Ever since I quit my job at Indonesian travel tech startup Traveloka, my woodworking hobby has taken over my daily activities. On August 2018, I decided to work full-time as a woodworker.
In the first four months, my new career as a woodworker had been progressing rather slowly. The business’ nature of being a capital-intensive industry had prevented me from having a proper workshop and logistics fleet. Some of my personal investment assets, which had been saved for the rainy days, had to be cashed down in order to purchase utensils. I had to do all this for the sake of growth and expanding the runway.
I spend my days working while dedicating my nights to “study” from YouTube, using my spare time to search for potential suppliers and partners.
I have managed to complete at least five major projects by the beginning of 2019. In addition to giving me material benefits, these projects also enabled me to gain new habits and perspectives. It was an entirely different lesson from what I learned when I was in-between jobs.
1. On being specific in work
Building a furniture piece is like playing with LEGO; woodworkers are assembling each block to become a functional product. The only difference here is that, as a woodworker, I need to make my own block pieces. Each block are being shaped with precision so that it can be assembled easily, and sturdily.
Each project requires a different level of precision. A kitchen cabinet or a divan might even demand up to one millimeter precision in some of its parts. Dimensional mistakes in some parts can be easily fixed, but as a consequence the product will take longer to finish, which might also cost a fortune.
2. To see beyond what is seemed
I believe that we all have been guilty of judging a book by its cover. It is entirely human to do so as it does take a practice to think critically. Having a routine discussion on critical thinking will not automatically enable us to do it; at least that is what I learned from my time at Traveloka Writer’s Club.
But it is a different story with furniture manufacturing. Every time I look at a product, my mind immediately attempts to simulate its manufacturing process –a process commonly known as reverse engineering. I learn to empathise with the craftsmen and product designer’s decision-making process. This process trains me to consider something based on its design, construction, and eventually, the end-goal of its creation.
3. Enjoying the process
To simulate the reverse engineering process is not as enjoyable as performing it in real life. Working a blue collar job at the real sector is energy consuming, especially when combined with managerial tasks such as managing finances and relationship with suppliers and partners. It is easy to understand why people say that “entrepreneurship is not for everyone.”
4. Intuitive thinking
Not every client can be specific in describing their dream furniture product. Once again, this is entirely human. When we get hungry, the majority of us would imagine the menu and not the cooking process behind it.
The same goes with when a client asks me to create a furniture product such as a wardrobe. Usually the client would only determine the dimension, the number of drawers, and the colour of the product. It is very rare to have a client who would determine how to make it easier for the product to be shipped, the kind of finishing that should be used, or how the feet should be designed. This is the moment when I am required to think intuitively, while enabling empathy in the process.
5. Understanding the basics
I begin using pencils and papers more often to draw sketches. This seems like a trivial thing, but it has a very deep meaning for me. I first learned how to sketch through fine art classes in the second year of junior high school; it was one of those classes that my classmates considered as useless because drawing is “supposed to be easy.”
6. Seeing nature works
I have been wrong in considering woods an inanimate being. It requires an understanding of biology in order to determine how a piece of wood should be cut to fulfill the needs of furniture industry.
A good carpenter should understand how trees grow, as the knowledge would be needed to create a strong, long-lasting piece of furniture. For example, as trees tend to pick up nutrients from the grounds up, then that part of a tree tend to be not sturdy enough for joints when compared with the side of a tree.
7. Defining hard work
Working in the manufacturing sector is physically exhausting. It is completely different with working in the tech sector, which required me to use the brain more. But this is where I learn the true definition of doing a committed work with integrity.
There is always the temptation to take bigger profit by downgrading the quality of the materials used in the process. This has enables me to understand how corruption can happen in infrastructural projects.
8. Respect for the machine
Woodworking is a high-risk job. Working with a machine that spins for 3,000rpm will not only rock you physically, but also mentally.
However, it is important to note that accidents tend to happen when one is too comfortable with using machines. This is the mindset that I always try to implement: To never let yourself get carried away by comfort, and stay focussed when working with the machines. In other words, I aim to be wiser in taking actions and calculating risks, particularly when working with machineries.
What carries you away might weaken you.
9. Appreciation for ideas
I have my very own method to prevent myself from copying other people’s works, particularly for when clients provide me with images from the internet or IKEA catalogue.
I do it by making sketches. It has become a procedure for me in assessing my clients’ needs. By making own sketches, I would be freed from being trapped into other people’s design works. I can even add my own personal touches. Sometimes the sketches that I produce change throughout the production process, enabling me to create something entirely different from the reference image.
10. Allocating mistakes
Being a self-taught professional means that there is no systematic guide on what is “allowed and not allowed.” There is a greater risk for mistakes compared to those who had been formally trained. In other words, I need to allocate extra time, material, and even money as part of my learning cost.
With this understanding in mind, I become more appreciative of making mistakes. The projects that I got to complete have given me more life lessons that material benefits.
11. Simplicity is complex
Back when I was working as a writer, it is always harder to write a single page than tens of pages. Today, even working on a wooden joint using basic geometry is still not as easy as I thought it would be.
It is true what they said about the iceberg phenomenon. Most people would only see the end results, but not the process behind it. It is just like this writing itself; it would have been a cliché for me, one year ago.
Hopefully this might be beneficial for you.
This article was first published in agungcahyadi.com and was republished on e27 with permission.