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Small projects are fertile breeding grounds for learning

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I recently made a small box with a kumiko panel in the lid. I used a pattern known as Kasane Rindo. Don’t hold me to this, because I’m prone to changing my mind on a whim, but this is my favorite pattern. I think it looks good as a single unit or in a large formation of many. I’ve had this idea in the back of my head for quite some time that I wanted to make a six sided box using this pattern in the lid. So leading into the holidays as my business slows, I found a some time to build this box. 

This blog post is going to focus on my opinion of the importance of small projects and what can be gained if the right project is selected. If you are a woodworker looking to improve your skills, as we all are, I strongly suggest you intersperse some small projects into your workings. They are a great place to work on new skills and hone in on old ones. They’re low stress and perfect for experimentation. 

To offer a real world example, if you want to learn to cut dovetails, I suggest building a small dovetailed box first, vs building a 12 drawer chest with hundreds of dovetails. I find that when learning a new skill, small victories really help keep enthusiasm high. This in turn brings me back for more. Same goes for honing in old skills. While building this box I wanted to hone in my skills at the shooting board. I wanted to be able to create 6 joints (12 bevel cuts) that all fit together with zero gaps. This box with only six small joints is a great place to slow down and focus on perfecting each step until the end result is just where I want to be. A few months from now I will apply these same skills in a larger scale while building a piece of furniture I have in the queue. Its a large cabinet that will have bevel joints at the corners. I will feel confident going into this build after having had a good experience with the small project first. 

Along these same lines, author and wizardly woodworker Matt Kenney came up with the grand idea to build 52 boxes in 52 weeks. My first reaction to this idea was that is was a wild idea probably hatched from an evening of too many libations. After thinking more and listening to Matt talk about his reasoning and what he hoped to achieve via this undertaking, I realized something very important. Matt had come up with an idea, a plan really, to help him learn something. He wanted to focus on honing in his design aesthetic as well as his very high level box making skills. I’m sure he learned many more things along the way but the larger point is he set a specific course for learning and he did it by making a bunch of small projects. 

My motivation for making this kumiko box is the same as Matt’s, except 1/52 the size, in that I came up with a project that forced me to hone in on a specific skill. Now I could have just cranked out a bunch of test pieces, but thats not nearly as fun, plus its great to have a small project to sell or give to a friend. 

If you’d like to see me build this Kumiko box, have a look at the link below. I use my table saw technique to cut the three way lap joints for the kumiko panel, which also happens to be a Fine Woodworking article (issue 274). 


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