The magic’s in the method

A woodworker knows how an ugly block of wood can be transformed into an exquisite turned bowl. To someone unfamiliar with the process, though, it must seem like magic.

That can be said of a lot of art forms other than woodworking, but the end result is the same: Just as with anything done by David Copperfield or Harry Blackstone, if you don’t know how woodworking is done, it might as well be smoke and mirrors.

I recently edited several woodworking articles written, alas, by nonwoodworkers. They’d done their homework on their subjects, and cited all the right sources as their references in penning their articles, but they got stuff wrong. A lot of stuff wrong. I looked over their references and saw that the information was all there, but because they weren’t woodworkers they just didn’t get it even though it was right in front of them. Fortunately, I knew what was wrong and it was easy for me to point them in the right direction for their rewrites, but without the guidance from someone who “knew the trick,” so to speak, I’m doubtful they’d be able to grasp it.

Arthur C. Clarke understood this when he coined his third law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Woodworking isn’t magic, but I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of woodworkers – all sufficiently more advanced than I – regularly turn out results that are nothing short of magical.

But to those not skilled in the processes or even with minimal experience, the little daily things you and I take for granted as normal skills and activities for our woodshop pursuits must seem incomprehensible. I never really thought about it, but what we do sometimes does carry a magical bit of mystery with it.

And when you think about it, that’s kind of cool.

Till next time,



  • Thank you for that, A.J. You are so right in pointing out the fact that what we do seems like magic to those of us who don’t know how it is done. I am an artist in the field of woodworking, as well as in a few other fields of the arts. I find Woodworking to be one of the most satisfying arts, but like you I meet people who are clueless about it.
    Several years ago I was a cabinetmaker for a now defunct custom bus building company. They had hired someone to design new cabinets for me to build. The problem arose that this person had never worked on the real thing, and did not know even the basics of how a cabinet is made or even the actual characteristics of the materials to be used.The designs the came to me from this person had one consistent flaw every time. They always had the same inside dimensions as their outside dimensions. I went to this person with my measuring tools and a sample of a small cabinet I had made to demonstrate the concept of thickness. I explained it all in detail and made myself as clear as anyone could. The next set of designs that came to me still had the same flaw.
    So my point is this, a person can know what something is, but knowing how it is made is a whole other ball game.

  • Thanks for the pat on the back. Most of us that do this day in and day out don’t get the praise for what we do. It’s good of you to put it in perspective. Some of it is really just like magic.

  • Chuck says:

    While I enjoy what you write about woodworking, your wordsmithing doubles the pleasure.

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