Re-inventing the wheel

I have for some time been playing with woodturning on a lathe I got from my father. He gave it to me with a box of bits, some scraps of wood, some chisels, sharpening stones, oils… and a book. Keen to get going I leaped into action setting everything up and having a go. Convinced that the best way to learn it was to try. And I certainly have learned some things. I’ve had the lathe for several months now, and in that time I’ve have started to identify things that are going wrong with my ‘instinctive’ approach and started to consider the things that cause it: insufficiently sharp tools, bad technique, etc.
I would characterise my early wood turning attempts as beating the wood into submission with little more than a blunt instrument. Fortunately wood is softer than metal so you can achieve… results with this ‘approach’. The poorness of technique can largely be masked behind a vast amount of sanding, although never truly masked. Having looked around on line for tips and tricks etc, I increasingly found people pointing to books that are full of useful advice, and the idea of watching people to truly learn. So it was just this weekend that finally picked up the book that was in that box of bits…

Wouldn’t you know it, it’s full of valuable information! If only I had remembered that re-inventing the wheel is a bad idea in the first place. At work I frequently follow processes designed to help people avoid inventing the brute force and ignorance approach, in favour of teaching them what a wealth of experience and practice has learned. And I have been frustrated that people still insist on treading their own path, and repeating all the same mistakes. Yet somehow I ignored the fact that the same applies to *any* craft.

I’ve read all about all the mistakes I made, and I will tell myself that it is helpful to of truly experienced what those mistakes are like first-hand, however I could of saved myself some considerable time and aggravation by just reading the book first. This week I hope to have time to practice the various correct technique swith the tools I have, so far I’ve just tried some initial attemps at using the skew chisel as intended. And even in my early, unpracticed attempts, the difference in finish achieved is remarkable.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I often debate over where to spend my money for most effect, I’ve now decided that there is no value in spending on more tools until I’ve learned how to use the ones I’ve got properly. It should be obvious, and if I’d stopped to think about it, or someone had prompted me about it, I’m sure I’d of instantly realised the value in reading about best practice and picking up on what lifetimes of experience has taught in the field, and yet left to my own devices I fell into the same old traps.

This reminded me that for some time a colleague at work has been talking about a book called ‘The Art of Software Testing’ by Glenford J. Myers. It is full of great insight, sound advice, and solutions to common issues. And it is several decades old. Yet at no point have I ever been given this book, or pointed to it. No one that I worked with or for mentioned useful information in the area. My friend found the book quite by chance. It seems that education is something people often forget once they move into ‘the real world’. And I think that it might be fun to see if I can produce some physical examples of the difference in quality achieved with education and insight over brute force and ignorance, perhaps duplicating one of my earlier wood turning attempts with a replica once I’ve mastered some basic technique. I am hopeful that I can create a compelling and visual example that I can post here, and use to illustrate the point, next time I am convincing people that there is a good reason for using ‘best practice’ approaches to work.

My favourite quote from my book on woodturning, which applies much more broadly, is ‘Practice without a basic grasp of the fundamentals, simply makes you quite good at bad habits.’

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