I have had many different extra-curricular activities during my childhood and early adult life, ranging from philatelics and poetry-writing to multi-day hiking, horseback riding, footbal (it is FOOTBALL, not soccer) and collecting orchids. I have never seen any of these activities as hobbies, however.

It is not that they were not important to me or that I didn’t dedicate enough time and money to them, but rather that I was not dedicated to improve my skills and knowledge on each one of them and took them as purely leisure activities. That all changed just before the pandemic broke out, however, as I started to dedicate a lot of my free time to woodworking.

Woodworking was not a completely new activity to me, as I had already done a few pieces here and there, including a table and a bed for my daughter and a few decoration pieces in the scroll saw for friends and family when we were still in the USA. Woodworking was also something my father was quite fond of, so I still had (and have) some of his hand tools and a few memories of doing things together.

This time it was different though, as I decided to take formal classes before I developed too many bad habits, so I chose Richard Vaughn’s course. After a mandatory break due to COVID19 and the slow start of any activity, I am now making (some of) my own furniture, ranging from jewelry boxes and picture frames to tables and tool cabinets (and accumulating an obcene amount of tools and rare wood in the process).

But what does that have to be with transportation sciences, this blog or my professional journey? Quite a bit, as it turns out.

The first important aspect of my woodworking journey is that Richard takes quite a bit of pride on his students’ work and is quite strict on techniques and results, so it is a constant reminder that everything we do deserves to be conducted in a deliberate manner and with our full attention.

The second important aspect is that that woodworking is a constant exercise in patience and humility. There is no ctrl+z. There is no undoing a cut, a stroke of a mallet or a chisel movement. There is no version control to switch between two takes on the same project. This makes every decision more important and every mistake much more costly.

The third important lesson comes from the inconsistent, yet beautiful, nature of wood. Tempering expectations and exercising flexibility becomes crucial when you are working with a material that could be much different than its external appearance suggests. It is not quite as hard as dealing with people, but it is as unpredictable and it turns out to be a quite intructive exercise.

The final point is somewhat of a consequence of the previous points, and that is the constant exercise of creativity in face of a mistake or the nature of the materials at hand. We humuoursly call our mistakes “redesign opportunities”, and that is something that is in itself an important lesson for me, as I am not naturally flexible.

Arguing that most of these lessons could be taken from the completely abstract work I do everyday would be a fair argument, were not for the fact that all these lessons are translated into very tangible terms in my woodworking, making them that much clearer and easier to internalize.

Finally, I also get to share the workshop with great people and to celebrate a new finished piece every once in a while, which is quite gratifying when you spend most of the day alone in front of the computer while working from home.

Side note

I am unlikely to blog here about my journey in woodworking in the near future, but will try to keep this permanent photo gallery always up-to-date.