A change in woodworking habit and environment #2: Brain clutter and a new mindset

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Blog entry by David Craig posted 10-19-2012 09:14 AM 1861 reads 0 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Changes to the environment Part 2 of A change in woodworking habit and environment series no next part

In the last article, I talked about cleaning up my work environment to allow for shorter setup times and more ready access to the machines and items in my workshop.

But that is only part of the battle.

I experienced some personal loss this last year that really took the wind out of my sails. I won’t get into all of that here, some already know what I am talking about and we will just suffice with that. I found it difficult to get motivated again but shop cleaning is a good way to clean the cobwebs out of your head as well as out of your shop. The challenge I had to face was how to organize my time with this different schedule. Part of it was coming to some conclusions of what kind of woodworker I was.

I am a hobbyist. I got a great deal of slack one time for trying to outline the difference between the artist/craftsman and the hobbyist. It isn’t about the quality of the work. Both can be equally talented and original. What makes the difference, to me, is the sacrifices that are required in pursuit of this craft. Family and responsibilities, in my case, are never going to be required to take a hit for my work. They already took hits on my education and take hits with my current employment. When push comes to shove, my hobby is the thing that has to take the back burner when events in life happen. Simple as that. At the same time, my hobby helps keep me sane and I really don’t want to go long periods of time without that stress relief. The answer, for me is to grant myself the shop time, but in small increments (except during my days off with time to putter) on a daily basis.

How does this work? And what are the benefits?

In the past, i would look forward to my long excursions in the shop. The problem was that I would try to finish my projects as fast as I could because I didn’t know when I would get another chance to finish what I started. So the mindset started becoming “project” instead of “process.” I wasn’t thinking clearly about each step. Each time I sat down to do a task, I was thinking about the next task and not the process at hand. Obviously this leads to stupid mistakes, crappy finishes, and a less than stellar project. I would always hate that feeling of having something unfinished and it was making my work suffer. Now, I approach the shop with the mindset of completing a step in the project but not the project itself.

I will give you an example. I am working on a quilt box from a plan that is in a Woodsmith magazine I received a couple years ago. Basically, you complete a box shell, cut slots for the lid, bottom, and substrate, assemble the base, cut off the lid, and glue up a pattern of squares and diamonds to make patterns on the substrate for the lid. It makes a quilted pattern, hence the name. It has a number of steps. Rather than trying to complete a number of them in one visit to the shop, I just concentrate on one. The first day, I milled and cut to size a cherry board for the base. The second day I cut the required slots. The third day, I rounded over the board, and the fourth day I cut the miters. I only spent about an hour each day. Some tasks should only take about 15 minutes. I used that extra time to make sure that the 15 minute task was done right. Extra measuring, more anal tool setup, etc. As a result, the steps are more satisfying and I leave the shop with the feeling of completing something rather than leaving an item unfinished. And, at the end of the week, I made progress on a project where I would have normally did nothing in the shop except look at a piece of Cherry and dream of the day when I can use it.

Progress so far on current project (box is upside down) -

So that is the current mindest and should lead to more successful completions to come.

Thank you all for reading,


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

11 comments so far

View patron's profile


13694 posts in 3949 days

#1 posted 10-19-2012 10:54 AM

by golly

i think you found it david

enjoy the journey

the destination
will be enhanced by it

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View Roger's profile


21030 posts in 3412 days

#2 posted 10-19-2012 12:33 PM

I agree and know in my mind that I/you/we all have to take one step at a time. My brain is always on overload, because of the many, many things I “want to” do. I hope to get into some sort of rhythm after the holidays. Until then, Santa has gotta get busy

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

View BritBoxmaker's profile


4611 posts in 3645 days

#3 posted 10-19-2012 12:44 PM

I always enjoy the journey, especially the unexpected.

I also find mentally rehearsing what i am going to do in the shop helps me produce better work.

Zen is but a step away, David

-- Martyn -- Boxologist, Pattern Juggler and Candyman of the visually challenging.

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 4281 days

#4 posted 10-19-2012 01:29 PM

Nice box!

View derosa's profile


1597 posts in 3444 days

#5 posted 10-19-2012 03:02 PM

Sounds like a good mindset to take.

One thing I have found helps some with the clutter is that next to my tablesaw and mitresaw and under the bandsaw, scrollsaw and drill press I keep small garbage cans that can take small scrap. Taking a cut-off and dropping it in the can really has helped a lot. Not walking larger cut-offs to the shelf is the only thing getting me cluttered now.

-- A posse ad esse

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3724 days

#6 posted 10-19-2012 05:02 PM

its only the jurney that can get you into relaxing mode not the finished project
donĀ“t worry about brainclutter aslong as you can find the mancave and use it
then under the determended thinking of how a cut have to be made
fall all the clutter in place on the puzzle steared by invisible hands
and when you leave the shop it will be with a clear mind and light hart

take care

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3717 days

#7 posted 10-19-2012 08:09 PM

Thanks for the kind comments folks.

The journey is a good analogy and can relate to that state of Zen. The mind is not at peace when the project starts to become one more thing that has to be done. However, problems seem almost non-existent when your concern is solely on whether your blade height is precisely at the 1/4” you are looking for :)

Thanks for the compliment on the box Charles. I have a few more steps to go but each step can wait until I have the time to focus on that specific task :)

Good suggestion on the scrap containers Russ. I have had to re-educate myself on the concept of waste. Not every scrap has to be saved. Some make the sacrifice so that their bigger brothers can live on. I have to learn to throw them away and let them go :)

-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View Rustic's profile


3256 posts in 4205 days

#8 posted 10-20-2012 01:16 AM

I know of the loss you feel. I am still dealing with it. Getting better though. Your shop will get there as will you. Chin up buddy.

--, Rick Kruse, Grand Rapids, MI

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 3298 days

#9 posted 10-20-2012 02:04 AM

David, My shop has been my salvation in dealing with a devastating loss so I can relate. My family understands the importance of my shop time and are quite supportive. That said, I agree that it is all about the journey. Treating each step as an end unto itself usually results in a great outcome. I think you have the right approach. (and you ain’t seen anal til you come to my shop!)

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3717 days

#10 posted 10-22-2012 08:52 AM

Thanks Rick keep your chin up also :)

I definitely would not say that I am the king of organization gfadvm. As long as I can find my pencil and a square, I consider myself good :) Nice to have workflow back again though.

Thanks for the comments.

-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

4272 posts in 3773 days

#11 posted 10-28-2012 03:27 PM

My current unfinished project is a an unusual mobile cutoffs cart. It is designed to facilitate finding a piece, and culling the cutoffs. I have the same habit of saving too many little pieces, so this project should go a ways to cure that.

I guess I got into the process thing a long time ago in my hobbies. In the work arena, that is not an option, so right now it rules my life. Well, back to it, the programming calls, in between call duties…...on call for the weekend.

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

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