Steady

My gappy first attempt at a hand-cut blind dovetail. I’ve got a lot of practice to do!

I spent the past weekend taking a magnificent class with woodworker Chris Gochnour. In addition to being a master of his craft he’s also a talented teacher with many years of experience. Now, this is not a woodworking blog because I’m soooooo not qualified to opinionate on the subject. But I would like to share two things Chris taught that I think apply to any worthwhile task.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson of the class was getting a sense of how to pace work. Sometime in the late afternoon of the first day there was a building crescendo of aggressive pounding and sawing and I think Chris could sense that we were all getting a little too frenetic in our actions. He stopped us and said, “steady, work steady.” He explained that we should not work so slow as to be inefficient but that we shouldn’t rush either. That “steady” pace will, of course, be different depending on if you’re a beginner, such as myself, or further along on the learning curve. I found myself through the rest of the weekend, when I found myself rushing, hearing Chris’s voice in my head saying, “steady.”

The other thing he said that stuck with me is that you, “don’t learn to play the violin in one day.” Skills take practice. I’m familiar with this from studying music and yet I forget that the other needed skills in my life need to be built slowly over time. In music, you have to set aside some time every day to practice your scales.

But where to find the time? Lately I feel like I’ve been paying too much attention to the news. While I think it’s important to know something about what’s going on, I don’t think that I need to follow the day to day drama. What if I devoted the time I spend reading the newspaper to practicing cutting dovetails by hand? What if, instead of falling into the daily political reality show, we practiced sewing, or drawing or learning a language or playing musical instrument? We could probably catch up with the important news in just an hour every week.

While not eschewing power tools, Chris ended the class with a moving plea to consider the more “steady” pace of working with hand tools. “Steady” is not the same as “slow.” “Steady” implies a skillfulness that comes with practice and focus. “Steady” is counter-cultural, at odds with the always distracted ethos of our cheap, plastic, ugly, restless and isolated Empire. So, my brothers and sisters, steady.

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2 Comments

  1. Amen, especially to your last paragraph! Practice and focus are antithetical to the digital zeitgeist. I agree that one hour of news per week is surely enough, but you can’t become skillful at anything in just one hour a week.

    I wonder if kids today still encounter the fable of the tortoise and the hare in school. My “slow and steady wins the race” project this month is to knit a lace weight cowl with a rather complicated pattern. It takes me about an hour to do my daily 4 rounds of 288 stitches – an hour delighting in the shimmer of the wool/silk yarn and being lulled into a calm state by the repetitive motions. The news just can’t compete with that.

    All the best with your daily dovetail cutting.

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