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Blog entry by Lazy_K posted 03-17-2014 02:25 PM 1453 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch

your limits can set you free.

way back when I was studying calculus in college there were always “limits” on the notations. partly because calculus is used to study or make calculations of systems that are practically infinite (in which case your answers would all be effectively infinite and meaningless without limits) and partly because, well I don’t really remember. but if you didn’t set the limits for the zone you were studying you answers would be garbage. But INSIDE those limits! wow you could learn a lot (and do a lot) about what was in there! first derivative, second, deviations etc etc.

what in the world does this have to do with woodworking?

your limits can set you free.

is a sentiment expressed to me by an older woodworker, he had an extensive industrial grade shop, he and his crew made ONLY staircases. really excellent staircases. he was thinking of retiring because he was getting old and his business was dropping off due to factory made staircases imported from Canada. he regretted that he would have lay off the 3 men left working for him. he really wanted to keep the shop going.

So I asked him why didn’t he switch to some other form of woodwork? kitchens? or whatever, furniture… he had everything he needed for equipment. to me wood is wood, a housing or dado is what it is, if it’s holding a stair tread at an angle to the riser or holding a shelf perpendicular to a bookcase side it’s a dado …right?

well, no. a staircase is not a bookcase.
And your limits can set you free.

The young person who grows up knowing their parents are going to insist they go to a specific law (or engineering or medical) school . they don’t have to spend a year trying to decide what to do or where to go, they do not spend the rest of their lives second guessing that decision. they can save that energy for every other aspect of their lives.

likewise in woodworking, That staircase builder had decided as a young man to build ONLY staircases. then he didn’t have to think about kitchens, or furniture or any other type of woodworking. but instead of having a limited vocabulary of staircase building he could then develop a business that could make any staircase from the most simple to the most elaborate carved creations.

yes he could have done other things.

For those who haven’t seen his work yet check out
this man has set his limits.
I envy/admire his work, his Job, his career path, and the limits he has placed on what he will do.
I have found that not limiting what type of jobs I accept I end up doing a lot of things that are “not me” and not what I want to do, for not enough money.
I have to take on whatever anyone brings me.
Also, Unfortunately I still want to do too many things.
And have too much work lined up.

let your limits set you free. Pick a style or an era or a type of woodwork, or any career. and do everything inside of that context. if you make musical instruments, don’t make kitchens, if you make kitchens, don’t do furniture. if you are just a hobbiest, don’t listen to me.
but doing a kitchen can take away from doing better banjo’s, doing A banjo, then thinking you can do better when you get the time can take away the joy and creativity of doing whatever you normally do.
Of course, making a Banjo (or mandolin, or anything) can greatly enhance the quality of life of someone who only makes the occasional item. so maybe this blog is all bull
I like looking at and reading about people who do things that I wish that I were doing. sometimes it gets me down. and sometimes it inspires me.
bee well all, and set your limits.

-- Kai SaerPren

4 comments so far

View a1Jim's profile


118322 posts in 5034 days

#1 posted 03-17-2014 03:36 PM

I tend to agree with the idea of specializing in particular products and I would suggest that to someone wanting to get into the woodworking business. On the other hand I have found that in the area I live in it has not been econnomically feasible for me to specialize . If you can specialize and become very good at what you do your much better off,taking every job that comes your way means that each job is a learning experience and the item your making is esenataly a prototype and may require a whole new set of tools just for that item. This approach may mean that you will become a more knowledgeable and multi faceted woodworker but may not necessarily be that profitable. I think it depends on a number of things as to the possibility of a woodworker making a living as a full time professional woodworker such as : what area you live in, a persons ability to sustain them selves and their business financially during a start up time period of 2-5 years and your talent as a woodworker and as a business person,plus the ability to come up with a quality and unique product.


View isotope's profile


177 posts in 3081 days

#2 posted 03-17-2014 10:55 PM

I like the idea of confining your focus to a subject matter within “limits”. It provides you with the best chance to learn, improve and excel. However, that being said, your particular example also highlights that every now and then you need to look up, or out, at the world and reassess whether your limits have been properly defined. Maybe you should reset your focus. People who are willing adapt to a changing world and embrace new challenges will most likely flourish. Your woodworking friend might be able to continue running his business and providing rewarding employment to his workers if he adapted to the economic reality and embraced a new challenge. Sure, there might be bumps in the road, but it might also be fun to learn new stuff.

View dbhost's profile


5906 posts in 4689 days

#3 posted 03-18-2014 02:43 AM

Specialization to some is freedom, to others in is insufferable confinement. It is a double edged sword, if you specialize too much, you put yourself out of business no matter how good you are. If you are too general you never really get proficient at enough to climb to the top of your field. Setting limits too narrow isn’t a good thing, but setting limits is…

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View Lazy_K's profile


133 posts in 3647 days

#4 posted 04-26-2014 08:08 PM

I think it was in “city slickers” where they were around the campfire and musing on “secret of life / happiness and whatever” when (was it Jack Palance?) the real cowboy (real old cowboy) held up one finger. said something about “on thing” being the secret to happiness. do/be one thing, do your very best. trying to be too many things only leads to frustration.

-- Kai SaerPren

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