I love reading about woodworking techniques and looking at others’ projects. It always gives me big ideas. But sometimes my eyes are bigger than my stomach. As a hobbyist and a dad, the time I spend woodworking comes in short spurts and at unpredictable times. I have to be careful to make the most of it.
This year’s projects drove home for me how easy it is to get over-extended. I’m in the process of turning my garage into a part-time workshop so I have lots of project ideas. I kicked off a few that seemed simple enough on paper…some shop cabinets, a workbench, and a couple of jigs.
Well, now the summer’s gone and since my garage is unheated, so is my woodworking time. The projects I kicked off with so much enthusiasm last spring are sitting in various stages of completion and I’m thinking about how to make the best use of the time I have in the shop when things warm up again (and while I save up for a heater!).
I realized the key is strong workflow and good planning.
It’s not like every book, blog, and magazine doesn’t harp on those things – and there are some awesome books & websites out there to help – but it never sinks in until you live it. Experience really is the best teacher.
Here were a couple of my biggest stumbling blocks this year:
Planning a project isn’t the same as finishing its design. Yes, that cabinet door needs hinges but what kind? Will they need mortices? At what point in the assembly should I cut them?
With last year’s big projects I started cutting & gluing as soon as I finished a design – sometimes even a bit before. Looking back, it’s not surprising that progress stalled often. Projects would sit for several weeks at a time as I decided how to tackle the next step, bought more material after running out, or worse (best?) – went shopping for another tool because I realized I just couldn’t make-do with what I had.
Each time I got to a detail I didn’t plan out in advance I had to stop, figure it out on the fly, and sometimes even re-work the design before getting back to work. What a waste of time!
2. Organization and Workflow
My shop time is precious so it’s really frustrating to have to search for a tool for 30 minutes or move stacks of tools, lumber, or supplies around to make a little room to work.
Last year I had no workbench, no cabinets and no permanent location for my bigger tools so I spent a lot of time moving things around and searching for things. It’s frustrating when, half-way through ripping a 4-foot board, you realize that you didn’t leave enough room for the out-feed, or when you spend 30 minutes looking for a tape measure.
I’m looking forward to doing better this year and posting my solutions to these frustrations in the hopes that somebody will learn from my mistakes. In hindsight the things I learned seem obvious. Maybe so. This year I’m sure I’ll have a lot more of those “duh!” moments but I’ll learn from them too. That’s part of the fun.
If you have time, I’d love to hear about your big “a-hah” moments and the solutions you came up with to make yourself more productive.
-- "I'm not afraid of heights. I'm afraid of widths." - Steven Wright