Jan 132012

My oldest son moved out to his own apartment recently. This week he called up with question. “Dad, do you have any scrap plywood?” I always have scrap plywood. I just finished making a set of shelves over Christmas. I have plywood everywhere. “How about other wood?” Yes, I have an abundance of scrap all over the shop. “Think I could make a little table out of it?”

For years I have wanted to pass on the woodworking tradition to my kids, but they haven’t shown much interest. My son’s request was music to my ears. He drew up a plan for his table, using the skills he gained in a high school mechanical drawing class and came by Monday night (right about dinner-time. He’s not stupid.) to show me. I suggested a few refinements. Tuesday night, he came back and (again, before dinner) we cut up all the pieces. He stayed late (I went to bed – he was wide awake as he works night shift) and put it all together. Wednesday night (again, before dinner – told you he isn’t stupid) he added the finishing touches and took it home to put on some finish.

As he was loading up Wednesday night, he made the comment that he wanted to get started on another project. He knows he is always welcome in my shop. His comment got me thinking, though. For years, I have been trying to get my kids to get off the couch, shut off the computer games and do something “productive”. Within a week after moving out on his own, here he comes, looking for help on a project. What changed?

After thinking about it, I believe there are five steps to overcoming inertia and getting started on a new project.

  1. Identify a Need. In my son’s case, it wasn’t until he moved out and discovered he didn’t have a place to put a TV other than on the floor that he was interested in owning a table. When he saw the cost of buying a table, the need became apparent. He had his parameters: Get the TV off the floor where he could see it without spending any money.
  2. Draw on your strengths. My son knew he didn’t have all the skills he needed, but he took it as far as he could on his own. He came over to the house with a plan in mind. He quickly drew up a plan on his own, not only of the finished product, but each piece required, complete with measurements. His class had taught him how to do it. He actually apologized for not drawing straight lines because he didn’t have access to a good ruler. He took it as far as he could with the skills and experience he had. Then he asked for help.
  3. Stack the odds in your favor. This step is key, I believe. The best way to reduce the risk of failure is to find help. Find someone who has “been there, done that” to guide you through the uncertain steps. In this case, my son called me because he knew I had been making furniture for years. He took it as far as he could and then enlisted my help to get it the rest of the way. I offered a couple design changes from my years of experience and reading. Listening to my advice improved the stability of the table and increased his odds of getting the table he desired.
  4. Adapt to adversity. Things don’t always go as planned, even if you have a mentor. After I went to bed, he was finishing up the assembly and had to trim two pieces to the correct length. He accidentally cut one too short. He didn’t stop, though. He improvised. He adapted his plan to accommodate the situation and actually ended up with a better design (in my opinion).   Don’t let little set backs be discouraging. Adapt, improvise and overcome.
  5. Do it YOUR way. When it came to the final sanding and preparation for final finishing, I made some suggestions, such as sanding out all the burn marks left by the table saw. My son, however, decided he liked the look they gave – more rustic and ‘antique-ish’. He was even trying to think of a way to add more marks to the table top. Definitely not my style, but I stepped aside to his wishes. It is his project and he gets to do it his way. I tried to remain the “guide on the side” instead of the sage on the stage”. Don’t let others, even the experts, take over the project. Do it YOUR way. Take responsibility for the outcome and be proud.

What’s the next step? Build on Success! I hope my son continues on, finding the next project he wants to conquer and improving on the skills he gained. I know I have plenty of scrap in the shop if a future project should involve wood. Now if you will excuse me, I have to go search for the buttons that popped off my shirt. I’m proud of you, son!