The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Being good is good enough.

Once upon a time, a lifetime ago it seems, I was a good musician. ‘Good’ is a subjective word, so when I say “good” I mean to say that I studied music in college. I was good enough to pass the audition to get into the program, and I was good enough to survive the juries at the end of each semester. I was good enough to play hundreds of gigs in bars and clubs all around the Philadelphia, South Jersey region. My ear was good and I had decent hands. Then one day I decided to get married, buy a house, and start a family, and my career as a semi-professional musician ended, almost overnight it seemed. It didn’t bother me much, as my dreams of rock-stardom were never all that grandiose. And, I took solace in knowing that one day I would again find the spare time to dedicate to playing music again.

So a few months ago my daughter asked if she could take guitar lessons, and I was more than happy to oblige. On a whim, I purchased a decent acoustic guitar for myself, and began playing it perhaps 15 or 20 minutes per night. The bad news is that my hands are no longer what they were and never will be again, but the good news…very pleasant and encouraging good news…is that I still know how to play a little. For the record, guitar has always been my weakest instrument (of the instruments I play, that is); I was never a virtuoso by any stretch, but I was certainly good enough to carry the rhythm in most settings, when playing jazz, blues, or rock/pop. I knew the fretboard well, and I could work my way through most songs with just a little rehearsal.

Considering that I haven’t picked up a guitar and attempted to really make music with one in a very long time, I am encouraged by the progress I’ve made, and this has a lot of bearing on my current woodworking status. Because physically I am not doing so well. My back has been bothering me for more than a month and there is nothing I can do to fix it but rest. Just the other day I spent 30 minutes in the garage making a quick coatrack to hang on the back of a door and my back did not like it one bit. I’ve decided that for the rest of the winter, and perhaps beyond, I will not even attempt any type of woodworking or furniture making project unless it is absolutely necessary. I need to get my back healthy again, and standing at a workbench in a cold garage isn’t going to help get that done. But, I consider myself a “good” woodworker,  and one who could have perhaps been very good had I chosen it as a career path. This is important.

My little return to the world of music has shown me that even if I take a longer break than I would like, a return to hobby that I love doesn’t necessarily mean starting from scratch. I can thankfully say that I possess the base skills of woodworking, and those skills can be revived with a little time and effort even after a long hiatus. Hopefully this hiatus isn’t as long as my departure from the world of music, but even in the unlikely event that it is, I go into it comforted in the knowledge that when you are good at something, you never really forget, and with a little time and effort, it is possible to be good again.


  1. bloksav says:

    Hi Bill

    Sorry that your back is still causing trouble. The problem with the back is that it is sort of connected to most parts of us, so if it acts up there is little that can be done to work around it.

    Getting a guitar for yourself and guitar lessons for your daughter is a GREAT idea!
    My older brother had been playing a bit of electric bas in high school, but took a break of maybe 30 years, then some years ago he and some colleagues started a band, and they are having a blast. He takes lessons and he is just doing it for fun, they even play an occasional gig.

    I can play a trombone but I was never really good, i would love to learn how to play just 5 chords on a guitar, but I have tried a few times, and just have to face the fact that my mind and determination isn’t there to get me through with it.

    Your friend

    • billlattpa says:

      Hi Jonas. Yeah…my back has not been great lately. What is worrying me is that it has not improved much over the past few weeks. I had it looked at last month and it seems that it is just a badly pulled muscle coupled with the herniated disc from years back. There isn’t much I can do right now but rest it as best as I possibly can.

      I had played in bands for many years. The first instrument I played was piano, which I still do play but on a much more limited basis. I majored in Jazz Performance Bass Guitar in college. I enjoyed playing the bass immensely and I used to practice for hours and hours. Guitar I sort of picked up along the way. While I had formal lessons in the piano and bass for years, I’ve never really had a formal guitar lesson. But playing the bass has some similarities with the typical 6 string acoustic, and its more of a matter of learning positioning rather than anything musically.

      I don’t play the bass much anymore because as I got older I found it far less enjoyable to do so without a band, but the guitar I can just pick up and play for 20 minutes or so and enjoy it. I’m improving greatly, and it is starting to come back to me fairly quickly. My biggest issue is that my hands are just not what they use to be. I don’t have the dexterity I used to have. And my left hand has nerve damage, which has been the biggest obstacle. Sometimes I can only play for a few minutes before it begins to hurt, other times it feels fine for even an hour. But, all that matters is that I am really enjoying it.

  2. Have you thought about carving? You can do it sitting in a chair. Maybe turning on a lathe might work.

    • billlattpa says:

      I’ve actually been considering this for some time. I have limited experience turning, but what little I’ve done was enjoyable. I’ve made a few tool handles and a small mallet. Harbor Freight sells a table top lathe that isn’t half bad. The biggest issue I have is the mess they make. I would have to come up with a new way to collect shavings and dust, as the 5 gallon wall mounted vac I currently use is not nearly enough to handle it.

      • Forget trying to catch the shavings, you’ll lose. Woodturning is an art in itself. The possibilities are endless. I have a Jet lathe that works well that I’ve owned for 15 years. But would love to have a “real” lathe someday.

      • billlattpa says:

        My issue, as usual, is going to be space. My wife and I had a serious discussion the other night regarding a newer, much larger tool shed for our back yard, one that would allow us to have options concerning what we keep in the garage, or possibly converting at least half of that new shed into a dedicated workshop. If the stars align perhaps this will happen within the next year or two. We’ve come to the conclusion that it is very unlikely that we will move into a new house any time soon, unless something happens financially and money is no longer a concern. So as of now the best option is modifying our current property.

        My days of picking up and moving stuff every time I want to use it are done. I’ve actually argued with my wife about this. She thinks I’m still 30 years old. I spent the first 14 years of my working life picking up heavy things and moving them, first in the military, then in an industrial print shop. It did a major number on my back. At this point until I have a permanent, comfortable place to woodwork I am going to take a break. I’ve had back issues for years, but this last bout was scary. It is finally starting to feel better. I’m going to try to keep it that way.

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