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Forum topic by Gene Howe posted 05-15-2011 09:05 PM 1587 views 0 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Gene Howe

8101 posts in 2850 days

05-15-2011 09:05 PM

Probably at least 50% of woodworking involves problem solving. I never used to spend a lot of time problem solving but, since retiring and enjoying the luxury of a bit more time in the shop, I find more creative ways to solve problems.
Many times the lack of a tool dictates the direction of our creativity. NewTim’s veneer press comes to mind. Often the need to accomplish a new or previously untried task requires thought and, sometimes lots of trial and error. Paul’s veneering and marquetry blogs are great examples.
My creative (and often crude) problem solving efforts are nowhere near the elegance of those I mentioned, as well as numerous other’s I’ve seen here on LJs. However, the process remains ever more enjoyable. So much so that my periods of cogitation and reflection often take more time than the actual woodworking.
How does everyone else feel about this aspect of our craft/hobby/diversion/job?
Anybody have an out of the box solution to share?

-- 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

16 replies so far

View Miles King's profile

Miles King

28 posts in 2114 days

#1 posted 05-16-2011 04:14 AM

I retired about eleven years ago without any desire or direction in mind. That’s not something I would recommend to anyone if they have a choice. Waking up that first morning of retirement without a job to attend was difficult to say the least. Well, after a few months of sitting around the house watching TV I stumbled upon some old reruns of the “New Yankee Workshop”. Seeing those off episodes rekindled some deep hidden desire I had for woodworking that had be started in a high school wood shop class. I actually received some recognition in a school district wide contest for the first and only furniture project that I’d have ever produced.

My first approach to woodworking was the New Yankee approach: A power tool for each operation and every step in the process. Hand tools were only to be used incase of an emergency. I had only a few hand tools then, which consisted of some inexpensive chisels that were “out of the box” sharp. In other words dull as hell. Sense then I’ve gained an appreciation for high quality tools, accrued the skill to sharpen a blade that will shave my arm with ease. I serenely believe that sharpening is the most important skill to have before we can become something we might call a woodworker.

For me woodworking has been a difficult skill to acquire and I still have to make some project over sever time before I get if right.


-- Miles

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Gene Howe

8101 posts in 2850 days

#2 posted 05-16-2011 03:13 PM

During a respite from doing speech and language therapy with severely brain injured folks, I took a job as a buyer and estimator for a general contractor. Took every opportunity to get out of the office and into the field. Became great friends with an old trim carpenter who hailed from Bangor ME. He taught me so many things and, probably was the one guy that taught me the value of out of the box thinking. At a time when I thought that every woodworking operation had to involve a different tool, ala Norm Abrams, Greg showed me how to achieve a result with what was available. After all, he couldn’t carry his shop to the job site.
And Miles, one of the most valuable skills and bit of woodworking wisdom he gave me was that sharp tools were an absolute must. What that man could do on site with just 3 or four cheap (but scary sharp) Stanley chisels, was phenomenal.
While I only possess a tiny fraction of his wisdom and skill, he still motivates me every day. When I encounter a problem, I seem to be always asking “How would Greg do this?”.
I will eternally grateful for the few years I knew him.

-- 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 richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 2496 days

#3 posted 05-16-2011 04:50 PM

For me, the problem solving part of woodworking may be the most fun. I don’t like to build according to published plans. I like to get an idea in my head about what I want to accomplish and then figure out the best way to get to the desired end result. I often build special jigs to accomplish what I want to do.

Problem solving is something I can do at any time in or out of the shop. I often lay in bed and before I go to sleep I am thinking through the challenge I face and considering different ways to do it. It does seem like the more I think about a challenge, the more likely I am to come up with a good solution.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Gene Howe's profile (online now)

Gene Howe

8101 posts in 2850 days

#4 posted 05-16-2011 05:24 PM

We think alike, Rich.
Jigs are the most fun to figure out.
And, you are so right about the more you think (and sleep) on a problem, the quicker a good solution arrives. I do believe that your brain keeps at it, even when you aren’t consciously thinking about it. As I tell the wife, naps are good. :-)

-- 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

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Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2272 days

#5 posted 05-16-2011 05:43 PM

Cool thread, Gene.

What you’re suggesting is that we’re on a journey not just improving the product, but also improving the process. Part of that improvement would be uncovering what process works best for us when we encounter a problem.

Are you primarily an auditory learner, a visual learner, or a kinesthetic learner? If you know that, you can lean toward discussing your problem with someone (they don’t have to be a woodworker, just an attentive learner), or solving the problem on paper, or gathering some pieces of wood and hardware and stacking things to see what might work.

