Cast away - Woodshop News

Cast away

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After arm surgery a few weeks ago, I finally got the cast off. It’s great to have two hands again, but I’ve learned some things.

Although the cast is gone, I’m under strict doctor’s to take it easy and to use my right hand and arm as little as possible. On the plus side, that means Sally mows the lawn at least one more time before I have to resume. On the down side, I still can’t get back to work in the shop.

I can resume some lighter right-handed tasks like brushing my teeth normally after three weeks of nearly poking an eye out trying to brush left-handed. I’m back to touch-typing again, which is a blessing, and the mouse is back in my right hand where it belongs.

However, in the three weeks I was forced to use the mouse in my left hand I got pretty good with it. In fact, I got so used to using it that way I’ve occasionally reached for the mouse with my left hand out of the brief muscle memory of using that way. Same thing for buttoning shirts, swiping a credit card through a reader, and using the TV remote with my left hand. All were nearly impossible three weeks ago. Now they’re only mildly awkward at worst. (I never did improve on the teeth-brushing thing, though.)

And this has gotten me to thinking. Muscle memory, as I discussed in my Sept. 8 blog, is a strange and wonderful thing. If I can train my left hand to do mundane tasks normally done with the right, why couldn’t I train my right hand to do some things that it should be able to do, like cutting decent dovetails? I’ve mentioned before that I’m not very good at hand-cut dovetails. But then, I wasn’t very good at left-hand mousing either. All it took was being forced to use the mouse as a lefty, and I eventually got the hang of it. I didn’t have the option of giving up on it like I do with hand-cut dovetails. My choice was to do it left-handed or not at all; with dovetails, I can give up and use a router.

With hand-cut dovetails, giving up and using a router is very easy. But what if it wasn’t? I’m not getting rid of my routers any time soon, but if I stopped looking at my router as the easy way out of learning to do decent hand-cut dovetails, I might actually develop the muscle memory needed to master them. It’s worth thinking about.

Once I get back up to speed in the shop and finish up some projects that are behind schedule, I think I’m going to block out some time to consider my router a cast-off. It took three weeks to master the mouse; if I devote as much time to learning dovetails – I mean really learning them without using the router as the easy way out – I’m thinking I’ll have a better shot at success.

Till next time,

A.J.

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