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Deep End or Small Steps?

by shipwright
posted 06-15-2011 06:57 PM

47 replies so far

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13517 posts in 2655 days

#1 posted 06-15-2011 06:59 PM

I deep end, Paul. Everytime. And usually with disastrous consequences. It’s when I’m destroying a piece that my neurons are firing the hardest;)

As an example, several times I have had an entire CNC build-it-yourself kit in my shopping cart, and aborted. I can’t tell you how little I know about building CNCs. I figure what’s best way!

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

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5317 posts in 3844 days

#2 posted 06-15-2011 07:01 PM

Deep end. But I usually drown.
I don’t know any other way.


-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

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1605 posts in 2915 days

#3 posted 06-15-2011 07:11 PM

I guess we’re similar. I don’t shy from complex, difficult projects. But, I do slow way down, so in the end, I have relatively few failures. It just takes me longer to figure out how to do it well. I tend to do a lot of studying before I begin cutting wood if I am not sure how to go about something. If things are too easy, I lose interest.

Patience is an invaluable asset, and I find that I now have more of it than I did thirty years ago. The urge to get things done quickly is a curse to the woodworker. I doubt that it ever results in a better product.

Great topic. Thanks for bringing it up.

-- "Everybody makes mistakes. A craftsman always fixes them." (Monty Kennedy, "The Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks", 1952)

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 2945 days

#4 posted 06-15-2011 08:21 PM

I have been a deep ender most of my woodworking years. Now I’m no longer in a rush to finish projects and am beginning to take small steps with new things and technics.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View Brit's profile


7366 posts in 2805 days

#5 posted 06-15-2011 08:44 PM

I always want to challenge myself, but I’m not the kind of person who just jumps in at the deep end. I always read and study any new discipline for a while before I start it. So to use your swimming pool analogy, I’m always going to get in the deep end, but I get in slowly instead of jumping with a splash. I like to know exactly how deep it is, what the temperature of the water is and I’ll always check that my trunks aren’t on inside out first. :-)

-- - Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View Billp's profile


804 posts in 4162 days

#6 posted 06-15-2011 08:49 PM

Deep End i really enjoy doing something I have never done before. I won’t quit till I figure it out. A lot more fun that way.

-- Billp

View shipwright's profile


7965 posts in 2760 days

#7 posted 06-15-2011 08:52 PM

I have to say I’m surprised at the answers. I thought more of us would have taken the cautious approach. Maybe it’s the way I phrased the question.
Still, I’m glad to see I’m in such fine company.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

View dpop24's profile


115 posts in 2531 days

#8 posted 06-15-2011 08:54 PM

Unfortunately, deep end every time! Makes for some occasionally disastrous results but if you aren’t failing, you aren’t learning!

-- If it ain't broke, take it apart and find out why

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1083 posts in 3208 days

#9 posted 06-15-2011 09:12 PM

I didn’t know there was any other way besides jumping into the deep end! Sometimes, I’ll get to read something first or check out some pictures.

-- Karen - a little bit of stupid goes a long way

View DrDirt's profile


4423 posts in 3704 days

#10 posted 06-15-2011 10:00 PM

Deep end…a little water in the lungs only makes you stronger! :-)

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 2902 days

#11 posted 06-15-2011 10:17 PM

Sink or swim baby! Life is too short for small steps…..

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3077 days

#12 posted 06-15-2011 10:35 PM

usely I´m already in at the deep end before realising I have started on a major project I didn´t
new much about at all
but now I realy have slowed down with this woodworking thing try to learn as much as possiple
before the first big project …............well with my luck I gess I am in the mittle of twenty projects at the
same time before I realise I don´t know a Sh…. ..... .. ..............:-(
but with the addictive L J desease I hope I survive long enoff to finish them when the time comes … LOL

have a great evening fok´s

View Richard's profile


297 posts in 2499 days

#13 posted 06-15-2011 10:45 PM

“I can do that!” Yep… famous last words from a cronic ‘deep ender’.

-- 'I sand, therefore, I am'. Richard. PNW.

View Broglea's profile


684 posts in 3053 days

#14 posted 06-15-2011 10:53 PM

Living in the deep end makes one very skilled at fixing mistakes!