The brain is a wondrous thing. Just walk through your shop and pick up hand tools and marvel at the problems that were there before the tool was created by someone to be the solution.



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View bubinga's profile


861 posts in 2089 days

#6 posted 05-16-2011 05:53 PM

Planing, design stages ,always take longer than building

-- E J ------- Always Keep a Firm Grip on Your Tool

View Bernie's profile


416 posts in 2258 days

#7 posted 05-16-2011 05:54 PM

I love the feeling of waking up in the middle of the night and saying ”...that’s it!” and crawling out of bed to write down the idea that has just dawned on old marblehead. All other times… I hate waking up in the middle of the night.

As for following instructions step by step, the few times I’ve tried it, I’ve wasted good wood. I’m with you folks, I get a picture in my head and I work it out.

-- Bernie: It never gets hot or cold in New Hampshire, just seasonal!

View bubinga's profile


861 posts in 2089 days

#8 posted 05-16-2011 05:57 PM

Nothing wrong with following a plan, already laid out

-- E J ------- Always Keep a Firm Grip on Your Tool

View Gene Howe's profile (online now)

Gene Howe

8101 posts in 2850 days

#9 posted 05-17-2011 12:59 AM

You’re absolutely right E J.
Then there are guys like me and, apparently Bernie, too that just can’t seem to get it right, reading from a plan. Of course, I always blame the plan. :-)
Lee, I guess I’m a kinesthetic learner, sort of a right brain type. I can’t read someone’s description of a process and go do it. And, I struggle describing my own processes, in writing or orally. I can show you, though.

-- 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 Grandpa's profile


3256 posts in 2097 days

#10 posted 05-17-2011 01:03 AM

You are correct Bubinga but for many the challenge of thinking the project through is the fun of it. The woodworking is just something that we enjoy doing and we can think the plans through and then we have some results. If we think things through and never build them then what is the point? I have known many people and I border on this, that enjoy thinking the problems through and maybe cutting the wood and making it fit etc and then the fun is over so they lay it aside. There is no final result except I know how to do it. Plans are good and I recommend them. If you think it through then put it on paper. If you don’t build it someone else just might. Also it saves materials because we often miss something in our thinking process. Something that the mind’s eye doesn’t see. I look at the projects on this site and they are beautiful but there is never a need for more than one cutting board and one box for some people. They know how and have mastered the peocess. Dan cleans those planes up and makes them look and function better than new, but if you can do it once then you can do it a hundred times. You know it and that is all that is important to you. Repeating it dozens of times is like working math problems. It is just an exercise after you know how. I am not criticizing anyone or their projects because like I said in the beginning there are some beautiful projects here. I am saying it is a different project for some people. It is the design work they enjoy. They have to build to justify.

View cowboyj's profile


9 posts in 2336 days

#11 posted 05-17-2011 04:39 AM

Good topic, Gene! Like others have already commented, I have come to realize I enjoy the design phase of a project as much, if not more, as the actual construction. Beginning with a vision of what I want the project to achieve, then imagining a structure that does that, then designing the joinery that produces the structure – that is creativity. As a side note, I have found Sketchup to be very useful, but is also helps to accept the idea that the first construction of a project is a prototype, not the finished result.

-- Jerry

View Lurch's profile


6 posts in 1989 days

#12 posted 05-19-2011 08:59 PM

I’m just getting started in woodworking, but I have to say what attracted me to the hobby is precisely what you’re saying – the problem-solving aspects.

I’m deriving a great deal of satisfaction from the (sometimes) successful execution of a plan, but I get at least as much fun out of sketching up the plan in the first place, or from coming up with a workaround (umm, I mean improvement) when I find a flaw in the original plan.

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2390 posts in 2343 days

#13 posted 05-20-2011 01:23 AM

problem solving while building things started for me in 1950 and is still going srtong. The fun part!

-- "You may have your PHD but I have my GED and my DD 214"

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Craftsman on the lake

2506 posts in 2859 days

#14 posted 05-20-2011 01:45 AM

What I like is having a problem to solve. If I manage to come up with a solution it’s often ah.. different. I like the looks of people scratching their heads when they see it. Solving the unsolvable and producing the outlandish is fun.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View canadianchips's profile


2310 posts in 2418 days

#15 posted 05-20-2011 02:32 AM

I like the problem solving. I like to make things from scratch giving my work that “custom touch”. What I find now more tahn before is I get side tracked, always thinking that “IF I HAD this jig” the next time I do this would be so much faster ! End result the project always takes me longer than it should ! I was taught that everything always has an easier way ! (I am searching for the easier way all the time ). Maybe that’s how some really good inventions started ?

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

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