Experience Teaches Judgement

Greetings RWS members,

Have you ever surprised yourself by selecting the right size socket for a bolt or hex key for a set screw on the first try? You probably had thought about the vintage and origin of the fastener at hand and guessed metric or English then grabbed the size that looked right. Or maybe you can tell a 9/16 hex head from a mile away. Experience has honed your ability to judge dimensions.

Of course judgement is a much broader thing than just estimating dimensions. The last words of a young redneck come to mind “hey ya’ll, watch this!” And speaking of drinking beer – one evening long ago I was tired, had one beer, did the final mounting of a spice rack I had made, saw that it was a little off, decided it was good enough and went to bed. In the morning I was totally shocked that I had judged my work “good enough”. How the job looked was no surprise, just the realization that I had judged it OK. I learned not to do that any-more.

Working with our hands, we get a feel for things that all was learned from experience. We know how hard to push when driving screws. We know how far the blade should stick out of the sole of a hand plane. We know how heavy of a cut a router can handle. That feel for things is judgement too.

Back to estimating bolt sizes, I recently wasted a couple trips to the hardware store because I thought I needed a metric M8 bolt. I had measured, concluded I needed a metric M8 bolt, but just couldn’t find a fit. Must be an uncommon thread pitch, I thought. I had lots of experience in the area of bolt size checking and the tolerances on precision thread gages. But no, it was just a stupid 5/16 bolt. I had let my experience get me into a rut of thinking I knew it all.

So here’s my point: We learn from our experience and it can make things second nature. Practicing our woodworking skills improves our judgement. But if you rely on it too heavily, and not enough on new inputs, you can get into a rut, get stale, get bored, make stupid mistakes. I think the trick to avoiding ruts is to keep changing and expanding the scope of experience. You have to keep challenging yourself.

So continue the journey. Keep trying new things. Keep broadening your judgement. Go to an RWS Workshop that maybe isn’t right up your alley – then get out in your shop and practice the stuff you learned. After all, the real objective here is to spend more time practicing in the shop!

Al Kupchella

Chairman, RWS