“Skill is equal parts muscle memory and knowledge.”
“You can spend money or you can build skills.”
“Bloggers only show their best work.”
These have been the thoughts circling my mind while I’ve been at the ‘bench today working on the boarded bookcase, and I thought it would be useful to discuss them here. Not least because yet another description of edge jointing boards would not make for gripping reading, and also it wouldn’t be particularly representative of this week’s work. So instead, let me offer some thoughts, with edge jointing those maples boards as a backdrop.
Skill is equal parts musckle memory and knowledge – it’s why you can’t learn to build furniture (or anything really) solely by reading or watching Youtube, although I’ve found research and reading to be an invaluable part of the building process . At some point you simply have to get into the ‘shop and make some shavings, to translate the research into muscle memory. Muscle memory takes time and practice to develop, and it can also atrophy if not constantly. And here’s I found myself – I learned a huge amount from the Roubo bench build, including new techniques and approaches. But I’ve not prepared an edge joint for glue up since October 2018, and boy can I tell how long it has been. The knowledge is still there but the muscle memory has faded, and while it will come back with some hard work, I’ve found myself chasing my tail with the next panel glue up for the boarded book case. Getting those two edges square and straight today seemed beyond me, as the edge tilted one way then the other despite my best efforts. And so the frustration mounts because I know I can do this (the three-piece maple top for the staked desk has two long glue joints, which are barely visible).
You can spend money or you can build skills – I’m going to admit it, there were moments today when I wondered how much a 6″ spiral head jointer would cost and whether I had room for one in my ‘shop (the answers are: “£1,119 from Axminster“, and “no I definitely don’t have the space“). Stepping away from the bench for a moment to finish my coffee, I reminded myself that it is easy to see new tools as being the answer to finding a technique difficult, but new tools also require new techniques and skills (and there are few things I dislike more than setting up machines). When I started my journey in the woodcrafts at the Totnes School of Guitar Making back in 2007 I was focused on gaining the hand skills I needed, not spending my way out of difficulty. There are very good reasons to buy a jointer, but a frustrating day trying to get a good joint is not one of them. The acquisition of skills is still at the heart of what I’m trying to achieve at the bench, and so I’m going to focuse on nailing these edge joints to the standard I have in the past.
Bloggers only show their best work – it would be wonderful to pretend that everything goes perfectly everytime I’m at the bench, and not to write about the mistakes or difficulties. But that would be disingenuous, and I’ve aways tried to be honest in my writing here. After all, to err is human (to really stuff up takes a power tool). I think there is more benefit in showing the difficult stuff and the times that work does not go to plan. Today I stepped up to the bench expecting to nail this edge joint, and it owned me for several hours. It was a humbling experience, but keeping the ego in check is good for the soul.
Ultimately I did achieve the tight joint I was looking for, and got the panel glued up with Titebond hide glue. I’m determined to bring that muscle memory back, and so the next few weeks will be spent working on the remaining three panel glue-ups before I move on to any other stage of the build. Focusing on the process will help to revive that all important muscle memory, and will keep me humble in the meantime.
One other useful learning experience in an otherwise frustrating day was trying another workholding method on the Roubo bench. Normally I would hold work to be edge jointed in the leg vise, but for the narrower board I rested it on the bench and held it with the planing stop and a does’ foot and holdfast. This method wouldn’t be appropriate for very wide panels, but for narrower boards such as this (3″ wide) piece it was very effective. This bench still has a great deal to teach me.