View peteg's profile


4269 posts in 2785 days

#15 posted 06-15-2011 11:16 PM

Paul, what an interesting discussion you have started.
When most are saying the “deep end” I think you (being singular) may not be aware at that point “how deep is deep”, is it some perceived limit or personal mind barrier?, I would tend to think it more as a predetermined self imposed “marker ” or stake in the ground to test the water so to speak because untill you have tested your skill / knowledge against a marker you have no measuring criteria.
Haveing done this, ie tested yourself, you can then determine whether to more forward or retrace your steps back a peg or two & then work forward at your own comfort pace.
Having said that I must admit that I have thrown more than my fair share of “potential masterpieces” LOL into the fire box.
Good topic,

-- Pete G: If you always do what you always did you'll always get what you always got

View HorstPeter's profile


121 posts in 2791 days

#16 posted 06-15-2011 11:20 PM

I always try to do something new in a project that challenges me in some way or teaches me something new. If it feels like I’m just doing the motions or that the result isn’t going to be worth making it in the first place, then I get turned off quickly and the thing will actually turn out worse than if I had started something grand, simply because my heart isn’t in it.

That said, I’m not sure it really is jumping into the deep end. I mean in a way there is no risk involved other than having to redo things, or scrap and rethink something or fix mistakes you made (and claim that’s totally how you intended it if it works out even better than before). Also I tend to look up and research things if needed and spend a lot of time thinking and pondering the design and how it could be done and all that.

So in the end, I’m not certain how to answer I guess. In a way it seems like being a “deep ender” is cool, but also I’m sure it really means a bit of a different thing to everyone. Do you fall into that category if you always try something new and challenging that you haven’t done before, but are also always convinced that you can do it? Or does it only count if you choose something you are unsure of. Which would be kind of hard for me, since deep down I think that I can pull off almost anything that I want. Is it necessary to have a deadline or other limit on the project that gives you a clearly defined fail-state and therefore stress?

My biggest hurdle would probably be money for required tools or materials as this is the one thing I don’t really have. Although in a way I guess I somewhat dove into the deep end recently on that as well, but on the other hand I might’ve had my first deep end the moment I quit technical college and set my own goals for my life. Still working on that project though, so I can’t say yet how this worked out.

Not sure if my reply sounds a bit mushy or something, but there’s not really a clear cut answer I can give to the question as such.

View drewnahant's profile


222 posts in 3051 days

#17 posted 06-15-2011 11:23 PM

If possible, I practice on scrap a few times, and if I am anywhere near an acceptable outcome, I dive into the biggest project I can come up with. I usually regret it though, not because of bad results, though they are common, but because it is not as fun as expected once I get the hang of it, and then I am stuck doing it a hundred times in the one project.

For example, I wanted to learn to hand cut dovetails, so I practiced maybe 10 times on scrap, then started an all dovetail gunsmithing box. Dovetailed corners, dovetailed drawers, dovetailed lid, half blind dovetails on the front. After a few joints, I was comfortable with it, slow, but comfortable. Once it wasnt a real challenge, I was just stuck spending hours and hours fitting dovetails. I still enjoy it enough to want to dovetail some drawers in a larger project, but I will never do another project where 90 % of the work is dovetailing.

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51457 posts in 3442 days

#18 posted 06-15-2011 11:38 PM

When I first started woodworking I started with easier projects…simple joints, minimal pieces etc. As time went buy I graduated to more difficult projects. I find even now that many projects have lots of fairly easy steps, but then among the easy steps there can be difficult ones too. So I tend to get a challenge and learn new things on each project no matter how simple it appeared at the beginning.

-- Wayne - Plymouth MN

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Lee A. Jesberger

6851 posts in 3941 days

#19 posted 06-15-2011 11:39 PM

Hi Paul;

Deep end. It’s embarrassing to fail at something simple!


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View BobTheFish's profile


361 posts in 2514 days

#20 posted 06-16-2011 01:11 AM

Hmm.. I think I share my answer best with HorstPeter.

Typically I come up with an idea/project, and then through the designing process try and assess what I can do, what I know I can’t, (typically due to lack of tools or monetary restrictions), and then try to incorporate a few challenges. It could be ten new little things, or it could be one BIG new thing (like when I taught myself how to work with veneer), but there’s always a fair amount of challenge, and more to it than just one little modification on a often repeated design, (like it seems drewnahant seems to).

There’s often a little research involved, but not overly much, just enough to see if an idea is sound or the basics of a technique. Beyond that, it’s kind of a logic puzzle, and I’m just organically learning what I can as I go.

So deep end? Shallow end? I just prefer somewhere where my feet can touch the ground, if only barely.

