The long awaited first course

So I had my first ever course in wood-work last Saturday. And I am happy to report that I very much enjoyed it. I was mostly worried about the teacher: was he going to be a good enough teacher for a demanding and picky beginner like me? Turned out that he was: he was patient and knowledgeable, and very importantly, very well organised.

The course was about making a coffee table. When I saw the “one that I made earlier” in the workshop, my first reaction was of panic: There is NO WAY I’ll be able to create that! I’ll cut the legs different lengths! I’ll drill the mortise wrong! It won’t be square! It will be all weird and twisted! I did warn the teacher I had never touched a tool for wood-work and that I was very anxious. He wasn’t worried!

The great thing about a good teacher is that they are able to make you understand totally new things easily and make you feel safe enough to trust that what you are starting to learn is doable and achievable. My teacher’s quiet and precise explanations, illustrated by simple hand-outs and many easy-to-remember references were just what I needed. It gave me the confidence to focus on the work at hand, to trust that what he told me was the best way to do things, and to enjoy the slow progress from shaky novice to confident beginner.

Ian started the course by explaining how to cut a leg, and then left us to actually do the deed after practising a couple of times. And you know what? I knew what to do! I was ok doing it! The same happened for each piece of wood that needed work: an explanation of what to do and how to use which tools, then practice, then the actual task. And it was great: once the larger goal of making a table was split into smaller more manageable tasks, I was fine!

Ian was very well organised and knew exactly how long each task should take for a complete beginner. So when he gave us deadlines, I was pleased to realise that I was able to meet them! Deadlines are good: they put just enough pressure on you to get on with the job and finish it within a reasonable time frame, instead of doodling uncertainly over each step. Deadlines give you a goal. Who would have known that 12 years in Investment Banking would eventually turn me into a natural deadline driven killer who can’t even consider not finishing a job on time… no matter what the job is… Perhaps that’s another clue that it is time to change career…

It was such a huge weight off my shoulders. My biggest fear was in case I realise during the course that I don’t enjoy working with wood, that Im not good at it, and that it just isn’t me… Which would have meant going back to the drawing board and finding another new career. But so far so good and more of this tomorrow to finish the table.

The downside of all this though, is that I ended my day feeling extremely stiff! All these years working at a desk only using my fingers on the keyboard made me loose the use of the muscles needed in a workshop, moving about and carrying things. I was on my feet the whole day, and at the end my legs were so stiff they were painful. In the morning, my shoulders were feeling hard like steel. And I had a stitch on the right shoulder-blade which made it difficult to turn that side. In fact, I was so tired that I failed to go to my karate class on Sunday morning as I couldn’t face an hour and a half of tough working out. I felt I had had my work out for the week!

So on the one hand I got myself all worried about becoming a full time student in Furniture Making and Restoration in case the physical effort needed on a daily basis might be too much for me. But on the other hand, I gained some wonderful needed confidence that I am heading the right direction with this new career choice.

Deep breaths!

My course:

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  1. Hi Artabelle

    As a maker and teacher of furniture making I found this blog very useful. It is always good to hear about things from the students side. I think one of the daunting things for the student is that the tutor usually makes it look easy, I have to remind people how long I have been doing it and that they should not expect perfection straight away. Practice is important, especially with hand sawing, you should always take a few practice cuts in a piece of scrap before doing it for real, this lets you get your eye in.

    I can agree that it is also tiring. I find those on my week long courses can tend to flag towards the end of the week. Furniture making, like many crafts, requires extraordinary concentration to do well. I know investmet banking probably requires concentration, but with furniture making this is physical concentration, if you know what I mean; coupling intelect with manual dexterity.

    Good luck with your career change.

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