The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Process Oriented Weightlifting

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Just around six weeks ago I began lifting weights for the first time in nearly ten years. While I’ve always tried to keep myself in decent shape via walking, push-ups, sit-ups etc. This is the first time I’ve adhered to a strict routine in that ten year span. This isn’t a new fad for me; it’s actually something I’ve planned on doing for quite some time, but issues with my lower back had always kept me from starting anything in earnest, and when I was finally ready to begin this past spring, I ended up with a few nagging health issues that weren’t fully resolved until the end of the summer. Here is the funny thing, and here is why I bring this up on a blog post. I’ve strangely come to realize that the disciplines needed to improve physical conditioning are quite similar to those needed for woodworking. More strangely, I’ve found that since I’ve been lifting weights again the itch to begin a new project is becoming greater and greater.

Like woodworking, lifting weights can be quite humbling. I’ve made some real strides in the past six weeks, but just when I think I look like Captain America, I see a seventeen year old kid next to me who actually does look like Captain America. But youth isn’t everything (though I certainly wouldn’t mind being seventeen again). Age has brought experience, and patience. And like woodworking, there are more than a few methods to lifting weights. There are those who lift weights in order to look great, using exercises that isolate individual muscle groups in order to achieve the effect. I, on the other hand, do something called a total body workout. A total body workout is the idea of working all of your muscle groups, from largest to smallest, using exercises that overlap those groups accordingly. I like this method because if done correctly it will yield a greater overall strength, rather than just an appearance of strength.

Twenty+ years ago I could lift weights for a few weeks and look great. I’ve found as I’ve gotten older that looking strong and being strong are two different things. Strictly adhering to a regimen has brought me results that are more lasting, and though they came more slowly, the foundation is much stronger. It turns out that enjoying the process has yielded a greater benefit. Rather than trying to just look like Captain America, I am trying to actually become stronger, and in turn hoping that the end result will have a look that matches the effort. The point of all this being: I’ve found that I want to apply these same principles to woodworking.

I’ve always hated the phrase “Process Oriented Woodworking”. I have to think that most hobby woodworkers already enjoy the process otherwise they wouldn’t be woodworking in the first place. Not only that, enjoying the process does not necessarily make you a better woodworker. In the past three years I’ve built twelve pieces of furniture for my house, which does not include workshop furniture/appliances such as workbenches, tool chests and toolboxes, or the actual tools I’ve made. I’ve also made several built in closets and cupboards. The point being that I’ve made a lot of furniture, and I’ve improved at it greatly, but that improvement is limited to what I’ve been making-I’ve only gotten better at making the same things I’ve been making.

I can build a serviceable book case or table fairly well. I’m not saying it will be museum quality, but it will look nice and will work well in my home; there is something to be said for that. But, I’m planning on starting a new project this weekend, and I don’t know what that project will be. A few months back I picked up the material for an Enfield Cupboard. I am still going to build that cupboard, but I already know that I can. I want to make something that I’ve never made before. I’m going to start small, a pencil box, a desktop book rack, a portable writing desk. But I’m going to challenge myself by using unfamiliar woods, different joinery, maybe even a little inlay work. I’m going to take my time by working on these projects without a schedule. I’m not going to care when I finish, as long as I do finish. I’m going to make the most of the limited time I have to woodwork with. Lifting weights has taught me one important thing-do it correctly, challenge yourself, take your time, don’t settle for mediocrity, and you will improve by default.

In short, I’m going to become a process oriented woodworker, and I’m going to change the definition of what that phrase means.

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2 Comments

  1. You said the trigger words, “Lower back pain”

    I just turned 50, am in reasonably good shape and am very active. My problem is I stand at work, 8-10 hrs a day and have been doing so since I was a teenager. Only in the last 4 years have I developed lower back pain. I finally found a good chiropractor who figured out my problem, my hamstrings have shrunk. His solution? Stretches, every morning and every night.

    Meh, it’s better than pills, and cheaper too. After 3 mths of daily stretches I’m moving a lot better and doing deep bends at work with no issues.

    • billlattpa says:

      I am in the same boat as you, long days standing at work. Thankfully, the floors in my building are wood, so they have a lot more give. I worked at a printing company for almost 11 years that had concrete floors. There were many 12 hour days spent on that floor, and like you I finally had to see a doctor. The doctor said that my lower back was absorbing all of the shock and slowly “hardening”. I saw a therapist for 3 months where I would exercise and stretch, and I was told to always drink lots of water. Then about 14 years ago I herniated a disc in my back playing flag football of all things. That is really what stopped me from playing sports/weight lifting/bike riding, basically a lot of things, and it was coincidentally when I got engaged.
      Luckily, I was able to maintain a pretty active lifestyle, and I’ve always kept in pretty good shape, from my job alone if not from anything else. My back feels better than it has in years. I spent the past 8 or 9 months walking, running, and doing basic exercises like push-ups and sit ups so I wouldn’t have to go into this with no foundation. I started at the end of August and as of right now I feel good. There’s no more soreness, and I’ve nearly doubled my bench press. I’m going to stick with it through the fall and winter and see where it leads me.
      Thanks.
      Bill

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