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1188 posts in 3032 days

#21 posted 06-16-2011 01:12 AM

I’m with you one all three points Paul

-- God created wood that we may create. Trevor East Yorkshire UK

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1572 posts in 2798 days

#22 posted 06-16-2011 01:36 AM

I just jump in the deep end, I figure the results from screwing up still teach a lesson and cost less then a college education.

-- --Rev. Russ in NY-- A posse ad esse

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14940 posts in 2652 days

#23 posted 06-16-2011 05:08 AM

“If youre not getting hung up, youre not fishing”

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

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4611 posts in 2998 days

#24 posted 06-16-2011 03:50 PM

How deep do you want to go?

If it bites me I’ve gone too deep but how do you know ‘til you try?

-- Martyn -- Boxologist, Pattern Juggler and Candyman of the visually challenging.

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3379 posts in 3047 days

#25 posted 06-16-2011 04:30 PM

I keep thinking I am a middle of the pool guy until I try to explain something to my friends and I get this
“You did what with that” look and get told no wonder you had to do it over. But I am happy and get
to play in the woodworkshop so since we are out of kit and kaboodles, but we have a kaboodle kit I
will go and make a kit and kaboodle out of the kit.

-- As ever, Gus-the 79 yr young apprentice carpenter

View Domer's profile


252 posts in 3328 days

#26 posted 06-16-2011 04:54 PM

I am also a deep ender. However, I usually do quite a bit of research before I start and then do quite a bit of what my son calls ciphering along the way when I hit a wall. So long story short, my projects usually come out good but often times the deep end projects take a lot longer to complete.

An example is a china cabinet I recently finished. The dimensions were based on a china cabinet made by Stickley. Theirs was solid wood but I wanted mine to be frame and panel. One difficulties was learning how to make the fixed shelves and an floor look OK and allow for the movement of the wood. There were a number of other issues that I had to figure out along the way.

So it took me the better part of a year to finish the china cabinet but it looks great and my wife likes is.

My 2cents worth.


View darinS's profile


709 posts in 2829 days

#27 posted 06-16-2011 06:42 PM

I would agree with both Dennis (I’m in the deep end without knowing it) and Wiggy (I can do that).

I jump in, see what happens, then hope I can fix what I just screwed up.

-- They say many people die because of alcohol. They never realized how many of them are born because of it.

View Tomoose's profile


422 posts in 3335 days

#28 posted 06-16-2011 07:00 PM

Wait – there’s a shallow end? I usually jump in without even making a plan first (and then I struggle fixing a bunch of mistakes). Mistakes are the great teachers in my shop. I recently got a fortune cookie that says “Experience comes from bad judgement” Oh baby, do I ever have experience!

Actually – I am almost done with the first project where I made a scale drawing first, and low-and-behold, it is probably my best work so far. Will post it when the finish is done.

Thanks for starting an interesting thread!


-- “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” Pablo Picasso

View mrg's profile


817 posts in 2961 days

#29 posted 06-16-2011 07:06 PM

I do a lot of research but still jump in feet first. Figure as I am going along. Some times having to redo things, but hey thats how you learn.

-- mrg

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15881 posts in 3296 days

#30 posted 06-16-2011 08:02 PM

Good subject Paul. I suspect that many woodworkers, including myself, enjoy the challenges more than nicely finished projects. That is not to say that we don’t want or hope to create beautiful results too, but the challenge is our main motivator. Not exactly the best road to masterpieces, but certainly the most interesting. Given my very modest aptitude for woodworking, I do feel that I’ve learned a lot over the years, and I hope one day to make something I’m genuinely proud of.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View MrWoodworker's profile


65 posts in 2557 days

#31 posted 06-16-2011 09:00 PM

I guess I can’t rightly say. I just know that if I see a project and want to try it I go for it. I just figure I’ll find the way to do it as I go. It’s a good excuse to buy tools you didn’t know you needed also. Sometimes it works out great, other times not so great, I always enjoy pushing my limits though, no matter what the outcome is.


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Kent Shepherd

2718 posts in 3248 days

#32 posted 06-16-2011 09:04 PM

Deep end for me also. I have known so many people in my life who we so afraid of failure they never tried anything new. They think they don’t fail——-I however, think they do. To me it would be a miserable life to never accomplish anything out of the ordinary. Even in high school I would take custom pieces through my dad’s shop. I didn’t always know how to do it, but I found a way. I typically didn’t ask for his help, although there were others I did. Yes there were plenty of failures, but where would I be if I had not tried. There were very few times I gave up on a project (I got pretty good at fixing or hiding my mistakes), but that was rare.

