We were having supper with our good friends Bertram, Bobbie and their daughter Madeline. Bertram is a wonderful musician and spends many hours a day practicing the Bandoneon (see his website). Bertram, as is his way, made the observation that musicians spend hours and years perfecting their art and that woodworkers seem to expect to get things right the first time.
I couldn't particularly disagree with him. We, woodworkers, want to make the project right the first time and tie ourselves in knots in the process. The more experienced (those with the most practice) are better able to get it right the first time - but even then every project can be an adventure.
I remind folks when learning to cut dovetails that sacrificing a 2x4 to improving your sawing skills is no bad thing. Every morning mark up ten straight lines and ten inclined lines. Crank the wood up in the vice and practice those 20 cuts. Repeat for a week. You'll be surprised how much easier it becomes!
When I was stuck in the bitmines (read software development) we were trying to apply metrics to the work we were doing. It taught me a simple lesson - you don't know if you're getting better unless you record and measure what you are doing. So at the end of the session mark your cuts on a scale of 1-10. A perfect 10 is when you split the line on all three sides of the 2x4. 1 is when you are way off the line and then cross it (you'll know what I mean). Tot up the score and keep track daily.
One of the things that beginners find hard to do is to relax when you are sawing. You have to relax and let the blade follow the line. If you try to force it, like a cat, it will wander away from the line.
I prefer to use Japanese handsaws for fine work like dovetails. The pull stroke tensions the blade and holds it straight. I also like to use the biggest set of muscles I can to do handwork. That may sound strange but there is a simple explanation.
When sawing I like to rock (there is a better way to say that but it escapes me now) backwards and forwards using my upper legs and then I can use my hands and arms for the fine control of the blade rather trying to control both the motion of my arms and hands!
There's a lot more to say about practice in woodworking and we'll share more in the classes.