Free your mind, and the rest will follow – FineWoodworking

I love taking classes – it’s a week (or day or weekend) to do one thing: participate in a woodworking class. The only other time I get to do that is when I’m teaching; and while that’s rewarding, it isn’t nearly as relaxing (and I rarely get to build a thing when I’m teaching – I’m too busy trying to ensure the students succeed…plus most of my tools usually end up in student hands).

I always get the most out of classes by following along with the instructor and trying things in their preferred manner (same with woodworking books and articles, for that matter). Though I might already know (and even teach) how to achieve a given result, I still do my best to buy into whatever method/technique/tool the instructor is selling. I might learn something new. It might be better than what I already know. It might be something I can offer to future students as an alternate approach. I also find it endlessly useful to know multiple methods in the absence of certain tools, like when I forget to pack my coping saw for a class in dovetails and I just can’t cope.

Take Chris Becksvoort’s dovetail waste removal method for example. While I usually prefer to remove most of the waste from the pin and tail sockets with a fretsaw or coping saw, if it’s a narrow space, I find Becksvoort’s method of popping it out from the end a fast alternative. With a lot of waste to remove, I’m faster with a coping saw (as long as I get within about 1/16 in. of the baseline), but when there’s just a little, it’s as fast and fun for me to pop it out. But I never would have known that if I hadn’t tried.

The above is my rather long-winded way of wondering: Why take a class if you’re not willing to learn something new?

It’s vexing to get a student who refuses to try anything beyond what they already know – and I used to spend a lot of time trying to convince said naysayers to try out a new tool or technique. Now, on day one I tend to coerce/cajole/make fun of that person (in a nice way), in hopes they’ll give in. Sometimes it works.

If it doesn’t, well. I tried, and that person isn’t willing. But hey – I don’t know their reasons. Maybe they’re taking a class because they don’t have the machinery for prep, and a class is a good way to have the stock ready and waiting. Or maybe it’s just a week or weekend away from their norm. As long as everyone has a good time and doesn’t get hurt, it’s good. But still, the old aphorism about horses and water comes to mind: You can lead one to water, but you can’t make him think.

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