Learning through learning: Making a shutter with reused wood

June 12, 2018 - Mistakes in Education

To gain more insights on learning I decided to learn some new things myself, as a form of action research. I defined two new tasks: working with wood and working with metal. (I choose very physical challenges to stay close to my case in maker education) I noted all my mistakes along the way and the new knowledge I gained. In this blog post, I share some of the findings of my DIY project with wood: making shutters with reused wood. I shared my results and process also in an Instructable: [link]

For learning new things I need a necessity to do so. In the past year, I am thoroughly rebuilding my home in my spare time. So there is enough to make and learn. A year ago I did not know how to demolish, brick, create new walls, construct sewer, equalize floors, construct floors, paint walls properly, build a kitchen, place a metal staircase and many more. Today I can not only do all those things, I can learn them to others too. With all kinds of machinery. I learned most of these things by doing, sometimes with an expert at hand. But To collect insights I needed a new project. Therefore I decided to create shutters for my daughter’s room, with the wood we took out of the roof while creating a new one.

My process

“Wow, it would be nice to create shutters instead of hanging regular curtains. Maybe I can make it, even more, cost-effective then curtains too.”

I searched several examples of shutters (this took me days because I could not find the ones that fitted my context and wishes). I wanted shutters, but they can only fit inside the window (for constructive reasons) but should not take away too much light.

Thanks to Pinterest I found some examples of shutters that were close to what I was looking for.

I searched for some spared wood at our barn. I took the measurements of the window and discovered I needed longer wood than I originally thought. The wood is old and broken. Not all pieces can be used. On a little (later I will discover: too little) paper I do some calculation for the sizes of the wood needed. The wooden boards are not wide enough for the original plan I found online. I need to improvise.


I am trying to cut the wood with the wrong machinery: the wood is not completely straight. That will create light gaps in between.


I discover that I don’t have a lot of margin for error in doing so. I need an expert to help me guide to the next step (panic is not the right word, but I don’t know exactly what my next step should be). The expert (Bram), immediately notices the wrong machinery and introduces another approach. He also notices that the boards I use have a tongue and groove (words I needed to translate for this blog because these are new to me). This makes it possible to create tight wide boards that won’t let light through. Great! I am getting back on track and even a little excited.

I cut the first panel (1 out of 4). When I fit these to the window I discover that my calculation is wrong. I check my calculation with a peer (not necessarily an expert, and I could have done this with anyone) and when sharing my thought out loud I discover my (simple) mistake.

“I feel why carpenters love their job, what a great feeling to cut the wood with this machine”

I glue the boards together. While doing so I notice that the power of the glue clamp is forcing the board to warp. I immediately (almost while sweating because the glue is time-dependent) grab two extra clamps and a wooden board to fixate the panel so it can not warp. My planning is stuck; I now need extra clamps and the glue needs at least one hour to dry. I decided to glue one panel per evening and dry it overnight.

When all panels are glued I redo the calculation and cut the panels with a circular saw. When adjusting the machine I, not on purpose, hit the wrong button. Making the saw cut not exactly in 90 degrees. I will find this mistake after cutting all panels. I can repair this mistake with a sander afterward. A saw table would have made it easier.

When the first panels are glued together I am pretty enthusiastic; this can actually work ánd look pretty. I draw a line on the front corresponding to my slanted window frame. I redo this process with all other panels. When all the panels are glued and cut, I stain the panels. I notice the wood is absorbing a lot of stains. I choose to redo the staining to optimize the protection for the ‘old’ wood. I notice the drips on the first panel when I turn the wood. With all next panels, I get my brush over and under it, an extra time.

When the stain is dry I hang the panels.

“This is not as easy as I thought it was.”

Because I cut the shutters it is hard to hang them by myself. I choose to screw the hinges to the door first. Then, with a flat piece of wood as a stand, I hang the other panels. I need to redo them there it is not in one line. When the order of panels is correct I complete the hanging process. The shutters leave some light through but still, less then a curtain would do. With pride, I take photos of the result and share it on my socials.

“This is addictive. I am already searching for new projects with this material and set of machines.”

I have enough wood left to make more shutters. I choose to create shutters for the upper windows with the same approach. Fantastic. Almost without (big) mistakes.

The hight of the shutters is a little bit off. Therefore I 3D print (how lovely to combine techniques) a self-designed spacer. That works! I printed it with glow-in-the-dark ABS, but when I tested the system, there was not a glimpse of the 3D print. Bummer.

After all kinds of reactions by others, I choose to create another piece of furniture: a bed for my two-year-old…


My mistakes (and learnings)

  • mistake: Wrong calculation (of size)
    learning: check with a peer and/or expert or do a paper prototype at 1:1 scale
  • mistake: usage of wrong equipment
    learning: try-out machinery on a left-over and consult an expert with a concrete result
  • mistake: a missed opportunity of the tongue and groove
    learning: examine the material early to define opportunities
  • mistake: the power of the clamps is forcing the wood to bend
    learning: try-out the usage of clamps before adding glue. That will give a little more time to think.
  • mistake: tight planning while experimenting / first time
    learning: take enough time to fail (without stress)
  • mistake: mistake in machine setting
    learning: check on left-overs to see if the setting is right, no shortcuts.
  • mistake: not marking the shutters, what makes it a puzzle while hanging.
    learning: mark all materials somehow
  • mistake: hanging without measurements but on sight
    learning: create little marks while the panels are down, it is much easier at that stage

Learning in general: It is great to take notes during the process and reflect on it. I will create an instructable of this project and maybe make this a habit. That reflection moment is giving me a lot of new insights an creative ideas. It is lovely to start doing instead of start thinking first. I lost a little bit of that mindset in education, and feel almost relieved in this process. The combination of several techniques and knowledge is making me enthusiastic.



It is great to keep notes while making. It helps to reflect at several stages in the process. I will do this more often with making activities and share that on for example instructable. Mistakes while making don’t feel very bad. They are actually very helpful. When writing this blog post I am feeling a little bit proud of my mistakes, except the ones where I tried shortcuts to get the job done to fast. There seems to be a field of accepted (and helpful mistakes) and stupid ones. For education, this can maybe feel the same. Interesting is the role of the expert in this perspective. In this case, the expert takes more of a coaching or guide role, but ‘the sweat is on my forehead’. And, this one surprises me, learning is addictive. I want to do more with this knowledge and skills!