Appendix 7: Creativity and Woodworking. Is Woodworking "Process" or"Product"?

Question: Is it the Process or is it the Product? Do amateur woodworker's relish the "Process of Woodworking" or the "Product of Woodworking"?

When I retired in 2001, my wife had an architect design a shop for me to my specifications, and -- bless her soul! -- she let me buy the power tools that I had wanted for a long time. Now I spend about two-three hours per day in the shop, sometimes making furniture, but often making jigs/fixtures for my tools. (It's a family joke: "What does Ray do in the shop?" "Oh, he makes jigs!")

My wife doesn't question me for not going out to the shop regularly.

My family buys me tools (sometimes other things) for my shop, but do not push nor shame me, if -- to them -- it seems like I am not spending enough time out there. Wisely, I believe, all of them see that it must flow, naturally.

To a non-woodworker, inactivity in the shop seems like a waste of time. Not so! "But what about all the money he spent on tools? He's not getting his money's worth!"

Let's Not Forget Psycholgy

Getting yourself set up to do a project is as much psychological as anything else. You don't just go out there and start building stuff. You have to work up to it.

When watching a baseball game, do you notice the ritualistic gyrations the pitcher goes through in preparation for making a pitch? Adjusts his cap. Kicks the dirt on the mound. Walks off the mound. Spits. Squints at the catcher. Finally, after all of these ritualistic movements, he throws the ball!

My analogy: baseball pitcher vs woodworker may seem strange, but, for me, it takes a while to get started. Why? Again, all I can say, "it's psychological!"

In part, perhaps, it is fear, fear of failure, fear of making a bad cut in expensive wood, fear that the design isn't just right, it could be a lot things.

The worst thing to do though, is to shame someone into going out into the shop, just to do something. It is, I know, not as easy as that.

So far, if you're following this, woodworking looks like "process" -- it's a battle setting yourself up to begin. The "product", especially "a finished product", is somewhere in the future.

Let's Return to the Question: Is it the Process or is it the Product?


When showing of the "Product", how often are you -- as woodworker -- vicariously reliving the "Process". I know I am guilty of doing this, especially when showing off a Product that I have completed and now it is a piece of furniture in my home.

Often, to capture the onlooker's imagination, I try - mostly unsuccessfully -- to point something out to the (non-woodworker) onlooker about the construction of the Product.

For example, the armoire on my homepage - image directly below -- sits in our living room, and often becomes the topic of conversation.

I built it out of recycled vertical grain Douglas Fir, not often seen or used as a wood for furniture. The wood, itself, I estimate, was logged and milled about a century ago. (Remember, I live in the heart of the Douglas fir country, on the edge of Puget Sound.)

And since it comes from a part of the house on the farm where my wife, Karen, spent her childhood, any story about it takes on a special tone, especially among people who are acquainted with my wife.

There are several stories that I can tell about the construction of this piece:

The design -- by a faculty friend -- is a scaled down William and Mary armoire. Originally of course, the piece would have been in an upscale house, with 14' ceilings. For today, it had to be reduced to fit into a room with an 8' ceiling.

Even so, it is largish -- about 6.5' high X 5' wide -- and was constructed in a small garage that is part of the basement in our first Bellingham house. The basement in this house -- a late-1940s house, pre-dating the two car garage -- had a sloping floor - for drainage -- a condition that greatly complicated obtaining accurately constructed joints and properly fitted doors on the armoire. Regardless, with a lot of patience, I managed to get most of the construction right, but always knew that I was doing something that was beyond my experience as a woodworker at the time. (I made some bad moves in the construction that still embarrass me today, but I am the only one knowledgeable about this.)

(There are several other recollections that I could relate, but I think that you get the picture.)

If the onlooker is experienced with woodworking, maybe, just maybe, he can appreciate what you are trying to explain about working on the Product. For me, rather than simply relishing in my achievements with the completed Product, this emotion is closer to vicariously reliving the Processes that you followed in building it, step-by-step.


I also built four chairs -- one is pictured on the right -- and - for my first grand-daughter - a crib in the shape of a lap strake row-boat (its prow is visble in the image directly above. And making that curve in the prow is an adventure in its own right).

I am not writing this to show off my Products. Instead, I am writing it to show that I relive the Process when I show these pieces to visitors in my home.

There is a famous line from Robert Browning's poetry that has taken on a life of its own as an adage:

"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?"

I know this to be a truism, because I am personally guilty of reaching beyond my capabilities, otherwise I wouldn't have dared to attempt to write a book. Actually, after finding that I could do the first one, I wrote five more books.

This is the type of personal experience, then, that persuades me that it is the "Process" not the "Product" that drives amateur woodworkers like myself. I prefer to engage in the Process, and when I look at the Products from the past, I vicariously "relive the Process".