Anselm Fraser, principal of the Chippendale school, continues his series of articles on the business of modern woodworking.

It was Thomas Edison, who largely invented the modern world, who said that “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

It’s an apt quote from someone who invented, among other things, the phonograph, motion picture camera and the first practical light bulb.

But Edison wasn’t someone much given to “eureka” moments, as he wasn’t much gifted in chemistry, mathematics or physics.  He wasn’t an Archimedes or an Einstein.

He simply came up with an idea and then, by trial and error, got it to work.  Then, more trial and error, and he’d make it better and better still.

Brute force

In engineering, this is known as the brute force method.  If something doesn’t work, try something else.  It was a perfectly good approach for Edison, and it’s a perfectly good approach for today’s woodworkers.

It’s about coming up with that initial bit of inspiration to illuminate the piece of furniture you want to make.  It’s then, by trial and error, working out how to make it and then, more trial and error, actually making it.

The trouble is, I believe, that we live in a Twitter world.  Our attention spans have dwindled to those of a goldfish.  We still want to make great furniture, but we’d like to make them in ten minutes.

No, no and no.  It takes sweat and tears (hopefully not blood) to become a craftsman or woman.  Maybe 10,000 hours of boredom and blisters to master your chosen craft.

That’s why our school is open from 8am until 8pm, and we can always tell the students who will do well by the amount of time they put in.  They’re often the less naturally gifted, but they’re the ones who will absolutely master their craft through practice, practice and practice.

Good mantras

It’s a mantra that we keep repeating to our students and, like all good mantras, it applies to anything: you only get out what you put into something.

That may go for everything in life, but it’s particularly apt for a craft like woodworking, because woodworking is more than the sum of its skills.

It’s the difference between driving a Skoda or a Rolls-Royce.  Both may be equally good at getting you from A to B, but only one reeks of craftsmanship.

I’m forever telling our students to dream the impossible, to plan out the impossible and to then perspire over their blisters until the impossible is designed and made.

Don’t forget, that nothing is impossible.  The word itself spells out “I’m possible.”

Of course, in woodworking as in life, there are frustrations along the way.  But the simple fact is that the more you learn, and the more you keep practicing what you’ve learned, the fewer frustrations you’ll have to endure.

Remember, if you’re looking to become a professional woodworker, your customers will expect you to have suffered for your craft – to have put in the hours, and then more hours, with a great dollop of additional hours on top.


Remember also that customers buying handcrafted bespoke furniture want to see your craftsmanship.  That should shine through in your love of your craft, the quality of your designs and, maybe most of all, in the range of skills you have used.

That’s what differentiates the Rolls-Royce of your work from the Skoda of mass production and, if it was easy, everyone would be a craftsman or woman.

But once you’ve put in the hours, washed off the perspiration and plastered up your blisters, the achievement of success will make all that hard work worthwhile.

Having looked at finding inspiration and the tribulations of perspiration, in the next article I’ll have a look at taking risks.  Because comfort zones will get you nowhere and, sometimes, you have to boldly go…