During my years in Florida, I never had a proper workspace to do my woodworking. I had a small shed in the backyard which held all my tools, but no garage or any other clean surface to work on. I simply brought a couple of sawhorses out of the shed, laid a few boards on them and got to work. That was my woodshop. If I dropped a screw or a bit into the grass below me, I usually never saw it again.
Finishing my pieces was always a challenge in the open air of our backyard. Imagine applying a perfect layer of polyurethane…and then a mosquito or fly lands on the surface. As it struggles to get out of the sticky goo, it thrashes around and makes a mess. Fixing those blemishes was always a complicated ordeal.
Oftentimes it would rain. And in Florida, that’s very often. I had to quickly tear everything down and get it all back into the shed. After the rain, the sun would come out and I’d take everything out again. But then it would rain again. This happened repeatedly.
No part of the process was convenient. In the shed at night, lizards and other creatures would crawl on my tools and unfinished pieces. Everything was always dirty. And mosquitoes would feast on my blood as I worked. I was so focused on my projects that I hardly noticed.
Doubt & Discouragement
And while all of these obstacles were annoying, they weren’t as problematic as the lingering doubts which plagued my mind. I don’t know where these thoughts came from, but it was clear they wanted me to give it all up and never touch my tools again.
At every point of the building process, I was plagued by discouraging thoughts. It felt like an intimidating bully was hovering over me as I worked. As I inserted little dowel pieces to cover the screws:
“Real woodworkers don’t use screws. They do fancy joinery and dovetails with interlocking corners. And if they do use screws, they leave no trace of them on the surface of the piece.”
As I applied the stain:
“You haven’t adequately prepped this piece for stain yet. The edges aren’t straight and you didn’t sand it well…not to mention the fact that this board is crooked.”
As I applied the polyurethane:
“You need to throw this thing away and start over. Or better yet, just give it up. This piece is a disaster and everyone’s gonna know it. It’s gonna fall off the wall at the client’s home, crack into pieces and reveal all your amateur screws. You should leave the wood projects to the real woodworkers.”
And as I tried to sell it online:
“No one’s gonna buy this. And if they do, they’re going to want their money back for one reason or another.”
After a long, tiring day of these crippling doubts and primitive working conditions, I would put everything away, take a shower and go to bed. As I laid there, I’d scroll through Instagram to see what everybody was up to that day. As you can imagine, I follow several woodworkers. Many of them are inspiring to me and I learn a lot from them.
Some guys (and girls too) are making beautiful wooden bowls on lathes. Some are burning and even electrifying wood to create amazing impressions on its surface. Others are combining colorful resins and epoxies with wood to create wonderful effects. And many others are making simple projects but with great skill, excellent tools and brilliant results.
I gradually began to realize, however, that my admiration of these brilliant artists was the fuel for my insecurity. First of all, most of them had tools I couldn’t afford. One guy I follow cuts lumber on a table saw which likely costs more than $10,000. And then he takes it over to a 12” jointer which also likely costs five figures. Meanwhile, I’m lucky to get a straight cut from the $100 table saw that I bought at Home Depot.
If I wasn’t coveting the machinery of these woodworkers, I’d grow jealous of their skills. And I would also be jealous of the time they had to learn and develop those skills. Long gone were my bachelor days when I could spend countless hours in undistracted focus on my projects.
A Never-Ending Supply of…
I lacked the tools, time and skills that I needed. But I had an abundance of passion…a large, never-ending supply of it. It’s the one thing that brought me back to my projects when it would’ve been so easy to let it all go. It was passion that forced me to get all my tools out of the shed even though it was likely going to rain again. And it was passion that made me forget about all the inconveniences and limitations of my woodworking.
The big lesson I learned in Florida was that I have to protect that passion. My tools may be rusty and disorganized. The quality of my work may be less than what I think it should be. But I must maintain my confidence at all costs. If I allow myself to become discouraged, it could lead me to a defeated perspective that would make me stop trying.
I continued watching the videos of my woodworking heroes. But I became careful about not comparing myself to them. Instead of coveting their stuff or being jealous of what I don’t have, I would purposefully be thankful for what I do have. That gratitude was the solution that kept my insecurities at bay.
The Most Important Tool in Your Woodshop
My skills are what they are. The tools I have are the tools I have. They may not be the highest-quality tools, but they’re mine. It’s my tools and my hands that are going to finish this project. And when it’s finished, I’ll see all the flaws and the room for improvement. But I must nonetheless respect the finished work of a woodworker who did his best…even if that woodworker is me. After all, completing projects is the only real way to improve and measure your skills.
Keep your tools organized and keep your blades sharp. But keep your confidence even sharper. It’s the most important tool in your woodshop.