Fair Woodworking

December 8, 2011

Music vs. Woodworking as a hobby

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 7:49 pm

I would say that I’ve had 4 major hobbies over the years. Music and Handtool Woodworking are two of them. As I compare the two I noticed some interesting (to me) points.


Both are highly skill based, but also suffer from low quality or poorly tuned equipment.

Both can absorb sickly amounts of money collecting stuff.

Both require postures and movements that feel foreign until you develop the muscle memory for it.

With both, in the really tricky parts you tend to screw up your face in deep concentration.


Music is a tempo. Mistakes are easily forgiven if you can continue the rhythm and keep playing.
Woodworking is a sum of its parts. You can slow down for the tricky bits, sprint for a while, and then stop to smell the roses. It’s always ok to back up and try again because it the quality of the finished product that is judged, while the tempo is your little secret.

Music expires with every note.
Woodworking results in something tangible for years or even generations.

But the biggest difference is actually very small.

Music seeks to form every note correctly to work with the others.
Woodworking (for me) is a quest to not do anything wrong. Don’t plane one side more than the other. Don’t let the saw wobble as it cuts. Don’t get too greedy when chiseling out the waste.

That may just sound glass half empty, glass half full, but I don’t think it is.

With music you either strum that string with your finger on that fret at that beat, or you miss it, and that note that moment is gone forever.

With woodworking you are approaching a line and hoping you know when to stop.

Consider two masters in their trade. Stevie Ray Vaughan with his guitar, and Frank Klausz in his wood shop. I dare you to watch either of them work and not be mesmerized. Stevie Ray’s fingers move over the fret board with such fluid motions that he makes it look simple. Frank’s years of working with his hands have taught him to simplify, to make every motion count. It’s the unnecessary movements that turn into mistakes. Frank works with such simplicity that he makes it look fluid.

Over the years I’ve given up on my Guitar. The abuse my hands have suffered in construction have stiffened my joints, and my fingers simply won’t go where the muscle memory tells them. I am however thankful for the lessons it taught me. If you are a musician, hand tool woodworking should be an easy transition. You already know how to train your body to do what does not originally come natural. You don’t need aids to get you from “C” to “F” to “G”. Your hands just do it, because you know how to practice. You know better than to try to learn new chords in the middle of a concert, or gig. You know that learning new things is best done while sitting on the edge of your bed when you are hard at work practicing.

So as I continue to hone my skills, I know I’ll never be a master, but if I can just keep from screwing up too badly, most people won’t notice I’m not much more than a lowly apprentice.



  1. As a fellow guitar playing – hand tool wood worker, I really enjoyed this post.

    When I was younger I was obsessed with playing lead guitar and becoming a virtuoso and as a result always needed other musicians around to make ‘whole music’. I was always in awe when other less technical players than myself rocked up with three chords and a song and got everyone singing. Most people don’t know that you are playing mixolidian scales or advanced lead guitar, they only know they cant sing along and enjoy it.

    With age I have long since learn’t to play a lot more simply (but still well) and sing along to produce a complete song, something myself and others can enjoy. A bit like my woodwork, I’m never going to be a master cabinet maker but I do enjoy making and completing things and seeing my skills grow. Most people don’t know what secret dovetail joints are, they just know something is good looking and useful. Simple but well made is what I am all about these days.

    Comment by Boo — December 9, 2011 @ 7:04 am

    • I’m glad this post struck a chord with you… Ha, ha… Errrr… Ya.

      I’ve read from many skilled guitar players that they find they either caress the fret board or wrestle it. I believe my style never advanced beyond “flail”.

      Comment by fairwoodworking — December 10, 2011 @ 1:59 pm

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