Friday, February 29, 2008

Nature vs. Nurture

There have never been woodworkers in my family. My hobby as a kid was drawing, and as a teenager, I built an easel so I could start painting. I remember getting enormous satisfaction in figuring out how to build that easel and, simple as it was, it worked well (and it was adjustable!). In college (school of the arts) I remember having more fun building and stretching canvasses than applying paint to them. (Should have been a clue, maybe?)

At 28, I moved into my current home which had, and still has, a chunky, heavily-used workbench, with machinist vise, in the basement. My desire to accessorize my home exceeded my budget, so it occurred to me that I might be able to use that bench to build some of the simpler things. So, with hammer, jigsaw, and drill in hand, I started building.

Wanting to build more complex things, but having no idea how, I bought this book....and that's when I had a watershed moment. This book changed my life. I pored over every page, studied every tool, every cut, every detail. And in it, my passion for woodworking was uncovered.

I saved for an entire year to buy my first major tool: a contractor-style table saw. During that year, I carried in my purse a folded-up article and picture of that saw, studying it frequently and thinking about all of the things I wanted to build.

That was over 15 years ago.

I wonder if I would have discovered my passion if there hadn't been a workbench in my basement or if there had been other turns of events that prevented me from having the time and space to learn. Are we born with a passion that waits for an event that triggers it or is it molded through experiences, events, and interactions with others? Is a passion simply "there" or is it created?

I can still recall how it felt to first learn about woodworking. It's the same feeling, when as a six year old, I first started to learn to read. It went beyond excitement.

That last photo is one of the first things I built. I no longer decorate in the "9 year old boy, c. 1962, with fixation on the Lone Ranger" style.


Corey said...

I didn't realize that was a "style." You are much braver than I am, there's little chance I would post a picture of some of my "firsts".

I do think it's interesting to consider where it is that we woodworkers get our passion. For me, I come from a family of hands on folks, my Dad was a machinist, my Grandfather a carpenter, we still have a few farmers in the family (nothing is more hands on than that).
Great Blog, keep it up!

Kari Hultman said...

I envy people like you, Corey, who got an early start in woodworking due to a hands-on family. :o)

Anonymous said...

My Dad believed (and still believes) that a parent (particularly the dad) should figure out the interests and abilities of their children and give them the tools and a chance to develop those interests and abilities.

My Dad worked was a farmer for many years until he ran out of money and then worked for a lumberyard for many years. When I was about 10-12 years old, Dad started collecting tools one by one and setting up a shop in our basement. While Dad was a decent carpenter, he was never interested enough in the fine details to care much about fine woodworking. I was (and still am) a better woodworker than carpenter.

I haven't done much woodworking since I left for college just after I turned 17, but those skills I learned in those few years have served me well through college and even beyond.
When I realized years later what he did and the impact it had on my life, I cried.

I don't think everyone should get into woodworking. However, woodworking has a distinct advantage over some hobbies in that it can appeal to a wide range of interests depending on what part you want to focus in on.

My feeling is that a persons temperament goes a long way towards determining what careers or hobbies he will most enjoy and excel at.

Vic Hubbard said...

I remember enjoying the few shop classes I had in school, but the obsession didn't possess me until my early thirties. I had a background in construction, so the first house my wife and I bought was a complete remodel (studs in). It was a 1910 Craftsman four square with big beefy red fir trim. About two years into the remodel, I was hooked. 'Been a wood junkie ever since.
So, I would vote nurture.

Anonymous said...


My maternal grandpa loved to work with wood - I never had a chance to work with him, as he lived 200 miles away and we seldom visited.

But the rest of my family is artistically gifted, to the extreme. I am not - the only thing I can draw is... Well, don't know.

It turns out I found woodworking many years ago when I needed to make a jewelry armoire for out daughter - and I have never looked back! It has been a wonderful journey, always wanting to learn more, seeking better techniques.

Was I born with it? Maybe. But why not the talent to do oil paintings line both mom and dad, caricature like one my brothers, sculpture like another brother, photography like my sister?

You raise a very interesting point, and I have no idea what the answer is. I look forward to reading further input from others!

Kari Hultman said...

I'm really enjoying reading everyone's points of view and personal history. Thanks!

Gye Greene said...

Great pic of the workbench and shelf thingy above-right. Rustic -- and has clearly been USED, for (presumably) useful tasks.