I was mulling it over, thinking I might enjoy woodworking for a couple years before I got started. I can’t remember who I mentioned it to, but they said to me that the first thing I’d need was a bench.
To the internet! I began searching. One of the first things I found was a book by Christopher Schwarz called Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use.
I bought it, read it cover to cover several times, and salivated a lot.
I had figured that a bench was what you’d work on top of. It was essentially just a table, so you didn’t have to sit cross-legged on the floor. The book made me realize that a bench was actually a tool – the most important tool in fact that you’ll ever use. Every inch of the bench represented a conscious decision that would follow, guide and corral your work moving forward. The benches described were amazingly beautiful objects of utility.
Moments of revelation like this, when something perceived as a table you don’t mind making marks on transforms itself into a complex and sophisticated tool consciously designed to the nth degree are the sort of moments I truly enjoy.
Unfortunately I now faced a big problem: I knew what this job would look like if I did it right.
The book laid out detailed plans on how to build one of these benches, but how would it be possible without a bench to start out with? Also, it was going to cost me at least $500 in materials alone, plus as fairly decent set of tools that I didn’t have yet.
Thinking about the catch 22 of how to build a bench to learn to woodwork on before you have a bench or the skills needed to build one, and the upfront costs involved, I began to wonder whether – if I really tried – I’d maybe enjoy bird watching too. It’d get me outside more, I could stand to be a bit more active.
If you’re the sort for whom the money didn’t scare you off you could write checks large enough to provide yourself a space and purchase a bench already made and start learning. I’m coming to terms with the fact that today I qualify as middle-class, and am doing alright, but I’ve spent too much of my life pretty impoverished to approach spending money that easily (I don’t care to overcome this delusion: it’s a big part of why I’m not struggling as much financially as I used to).
I was interested. I thought I might enjoy woodworking. The book on benches revealed a lot about how things perceived as simple were in fact quite sophisticated, and I liked that too.
But I was paralyzed, because I knew how the job of building this bench ought to be done.
Rule #1 for starting out: don’t let perfect become the enemy of the good, or the so-so, or even of the mediocre. You’ve got to start somewhere.
Get out there, and do a really lousy job at something. It’s how you learn, and it’s much more enjoyable than it sounds.
I plan on describing how my bench came into existence in another post. You can see it in photos from other posts. I know some things I should do to improve it, and I’ve considered replacing it entirely. But I’m also very pleased with it, and love it, warts and all.