Learning From the Best and Learning From Failure

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Blog entry by MatthewTruax posted 04-05-2016 07:34 PM 651 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch

So after working with wood for the past two years and landing a few commissions here and there building dining room tables, I heard that there was a gentleman who went to my church that wanted to meet me. His name is Don and he is 83 years old. Of course, I was extremely intimidated from the get go because he had, I was told, been a furniture maker his entire life. Finally after missing him several weeks in a row, I met him at a dinner function. We got to talking and showing each other pictures and he invited me over to see his shop.

His shop, like many woodworkers was in a two car garage and was fairly humble from the looks of it. But after I got to looking closer, I realized that this shop was extremely efficient. He didn’t have all of the new toys and gadgets, but what he did have were the right tools for the job. There wasn’t an overabundance of nonsense strewn throughout but a place for each tool that made sense. I was really impressed.

After hanging out for a bit, we went inside because he wanted to show me around. This is when I got really excited. Not only could he make beautiful furniture, of which, many of the pieces in his house he made, but he also did all of the finish carpentry in his house (to include a winding staircase!). I was in awe. After we walked through the house, he took me to his sitting room where he had all of his most beautiful pieces on display. You see, Don was an avid turner. That was his specialty, and all around this room were pieces of art. Pure art. Bowls and spindles, and other things made out of all sorts of domestic and tropical/foreign hardwoods. It was out of this world. I left that day excited, because now I had someone I knew I could turn to when I got stuck or needed advice, I knew he would help me out.

After having him over to my shop for a show and tell, we began texting each other pictures of shop projects and updates to pieces of furniture we were building, I finally got up the courage to ask if he would teach me how to turn bowls and spindles on a lathe. Of course he said yes (I think he was just as excited as me) and we set a date and time.

That day finally came and we got to work. My first lathe project was to be a 6” wide by 4” deep walnut bowl. He taught me how to lay out my idea on paper, and how to take that idea and make it a reality on the lathe. Fortune shined on us that day when we were all but finished sanding the bowl, it broke apart on us! I say it was a good thing because I got to see this master at work. He took those broken pieces and slowly but surely, we put the bowl back together. As we were doing this, we were talking about how even though the bowl broke and that we may not get it back together, it was the process that we both cherished more than the finished project. After getting everything back together and applying the finish (I learned new techniques here too) I realized that even in failure, we can still learn new things.

Thank you Don from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to teach me. I hope we can have several more lessons before I have to move again.

-- "I only do what the voices in my wife's head tell her to tell me to do."

4 comments so far

View Richard's profile


1869 posts in 2107 days

#1 posted 04-05-2016 08:44 PM

Sounds like you made a New Friend and got a New Teacher as well. That’s a Win on both sides.

View BenjaminNY's profile


48 posts in 819 days

#2 posted 04-05-2016 09:48 PM

Really nice story. On his end it must be nice to pass on all that knowledge and experience. Thanks for sharing.

View gfadvm's profile


14925 posts in 2107 days

#3 posted 04-06-2016 12:10 AM

I’ll bet he enjoyed the experience as much as you did!

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View kiefer's profile


4873 posts in 2084 days

#4 posted 04-06-2016 01:49 AM

Matthew that is a great story and you hang around this Gentleman as much as possible because I don’t think you can find a better teacher .
This kind of relationship is a priceless opportunity for you because of all the knowledge is so gracious to pass on to you .


-- Kiefer

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