Vertical Growth

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Blog entry by handsawgeek posted 02-23-2015 02:08 PM 1351 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch

“MY BRAIN HURTS!!!” – Mr. Gumby, from Monty Python’s Flying Circus

This blog post has nothing to do with how trees grow. Rather, it’s about how woodworkers grow in their skill set and experience.

Anyone who has followed my blog may have noticed that I tend to draw a lot of parallels between music practice/performance and woodworking. Since I engage in both, they are dear to my heart.

Not too long ago, I encountered an interesting concept expounded on by a successful guitar performer and teacher named Jamie Andreas:


In a nutshell, Vertical Growth is defined by Ms. Andreas as the discipline of constantly striving to learn, practice, and master new skills and techniques, thereby always progressing steadily in an upward direction.

Horizontal Growth, by contrast, is characterized by someone who reaches a particular skill level, then becomes satisfied or complacent at that point. They expend all of their energies in stabilizing at that level, by practicing repetition, at the expense of any significant increase in upward progress.

Ms. Andreas points out that both types of growth are practiced, however, it is the vertical component that drives the student to constantly take his or her guitar playing and musicianship to new levels.

Here is the link to Ms. Andreas’ article that inspired this post:

I believe these concepts apply equally to woodworking. And any other human endeavor, for that matter.

As an example, if I were to remain content with building all of my projects using glue-and-screw butt joints, never bothering to learn how to cut dovetails, mortises, tenons, and miters, I don’t believe I could ever aspire to the level of craftsmanship required for producing fine furniture. I would instead become a ‘master’ of glue-and-screw butt joints. Great if I want to limit myself to utility shelves and shop furniture.

Or, if I remain happy with slapping polyurethane on every project and calling it good, and never learning how to apply a proper hand rubbed oil or shellac finish, or learn French polishing techniques, I would remain a polyurethane ‘master’.

Vertical versus Horizontal Growth.

So, with all the re-thinking that has been going on as of late in the handsawgeek workshop, the Vertical Growth concept seems to be ideal to apply to the new 2015 way of doing things.

Therefore, each of the woodworking projects selected for this year’s list are ones that will require me to learn one or more woodworking techniques that I’ve yet to attempt.

I look forward to the results.

I really do need to stop thinking so much. Makes my brain hurt!

Of course, sawdustike has to demonstrate his own take on vertical growth!

-- Ed

2 comments so far

View technoslick's profile


764 posts in 1963 days

#1 posted 02-23-2015 02:20 PM

In the parabolic view, Mr Andreas is correct. In a real-life environment, the process is more like a steep diagonal with many, many little steps. Optimally, we grow vertically when we take appropriate time and effort to learn each new bit of information so as to make it a part of our own. The trick, if you will, is to know how long to spend on the honing of a new skill before diving into a new direction or technique. That junction is where I we can find ourselves bogged down and not able to take the step up into new territory.

Good blog entry for everyone, Ed. Thanks for sharing Mr. Andreas’ viewpoint. One to grow on. :)

View JayT's profile


6356 posts in 2815 days

#2 posted 02-23-2015 02:21 PM

Nice post. As a former music teacher, I can relate to the parallels and the vertical vs horizontal growth is an excellent example. With beginning band students, I used the analogy of snow skiing. First time out, you start on the bunny hill and fall down. After enough attempts, which varies by individual, you can ski the bunny hill without falling. Are you going to spend the rest of your time skiing only the bunny hill or are you going to venture to other trails? As you move up to more difficult slopes, you will fall, but it’s the only way to get better. You also have to take the trails in difficulty order or risk injury. No one should jump from the bunny hill to black diamond rated slopes. Master the greens, then the blues before moving to the blacks.

No different in woodworking, some skills need mastered before attempting others. Last year, I started trying to incorporate at least one new technique, skill or process into each project, no matter how simple. In some cases, it’s been something I already know how to do one way, but am trying in a different way. It’s been eye-opening, challenging and fun, all at the same time. I hope to continue that for several years and we’ll see where it leads. Of course, as slow as projects have been, that may not mean adding skills very quickly. :-)

Have fun with the journey.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

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