Logical, intelligent people look ahead and plan before doing something new. Personally, I am not one of them. Life is short—Learn fast! Most of my training has been on the job. I will sort of research something now, but before internet I really did not do that before. With my dad’s backing I built my first house at 25 years old. I did all the cabinets and trim, although I had never worked in that field. Tell me something can’t be done and I’ll try to prove you wrong. I’m not saying everyone should be this way, yet it works for me. The world would be a scary place if we all did this.

I say all this not to brag, but to encourage others to step out on a limb and try something you are not comfortable with. The rewards are awesome. You revel in the successes much longer than you wallow in the failures. Mind you, I’m not saying go build a rocket and go to the moon. You do need to know your own limitations. I guess what I am saying is stretch what you do know and move to greater heights.

For me, the deep end just keeps getting deeper and deeper—-I wouldn’t have it any other way.


View ub52's profile


7 posts in 2946 days

#33 posted 06-16-2011 09:13 PM

Totally in at the deep end. I always have been. I agree, there are so many things I want to try there is not time enough to practice.

-- Bob, San Diego,

View Richard's profile


1916 posts in 2652 days

#34 posted 06-16-2011 09:37 PM

As Tom said and mostof us seem to be saying in one form or another, there’s a shallow end? The first project I did when I recently got back in to woodworking was a small jewelry box for my daughter and it ended up costing me about $450 for Router, Router Bit set, SCMS, Chisels, Router plate for table, ROS, sandpaper , stain, paint brushes ETC. Oh and also about 3 1/2’ of 1/2” redoak .
So I guess that was the deep end.

View LittlePaw's profile


1571 posts in 3040 days

#35 posted 06-17-2011 06:33 AM

I’ve always been very competitive, even with myself. Easy and simple don’t interest me – no challenge. I tend to pick something that I am not sure I can do and then do the best i can. Someone wiser than I once said that anything worth doing is worth doing it well. So if/when I run into a snag, I solve and eliminate the hurdle and start over. My buzz is doing something I wasn’t sure I could do. The harder, the bigger buzz.
One day in 1968 my golf buddy/coach said to me, “You’re good, but not good enough to win a tournament”. So, starting the day after his remark, I got up at 4 a.m. everyday, rain or shine, went to the club and hit 3 large buckets of balls (pre-arranged), play the front 9, went home, showered and went to work. I did that for one year then entered the Governor’s Cup Golf Tournament. My score was 288 which was good enough to win by 1 stroke. That was a hard challenge I accepted and the buzz was wonderful! There’s been other challenges since then, but that was the most memorable. Well, that was a long way of saying, yes I too jump in at the deep end and sink or swim, or in my case (at that time) triple bogie or birdie! You started a very interesting post and I thoroughly enjoyed reading the responses, Paul.

-- LittlePAW - The sweetest sound in my shop, next to Mozart, is what a hand plane makes slicing a ribbon.

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

10341 posts in 3390 days

#36 posted 06-17-2011 01:59 PM

Having an aversion to water above my knees, my projects have no “deep end”.
Actually, if it looks too complex, I just pass.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View orionoriginals's profile


37 posts in 2520 days

#37 posted 06-17-2011 04:22 PM

Hi Paul – Like you I tend to deep end it! However, I try to at least draw a rough plan of what it is I am intending to build so that I have some sort of a life jacket to hold on to when things start going wrong.

-- Jamie

View Roger's profile


20923 posts in 2766 days

#38 posted 06-19-2011 09:37 PM

I can’t swim, so, I use the kiddie pool 1st. LOL I am a lot slower than most. I take my time, cuz I have a lot of it, and really enjoy myself.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View EPJartisan's profile


1118 posts in 3087 days

#39 posted 06-26-2011 06:31 PM

I guess I am more of an overly ambitious klutz… I am afraid of the deep end… but i can’t do simple.

So, I test the water with a toe, then a foot … and suddenly I loose control and fall in over my head.
not much in between, except a lot of sputtering and crying… and wishing I hadn’t even tried.
Then I once I stop panicking..
I find I can actually touch the bottom without problem and stand up … embarrassed, but happy.
I think that is why every time I am finished with a project I step back, look, and think … “Did I really make that??”

