My grandfather was a lifelong carpenter and a phenomenal woodworker. Even being one of 12 of his grandchildren, my home has many wonderful wood pieces that he created. We have cutting boards, picture frames, and toothpick holders. But before you think he was an amateur, we also have step stools and an amazing rocker with a pressed cane seat and back; he made it for my parents and gave it to them on their wedding day (he always gave my mom grief for moving up their wedding date, which forced him to use pressed cane instead of his preferred woven hand cane method, a more time consuming but excellent touch.)
But even in the simplest of pieces, many of them feature joinery, those are joints connecting two or more pieces of wood, that still baffle me in their complexity. I have no idea how he did them. My uncle is a good woodworker as well, but it’s nothing I had ever done or tried, so I had said for years that I could never create something so special out of wood.
But an interesting thing happened a couple months ago. Quincy, my wife’s horse, broke an old and rotten roll top jump at the barn where he’s boarded. My wife being a more generous soul than me, felt that even though it was already falling apart, it was her horse that broke it, so it should be her to replace it. But my wife has never really done that kind of work, and she saw a jigsaw in my hand once last year, so she figured I could do it.
It seemed a simple enough task, so I tried it. I made what I thought were improvements on the design, made some mistakes, learned some new things, and it turned out pretty good! My wife was thrilled, and the barn-owner loved her new jump, so that’s what mattered most.
But I may have been a victim of my own success. Because recently my wife asked me to try a new project: a tack trunk. It’s basically a storage chest for fancy horse gear. They’re used a lot at horse shows. Candidly I thought it beyond my skill level. But when she said she needed one and they often cost $800 or more, I suddenly found my inspiration.
Rachel borrowed one from a friend, so I had something to work from. I spent some time figuring out how I was going to do it (and who I was going to borrow some tools from as I didn’t have everything I needed) and got to work. It was a puzzle. I had to figure out how I was going to make pieces fit, how I was going to fix mistakes that appeared, and once again I had to acquire some new skills.
As I write this I am about 2/3 done with the project, it’s better than I expected, and I’ve already found places where I thought I could improve the design I was working from. (From my limited experience with horse shows, I was able to intuit that a bottle opener needed to be included.) Overall the project has given me some nice downtime, some mental stimulation, and a sense of satisfaction.
Here’s the funny thing though. I would never have tried a project this ambitious, for me at least, if someone else hadn’t asked me to. It was soundly outside my skill set.
I’m more confident than the average person. There’s not much that I’m afraid of. In fact I’ve deliberately sought out to face things I was afraid of, just so I could grow from them. But apparently even my confident self can occasionally benefit from someone asking me to do more than I think is possible.
We do it with our students all the time! I guess I needed to be reminded. So what about you? Is there something you’d like to do, but is beyond your skill level? Maybe give it a try! Or like me, try a simpler project and work your way up to it.
And who knows? Maybe like me, you’ll surprise yourself and find you are more capable than you realized. In fact, maybe now I’ll try to copy one of my grandpa’s toothpick holders.