I have a habit of sticking with what I am comfortable with. This doesn’t only pertain to woodworking, but all aspects of my life. Sometimes it is a good thing, a safe thing. However, it also runs the risk of stunting my growth as a craftsman. Only using styles and methods we feel safe with keeps us from branching out and discovering new styles and methods. This, of course, keeps us from acquiring new skills, experiences, and from learning new lessons.
In the long-run, new skills and experiences can help us solve problems, often in ways that are not readily apparent to most. When I first started woodworking the only joints I could make were butt joints. They are safe and easy joints to use in many applications. Yet I branched out and learned how to make box joints, finger joints, miter joints, splined miter joints, lap joints, etc. Knowing all of these joints helps me in making repairs to my furniture or house. They have added to my capabilities, making me a more versatile craftsman.
Learning new skills also helps to keep the hobby from stagnating and becoming dull. If I never challenge myself with new techniques then woodworking will cease to bring as many rewards to my life. Where is the pleasure in a finished project if everything came together easily? Making my paper towel holder was easy, everything came together smoothly and the finished project meets all of our needs and expectations. This sort of project is nice to have once in a while, but woodworking would become boring if it was the usual. It isn’t the sort of project I point to in order to illustrate my accomplishments. That privilege is reserved for those projects that put my skill and ingenuity to the test. That being said, there is subjectivity in what is challenging for each of us. What I point to as a project that tested me, someone like Paul Sellers could do in his sleep. Therefore the level of challenge and accomplishment also depends on the individual.
A danger in pushing yourself to learn new things is biting off more than you can chew. So be careful not to take on too big of a challenge. Be reasonable with your expectations, it is okay to acquire new skills slowly. If you take on too much at once you may just end up running into a brick wall and feeling like the hobby is a waste of your time.
So get out in your shop and try something new. Grab a couple of scrap pieces of wood and try your hand at a new method of joinery or design a project that will push the limits of your ingenuity. Take it slow, have realistic goals, and remember to have fun. Thank you for reading, if you would like to share any experiences you have had feel free to do so in the comments below.