-- " 'Truth' is like a beautiful flower, unique to each plant and to the season it blossoms ... 'Fact' is the root and leaf, allowing the plant grow and bloom again."

View devann's profile


2246 posts in 2654 days

#40 posted 06-27-2011 03:11 AM

Hello Paul, I finally learned what it means to plan your work and work your plan. Life hasn’t always been that way for me, I have screwed up plenty of times, sometimes at a near fatal cost. While I do like a challenge, because I suffer from being easily bored and like it more when most of my neurons are firing. I find myself more often these days than on previous occasions taking the “small steps” approach to techniques that I am unfamiliar with. What I have learned from this is the older I get and the more I learn, the sooner I can move into the “deep end” while keeping the overall cost down and all of my body parts intact.

-- Darrell, making more sawdust than I know what to do with

View EPJartisan's profile


1118 posts in 3087 days

#41 posted 06-28-2011 04:55 PM

LOl..yes Darrell.. spurting blood, crying from pain, and panicking if I have to go the hospital or not = I get better and safer for the next time … and yet, I worked so hard and for so long yesterday cleaning out the decay of my newest logs and hit my own wrist with the hammer.. ugh. One of those deep-end “fall-ins”...

-- " 'Truth' is like a beautiful flower, unique to each plant and to the season it blossoms ... 'Fact' is the root and leaf, allowing the plant grow and bloom again."

View TheDane's profile


5399 posts in 3625 days

#42 posted 06-28-2011 06:21 PM

I guess I am a ‘shallow end’ kind of guy.

If I have any question about what I am trying to do, I put the high-priced stock on the shelf, and practice with pine or scraps.

In a few cases, I have built complete projects as prototypes … sometimes they wind up in the house or are given to someone as a gift, but a lot of the time, they become firewood, scrap, or just accumlate on a shelf somehere. Last week, I found a pair of pine raised panel doors I made as prototypes for an entertainment center I built 3 years ago. The doors were good enough to save, but I didn’t have a project I could use them on, so I wrapped them in plastic and put them away.

Right now, I am building tambour top boxes as Christmas gifts. The one I posted a few weeks back ( ) is actually the 2nd prototype … I built one out of pine scraps, but it never made it to the ‘finish’ line … too many mistakes. By the time I got the second one done, I had figured out how to avoid/correct the mistakes I made and am pretty confident I now possess the skills to execute the design (there are 3 of them in progress right now on the bench).


-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View SnowFrog's profile


102 posts in 2509 days

#43 posted 06-28-2011 06:39 PM

I’m a deep end creature myself. Not only because I love the challenge but often because what my wife commissions is way out there, certainly never easy. So I start with Plan A and sometime finish with plan somewhere past Z.

I do stops somewhere along the way to re-evaluate and regain my cool ;-))

-- One can dream, about a passion not yet fully fulfilled!

View fussy's profile


980 posts in 3013 days

#44 posted 06-29-2011 02:25 AM

Go big or go home. If I take little steps I’ll NEVER approach your level of skill and artistry. Of course I won’t anyway.


-- Steve in KY. 44 years so far with my lovely bride. Think I'll keep her.

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David Grimes

2078 posts in 2602 days

#45 posted 06-29-2011 04:40 PM

This thread is an interesting way of looking at challenge (whether we push ourselves or not).

If you can swim (even dog paddle), then all ends of the pool are safe. You probably will not drown.

If along the way you then learn the crawl, the sidestroke and breast stroke, then you have picked up some skills.

Just don’t ask me to even try the butterfly at my age, please.

Turning wood is my breast stroke. Carving wood is probably my butterfly.

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

View tbone's profile


275 posts in 3646 days

#46 posted 07-02-2011 12:00 AM

Who are you building your projects for? If the answer is ‘your kids’, then you may want to master a few techniques before you hand down an heirloom…something that they will remember you for with fondness.
If your answer is ‘your customers’ you don’t even need to ask. They’ll tell you with their pocketbook if they like your work.
If your answer is ‘yourself’ then you have carte blanche over what is acceptable, and if the challenge outweighs the results.
In my view, everything we do should be about skillbuilding and the personal satisfaction that we get from it.

-- Kinky Friedman: "The first thing I'll do if I'm elected is demand a recount."

View shipwright's profile


7965 posts in 2760 days

#47 posted 07-02-2011 01:10 AM

No kids
No complaints from customers
I, of course am never really satisfied, nor do I really ever expect to be.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

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