Learning Opportunity #2: If In Doubt, Follow the Instructions

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Blog entry by Don posted 02-11-2007 07:53 AM 1695 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Off With Your Head! Part 2 of Learning Opportunity series Part 3: Forget the Easy Option »

A few days ago I returned to a project, a box that I have promised to make for a friend. I posted that project here.

This friend asked me to make it with a hinged lid with the hinges being constructed from wood, similar to this box.

I didn’t expect the project would take long, particularly as I already had two pairs of hinges left from a batch I had previously made. The project proceeded well, and I am quite happy with the way it is turning out. I made the lid by cutting it free from the body of the box. And I added an Ash Burl veneer to the top and bottom surfaces of the lid panel. A also decided to use a piece of my favorite wood, Huon Pine in the base. I devised an unusual way of inserting the base panel by using bamboo wedges that allows the base to move.

All that was left was to install the hinges – easy – four hinge mortises and I’m ready for finishing.

However, when I reached for the hinges I had, I quickly realized they just would not do. First, the wood was the wrong species, hence the wrong color. But even worse, the hinges I had left over, were the poorest of the batch I’d previously made. I hadn’t used them for a reason – they weren’t up to my standard.

“No worries Mate!”, as we Aussies say – make a new pair and make them out of the right choice of wood. So that’s what I did, or more correctly, attempted to do.

“Mmm, ...let me see, how did I do this again? Oh, yes, I think I remember.” So I began, selected the wood, plained it, cut it, milled it, and tried to fit it. Well as is obvious from the tone and title of this blog, it just didn’t fit together. I had messed up somewhere in the procedure. I know this because I had the procedure written out in my notebook.

So, what did I learn? Well the title tells the story. Read the instruction book.

I think that this is a common failing of the male species. We don’t ask for directions when lost and we don’t read instructions. It’s an ego thing – I mean how dumb do you think we are? I did it before, sure I had to read how, but I know now! So off I go, and then am surprised when I mess up. Well not really surprised – just angry for being so pig-headed.

So here is the LO - Until your method of work becomes second nature read the instructions. And even after it starts to be built into the procedural memory neurons of our brain cells, read the instructions. Procedural memory takes the longest time to build, but once fully established is locked in there for good. That’s how you learned to ties a shoe-lace.

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

6 comments so far

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 5379 days

#1 posted 02-11-2007 12:23 PM

that’s a really good point. I’ve written things down in my little journal but because this is all new to me I am assuming that I will remember all of the learning curves that I have experienced up to now. But, it would be a really good practice, for me anyway, to review my do/don’ts prior to picking up a tool.

(and as for the male species thing, I think most women do first and read second as well – it’s just that we let you guys take the first crack at it so we can shake our heads and say that you should have read the instructions!!)

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View David's profile


1969 posts in 5357 days

#2 posted 02-11-2007 12:51 PM

Don – what an interesting (and timely) blog you write. I made a mistake on my last project because I was tired and pushing things a bit. Then I had to come up with a way to cover my mistake. As for not reading instructions, I think I am standing in line right behind you!


View Obi's profile


2214 posts in 5455 days

#3 posted 02-11-2007 01:49 PM

When I bought the Lumber, there were no instructions included.

View Karson's profile


35278 posts in 5619 days

#4 posted 02-11-2007 05:20 PM

Obi: Thats why we twice as much lumber as we need and then a little more for practice pieces.

Very good story Don.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 5533 days

#5 posted 02-11-2007 05:35 PM

Instuctions confuse me!

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 5395 days

#6 posted 02-11-2007 11:03 PM

I agree, especialy if written in Chinglish.

However, in this blog I am referring to your own notes that you make to record the steps involved in your “method of work” when doing a complex procedure. This is a practice I borrowed from the Quality Assurance Certification process.

We used to laugh at this. The QA process requires businesses to document all procedures in order to be assured that the procedure was done according to a ‘standard’. It didn’t matter whether the standard was correct or not – the issue was that it was the standard. If you standardized the manufacture of concrete life vests you could obtain a QA Certificate.

Back to the subject. Seriously, it really is a good practice to make yourself notes, hopefully one that you will understand, to record some aspects of your work procedures. You would be amazed at how the process of writing these notes actually cements the procedure in you mind – obviously, that’s not wat happened to me this time. LOL

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

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