I began woodworking over twelve years ago, however, I’ve only been building furniture for a little over a year. I used to build houses. More accurately, I used to get the tools for the guys that built the houses, but in that time I began picking things up here and there–but I was not good by any means. I started taking on other woodworking-related jobs, even working for a custom cabinet shop. I messed up a lot and there was a pretty significant language barrier between me and my mentor. I only lasted 6 months (haha) but by that time I just knew: I loved working with wood. Needless to say, I had zero confidence in my ability, but decided to start teaching myself via YouTube and woodworking groups, and I was exposed to some pretty complex concepts. I decided to jump head first, and I never looked back.
When I started working on this valet box, it was the most challenging project I’d ever taken on (and probably speaks to my masochistic design process too). I stumbled across a woodworking challenge on Instagram: ten days to make a handmade gift. Well, a valet box could give me a lot of opportunities to play around. At the time I was just starting to learn how to do dovetails, so dovetails became a key component of the design. I also wanted to learn a technique called Kumiko, a Japanese method of assembling wood without nails. So of course, Kumiko also became a huge part of the design. What better way to learn than in a high-pressure situation? When you make a mistake on something so critical, YOU WILL FEEL IT. You’ll remember that mistake, and do everything in your power to avoid it in the future. Is the final product perfect? Far from it. But did I get better at dovetails? Absolutely. I also got really good at fixing dovetails. Moral of the story: if you want to try a new technique, the best way to learn is to design and execute a project with that technique in mind.
Never stop learning.
No matter your specialty–cutting boards, signs, furniture or even framing houses–keep an open mind when it comes to new techniques and opportunities to learn. Your best can always be better. Learning comes from so many places like being exposed to new things (my personal favorite) and making mistakes (my personal least-favorite). Both have their place, and both can be valuable teachers. Once you’ve really immersed yourself into something, no matter what it is, you can’t help but start to pick things up. Before you know it, you’ll be gaining confidence, taking on more difficult projects, or improving on your existing work. If you sell your work, this will make you a more effective salesperson. You will know the full extent of your abilities and your customers will see that. Win-win all around.
Just keep going.
The best way to get better is to simply keep doing it. It’s a confidence-builder. Look, I know I’m not breaking new ground with that statement–but as someone who’s still working on building that confidence, I feel like I can speak to this. This vanity (pictured below) almost broke me. Sixty dovetails, six sliding dovetails, radial matched veneer, ebonized ash, hardwood construction, and even a hard wax oil finish. I mean the list of firsts I took on with this project was honestly irresponsible. I am a significantly better woodworker now than I was before this (not a brag, just the truth). So if I could give a new woodworker just one piece of advice early on in their journey, it’d be this: just keep making stuff.