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Ask a simple question

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Here’s a shocker: I don’t know everything there is to know about woodworking.

Sure, I know a lot about woodworking basics. And in some areas – such as the anatomy, construction and reproduction of wooden items from the Civil War – I might even be considered an expert. But in spite of the fact that I certainly know my way around a woodshop, there are some things I don’t know that well. A few, I know nothing about. For example, I can make hand-cut dovetails, but I’m not very good at it and do it only in the rarest of circumstances (mostly in photos, pretending I know what I’m doing). Carving? Forget it.

But sometimes I get asked for advice. Usually it’s general woodworking knowledge or techniques, and in those cases I’m fine. But sometimes …

I got an email the other day from a guy asking for details on how to make something I’ve never made before, using techniques with which I’m only casually acquainted. I couldn’t simply dash off a reply because I didn’t know the answer.

But here’s the thing about being a good woodworker (or any other professional or area of expertise, for that matter). You use what you do know as the basis to find what you don’t. Sounds simplistic, but it’s true and it happens in all professions. Doctors, contractors, linguists, stamp collectors – it doesn’t matter. By having a great deal of knowledge in an area, you know exactly where to look for the answer.

More importantly, your knowledge of the subject allows you to understand what you’ve found and apply it to the question or situation at hand.

In short, sometimes knowing what you don’t know is your greatest knowledge.



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