Nervous Nellie

I’ve been woodworking a long time, but whenever I try a technique I’ve never done before I get extremely antsy. How about you?

Three of the projects I’m doing for an upcoming book involve lathe-turned workpieces that aren’t completely round. That is, some portion is to be left flat. One example would be the legs of a reproduction 19th-century folding stool. The legs are perfectly round spindles along their entire length except for two spots; one at the center where the legs are left flat to be riveted together to form a pivot for the folding action, the other near the bottom where they’ll be drilled to accept a rung.

To make these legs I needed to mount a rectangular workpiece in the lathe, not the typical square one, and that made me a bit uneasy. I kept thinking about things like balance and the difficulty of sanding something that wasn’t round. Some of you guys who do a lot more turning than I do are probably used to this sort of thing, and I’m in awe of some of the spectacular non-round work being produced by folks like Dennis Elliot and others.

But I’ve never done that kind of turning before, and so I was nervous. For me, “nervous” translates to double-checking everything, working very slowly, and stopping far more often to assess my progress than I normally do. And when nervous involves using power equipment, it also translates to sweating a bit until I become comfortable with it.

In the case of those leg spindles, I got the hang of it pretty quickly after the first two. By the time I turned the fourth leg in the set I was comfortable with the process, and pleased to have added another skill to my list of experience.

I’m curious, though. How do you handle new techniques, especially those involving power tools?



  • When ever I run into that type of thing I sweat too. But it goes away after I screw up several times. Doing things twice is my naurmal MO.
    You did the right thing by sticking at it tell you master it.

    Good luck Bruce

  • Chuck Riccardo says:

    I usually research the subject starting off with buying a video or a book on the subject – such as masterfully written books like yours! 🙂

  • Jeff says:

    I generally play the avoidance game. I’ll do any and everything i can think of except proceeding with the new process. I usually wind up with a clean shop and all of my tools put away. While I’m doing this though I think about the new task trying to make sure I understand what needs to done and in what order. Usually this is time well spent because I’ll often think of something that if not done in the right sequence or. forbid, left out all together would have cost me great anguish later. Sometimes I’ll have a “Moment of Clarity” while getting out of bed or in the shower which again has saved me hours of complications. I eventually jump in and tackle the task and after muddling through I’ll wonder why was I hesitant to begin with. It really wasn’t all that difficult.

  • Gary Coyne says:

    As a hobbiest, I have one big luxury: time. When I come up to a big new or elaborate process that I’ve not done before, I stall. Suddenly there are very important projects on the computer I need to tend to and my bicycle friends seem to be more persuasive in my joining them and my office is in such a state I HAVE to clean it. Finally I run out of excuses and I go back into the garage, take my time, curse occationally, and get the job done with glaring mistakes that for some reason only I seem to notice. And you are correct, the next time is never so bad.

  • A.J. Hamler says:

    The consensus seems to be that when one of these new, somewhat scary tasks comes up, that the best thing to do is put it off as long as possible — which I admit to doing as well. But as Jeff points out, that “put off” times serves not only to get you mentally prepared for the task, but often allows us to mentally refine the task to make it easier to accomplish when you feel confident enough to tackle it a few times. After that, it’s no longer quite so daunting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. For more information, please see our Terms of Use.