Even with a growing reputation as a “jack-of-all-trades” maker, I’m often blindsided by a request to work with a material, process, or technology which I’ve never even considered.

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Even with a growing reputation as a "jack-of-all-trades" maker, I'm often blindsided by a request to work with a material, process, or technology which I've never even considered. For example, a client recently asked me to work with Corian, a solid-surface material.

Now, solid-surface material is something I probably should have already known about, but I gravitate toward the things I'm comfortable with, putting off things I should be learning in favor of working with tried-and-true materials. After all, with the comfort of familiarity comes the comfort of expected results, expected time allowances, and expected expenses.

Jimmy DiResta
Jimmy DiResta makes many things—among them, an electric guitar made from an AK-47, a show on the Discovery Channel ("Dirty Money"), and tons of project videos at jimmydiresta.com.

But the client didn't know that. They just knew I make cool things and Corian is the cool thing they wanted. So I researched to learn everything I can—including the exorbitant cost of the material. That's when the intimidation really set in. I don't want to be out on a limb for that kind of cost! What if I blow it? But the client had more confidence in me than I did. So, after a little time playing with the material, I began to think of it as wood without grain. And just like that, without the exaggerated significance I was adding to the material, the fear factor for the project melted away.

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Many woodworking tools and tricks work with solid-surface materials. Cut and rout with sharp carbide blades. You can even sand it like wood.

You know you need to stretch out of your comfort zone when you see a kid mastering a technique that you've been afraid to learn. For me, that technique was CNC routing. I kept telling myself it wasn't fear; it was just that I could already make anything I wanted with a router and a bandsaw. Or my awesome set of carving chisels. What more do I need? Besides, learning the software needed to run a CNC just seemed like a huge hurdle. So I avoided it at every turn.

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Woodworking skills transferred outside of my comfort zone to make seats, under-seat storage, and the beam wraps from a solid-surface material, creating modern, durable, easy-to-clean surfaces.

When I saw a young boy at a Maker Faire operating a CNC router—and the amazing precision the machine was capable of—I laid down my credit card for a ShopBot Desktop unit. If he can do it, I can do it!

And then the fear set in again—this time with the added worry that I'd wasted thousands of dollars. I let that machine sit in my shop staring at me for three months before I finally opened the software. I won't pretend the process was easy once I finally dove in. I broke several bits and had to reload the software more than once. But in time, I began to realize I was learning things I never thought I needed to know. And before long I was transforming a set of skills I had been scared of for years into a comfortable confidence.

I always tell my students that a new skill isn't hard, it's simply unknown. Watch; then try. It's the only way to begin assembling the rights and wrongs of the process into a frame of reference that becomes knowledge. In the end, you'll only remember that the journey was worth that wealth of knowledge. Use that confidence to remind yourself that the fears, frustrations, trials, and errors in store for your next challenge—when you step out of this new comfort zone—will be well worth the challenge.