very nice house and some new skills and a hobby I’m really enjoying.

I’m not sure where you are taking your class but it’s never easy to work with tools that a lot of folks use in addition to yourself. They tend to need maintenene and you need to be very vigilent that they are working properly when you use them. I’ve taught some beginning woodworking classes at a local store and I’ve always had trouble with the table saw’s fence moving, the dust collector not working properly and mostly equipment not well maintained. So please be careful using the equipment.

Good luck on your future projects and your patience!

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View gizmodyne's profile


1779 posts in 4089 days

#8 posted 11-09-2007 05:53 AM

Re: Patience: I had very little building patience at the start. I have learned to slow down through the encouragement of my wife and several of my instructors. Key Skill. Rushing and power tools do not mix.

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4099 days

#9 posted 11-09-2007 07:30 AM

Betsy, every one of my projects has pushed me beyond the limits of the familiar and I readily accept the challenges of each. This is what makes woodworking exciting, the constant challenges of solving problems, perfecting technique and design will last a lifetime.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View cajunpen's profile


14575 posts in 4065 days

#10 posted 11-09-2007 07:54 AM

I’ve heard it said that patience is a virtue. I too am slowly acquiring some patience – or is it just wisdom? Anyway, your plan to hone your woodworking skills Betsy sounds like a winner, and is good advice for many of us to follow – thanks for sharing your thoughts.

-- Bill - "Suit yourself and let the rest be pleased."

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4160 days

#11 posted 11-09-2007 08:37 AM

I, too, am developing patience through my woodworking projects. Prior to becoming a Life Guide, other than with my photography, when I was doing something I wanted to just do it and move on.
Since then, I’ve been practicing “living in the moment”, realizing that the process in the moment is what life is about. Now, rather than envisioning the end result, I focus on each step – the sensory experience, the skill, the learning curve, the problem-solving, the redoing and making it better, the joy of accomplishment and overcoming barriers…. It really is much more enjoyable.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

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