Skills vs Skill Sets

table and vase 002
door casing corner bosses

Skill, what is a skill? They say that woodworkers have skills (or that woodworking is a skill), but what does that mean exactly?

I think of a skill as being the smallest part of a thing that can be taught. And as something that almost everyone can learn. And a skill set is a bundle of skills that go together to accomplish a task.

For instance: if we assume that woodworking is not a skill, but a skill set, it being made up of multiple skills, we can then start to break it down.

Sawing, Planing, Sharpening… but are those skills or just smaller skill sets?

Using a saw.. first you have to be able to choose the right saw, then you have to hold it correctly, and stand correctly, and move it correctly… we are approaching what I call skills, holding the saw correctly is a skill, positioning your feet right is a skill.

Of course in order to learn a skill first one must admit that one does not know it.. I’ve had several instances where I tried to teach someone how to use a hammer. and they would not accept that they were not holding it right, let alone swinging it wrong (IE not actually swinging it but punching with it).

Woodworking is a huge skill set when viewed this way. but there is good news! each skill is learnable and teachable, and skills transfer…. when you saw and when you handplane your stance (where your feet are) is different.. and yet the ideas that go into foot position are related, and your feet are still your feet after all. So it becomes easy to change from comfortable stance for sawing to comfortable stance for planning. And the more skills you learn… well they add up in a way that makes it easier to add new ones. And as you keep adding skills you think less and less about them until they become automatic. Then, picking up a new skill sets becomes easy.

be well


Creativity: some thoughts

Humans are essentially creative. We have an ability to imagine something that does not exist, and work to make it real. Look at everything around you, your clothes and your house, everything! You are a member of the most amazing species that has ever walked the planet, we make things.

From the first stone tools, proof of our creativity is in everything that we do. In fact the making of the earliest stone tools is what archaeologists and anthropologists consider the first step to becoming US. We can imagine! We can imagine things that don’t exist and then work towards bringing it into existence. Every act of making something is a part of this. This is an amazing ability!

So when someone says to me “I wish I was creative like you” I tell them they are. We all are.

But our jobs and our lives seem almost designed to squash that creativity. No one wants creative solutions to car repair when it’s their car being fixed. No one wants creative billing or creative bookkeeping. Factory workers need to do the same thing day after day, creativity is sometimes encouraged if it makes the work go faster but mostly it is squashed and stifled.

This makes many of us stressed and sad and angry all at once. We go home after “work” and we are sad, and angry and we don’t know why. Businesses owners and zoning laws act like they think we should go home from our soul crushing jobs and sit in front of the TV doing only what is required to survive, and come back to work tomorrow and be refreshed and happy about our NOT working for 4 hours a day.

Society (before TV at least) used to encourage people to be productive doing something during every waking hour. Of course it also encouraged people to work in factories 20 hours a day at some times (read up on Henry Ford). The whole point of Daylight Savings time is that you go home after work and have more hours of sunlight after your job, in which to do other productive things, like grow vegetables, attend your knitting, or work in your shed on whatever needed doing.

Even before Daylight Savings Time nearly everyone who wasn’t wealthy spent the whole of their waking hours doing something, knitting weaving, carving, etc. There were chores, those tasks that had to be done every day, and there was work that continued (like spinning thread, or wood carving) that you filled in the rest of the time with.

After the industrial revolution there was no need for every woman to be constantly spinning or weaving every day, or knitting, or for filling his “extra” hours making the odd bit of handraft for sale. So the crafts dwindled into near obscurity. But eventually, For people who could afford it, this lead to “Hobbies”. Knitting, spinning, weaving, woodcrafts, and other hand work evolved into hobbies for the middle class. The poorest classes don’t “do” hobbies, working to hard and too exhausted to do much when they got home. Our richest people don’t do hobbies, unless you want to categorise something like collecting race cars as a hobby.

50 years ago (when I was a wee lad) there was not only the traditional crafts as hobbies, there were electronics (make your own radios or TVs, do any of you remember Heathkit?),  model trains, model airplanes or boats, or leather crafts etc. But the burst in the revival of crafts that happened in the 1960s somehow turned crafts into namby pamby “arts and crafts’ (do not mix it up with the 1890s Arts and Crafts movement) that the very mention of sends teenagers and adults running away. And the providers of materials and kits in a great part stopped making kits and started selling completed items. Find a hobby shop that has airplanes now, the RC planes are all ready made, you just go somewhere and fly them, the RC cars that used to be kits come with modification packages but they too are ready to go.

Everything seems arranged to discourage any “do it yourself” attitude. As if the insidious “THEY” want us to just sit still and behave when we aren’t “at work”. Even the big hardware and lumber yard stores that seem to thrive on promoting “do it yourself” have things arranged to encourage you not to do it yourself.. hire our guys instead!

Not being allowed to express our creativity leads to stress, sadness, anger, frustration, depression, violence, isolation, drinking, and obesity. Yes, I am setting nearly all of society’s woes directly at the feet of this whole apparent trend to discourage our creativity.

So it’s time to take up arms! Take up your knitting needles, your carving gouges, your spinning wheels and your axes! Go out there and show the world what you do! Teach anyone who asks. ANYONE! If they say they don’t have time, ask them if they have any 10 minute time during their day when they are doing nothing? If they do then they have time! (sitting on a bus or train for 10 min to 1/2 hour? you have time to take up knitting) it matters not that they follow a pattern that 10,000 other people have done. It’s the doing and the feeling of having done it. The point is that it’s not really imposed on them by a “job”. Its their choice, and then it’s their work.

then it’s “I DID THIS!”

we can make the world a better place one person at a time…

be well

a postscript: I should note that I know that the overall number of people actively engaged in various crafts and hobbies is Up. But also that the percentage of the population engaged in those activities is way down. There is currently a surge in interest in the woodcrafts going on and while I don’t think the crafts needs more people, the people certainly need more crafts, real crafts, developing real skills. A skill set like spoon carving isn’t going to make anyone wealthy, but it certainly has the capacity to make their lives better.

more prep for class ( make a stool)

A week ago I went up to the Morris Arboretum to look at what they had that we could make into stools. The oficial Arborist (Andrew Hawks) was very helpful and we picked out some nice walnut that would otherwise just sit there and rot or get cut up for firewood.

Yesterday I went back up to split the bolts (butts?) in half and seal the ends so they wouldn’t dry too much and I brought back a few chunks to work on myself, and I need some stuff to use for the Demo I will be doing there on Arbor day (or the day after?) and I thought having a finished stool from the same wood my students will be using would be a good idea.

so splitting some in my driveway:


a little twist but not too bad. then the next half had a “prize” inside!


we work with what we can get…

the two love birds were cooing and canoodling on the picnic table (mourning doves):


too much sun…

and I thought today I’d get out this one… it hasn’t been used since 2014, it’s bigger than all of my others and has no maker’s mark:


13 3/4″ blade and 22″ between the handles, useful on the wide stock. (it had no handles when I found it.)

and today after 2 hours of chopping and shaving I have 3 stool top blanks roughed out:


the bark seems tightly attached so I’m thinking of leaving it on, still debating that.

(what a mess! I should get one of the apprentices to clean that up! lol)

be well.