The Best of Woodwork: 20 Lessons in the Pursuit of Mastery
The Pursuit of Mastery
One of the many pleasures of working wood is the realization, every so often, that your game is improving. This awareness may be the result of something big, like a newly finished piece that draws praise from others and approval even from your own critical eye. Or it may be prompted by something much subtler—a joint that comes together clean, tight and without fuss; a gossamer shaving that lifts off the wood and floats to the floor; a speckless, drip-free coat of varnish that you just laid down. Whatever the instance, it marks a moment on your way toward mastering your craft.
But what does that mean, to master a craft? And more, how do you pursue this mastery? Well, for one thing, though it may be a goal, mastery is not really some end point. It's more akin to a journey with numerous stages along the way. A concept popularly linked to this journey is the "10,000 hour rule," a shorthand way of saying that, whatever else mastery may require, practice and more practice is a fundamental and unending part of it. In a craft as complex as woodwork, where the material is so variable and the ways of handling it so diverse, 10,000 hours represents more like a good start on your way. And of course, it's not just a matter of putting in the hours on your own. Trial-and-error can be slow, and will only get you so far, sometimes even in the wrong direction. There are numerous tools and techniques that require some form of instruction
or guidance to direct your hours in the shop.
Finally, in addition to practice and instruction there is one more factor, perhaps the most elusive in the pursuit of mastery. Hard to describe but definitely recognizable, it is a quality of artistry or vision that informs and elevates the work. Vision can't be taught, but it can be experienced, and these encounters are a vital part of the process.
Woodwork magazine was founded with the goal of exploring the vast territory of this field, providing instruction and inspiration in the pursuit of mastery. For this book, I have drawn on material from the years when I was editor of the magazine, and it is presented in three sections. The first profiles four artists, each with a unique vision of working wood, and each with a different path taken to get to his or her level of mastery. The second section takes the reader beyond the basics, expanding and fine-tuning tool use and techniques, and concludes with a tour de force demonstration by a master craftsman. Reflections on art and craft, and encounters with the creative process form the core of the third section. Taken together, these three elements are the heart of what Woodwork has to offer. I hope they serve you well as guideposts on your journey.