Against the Grain

Woodworking has many parallels to life. Chief among them is “going against the grain.” As a woodworker, going against the grain makes my life much harder. If I rub my hand against the grain of a board to test the finish, I’ll likely get splinters. If I try to hand plane against the grain, I get tear out and it’s much harder to push the plane through the wood. Blades dull quicker and then I have to spend time sharpening. Frankly, it’s not a productive practice.

To avoid these issues woodworkers analyze the grain to check which direction it “travels through the board.” (In the picture, I’m making a leg for a sawhorse. I’m running the hand plane from the end where it’s sitting to the end closest to the camera. If I were to turn the piece end for end, I would then be planing against the grain.) If we read the grain correctly, working with the tool goes so much easier requiring less energy. As a result, it doesn’t seem like work; rather, it’s a joy that we’re not having to fight the wood and can look forward to the next piece.

Going against the grain in the professional world is equally difficult. It’s rarely rewarded and an awful lot of energy is expended explaining the attitude and approach behind it. I tend to find that folks with this tendency often times have great ideas but are stubborn and impatient in wanting quick results. They won’t take the time to articulate a desired outcome or process and can get angry when the results are “splinters” or “dull blades.”

Am I suggesting you always go with the grain and be like everyone else? Absolutely not. Rather, take the time to share your ideas and vision for success. Trust my 20+ years in the business on this. Fewer headaches, less angst and more productivity will be your reward.

I want you to do well. ~PH

Wood and Emails

Procrastination can really stymie productivity. I’ve learned this over nearly 30 years of emails. I estimate that I’ve sent, received, replied and deleted the message equivalent of President Trump’s budget request for his wall – a little over 7 billion. (I can neither confirm nor deny that number but it’s impressive on several levels.)

Letting an email message sit when you know it needs to be dealt with is not productive. It can really eat at you as you ignore it for days on end, even while receiving more emails stating the obvious fact that you haven’t dealt with it. Meanwhile, you receive more messages and it snowballs from there. It’s not unusual to see folks’ inboxes containing over 1,000 unread messages. Apparently not ever looking at them eases the pain and reduces the suffering.

So what does this have to do with wood? Everything. As woodworkers go through the steps of creating a masterpiece, one of the steps is obviously preparing and cutting the pieces to dimension. BUT, often is the case where we run out of time to do anything else and the pieces sit. For a long time. Like several weeks. You ask, “why does this matter?”

I generally buy long boards at the lumberyard and then mill them down to size (i.e. cutting the pieces to dimension). In doing so, the various stresses within the board are often relieved and the pieces can then “move.” While more an issue when working with long boards and thicker stock that’s cut into thinner pieces, this can be seen as twisting, bowing, cupping or combinations thereof. When this happens, things don’t go together very well. And then all that has to be dealt with requiring time, patience and anger management strategies.

The one piece of advice that I’ve picked up from studying master woodworkers is to NOT let the pieces sit too long before assembling. This means, of course, planning your time accordingly. (Don’t cut all your pieces and then take a three week vacation and certainly don’t let things like the Super Bowl get in the way of progress.)

So what I’m really telling you? Don’t let your emails sit and don’t let your wood sit. Else, your personality will take on a hint of being warped or twisted. Just like mine. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have go figure out how to get a twisted board in a slot that I cut a month ago. ~PH