Recently my professional work has been taking over my free time, and I have had almost no time for woodworking in the last two months. I have several big projects in the planning stages, but I keep pushing them off into the future.
As someone who works primarily with my brain, I need to work regularly with my hands in order to keep my life in balance. Hence, I work wood, tend a garden, do many of my own house repairs, and cook a lot of meals. But when my academic work takes over, as it does from time to time, what can I do?
Here is how I cope with not working wood.
1. I keep reading about woodworking. Lately I’ve been reading Ron Hock’s The Perfect Edge, which I have found to be an excellent resource. Hock has helped me understand the metallurgy behind sound sharpening technique, but more importantly, he has kept me thinking about tools. I even look forward to resharpening now. I still look in on the WoodNet Hand Tools forum, too. Talking about tools keeps me excited about getting back to the workbench.
2. I do little projects. Yeah, all projects take at least three times as long as you think they will. Still, I have a few ten-minute projects in the back of my mind, which I’ve been saving for later. Now is a good time to do one. For example, I had been meaning to replace one of my wooden serving spoons whose bowl had cracked. I had it done in 30 minutes. Then my daughter reminded me that I hadn’t yet made a mini-spoon for my youngest daughter. I picked up a piece of scrap, and 20 minutes later I had a spoon for her, too. I spent longer than I had intended to, but it felt good to get my tools moving again.
3. I organize. I have several boxes of offcuts, shorts, and scraps, all of which need a good cleaning out. None will take very long by itself, but I could spend a whole day getting my offcuts in order. I don’t have all day, but I can at least dig through one of my scrap boxes and separate the shorts from the firewood. Same thing with my hardware. Sorting out a single jar of mixed nails or screws won’t take long. After all, the disorganization of my workspace has been a gradual process. I can organize gradually, too. Or, I could, if my workbench weren’t currently covered with my kids’ school projects…
4. I plan. I keep a blank-page journal on my bench for sketching out projects. Some get planned in detail, while others don’t. Flipping through it, I find drawings from completed projects, as well as abortive ideas. There are plenty of blank pages left, too. What would I like to build next month? Next year? Two years from now? I start sketching out the basic lines of a bookcase or a cabinet, or a new marking gauge design. I may never build it, but who knows? Five years from now, I may decided to revive an old idea. In the meantime, it keeps my mind engaged.
5. I touch my tools. I know I’m not the only person who does this. As I walk by my bench, I’ll pick up my jointer plane or a favorite saw and just hold it for a second. I appreciate its form and function, and I recall all the work it has done for me. I brush off the dust and re-oil it. When I am finally ready for it, it will be ready for me.