Left or Right Eye Dominant – It Matters to Hand Tool Woodworkers
Yes, it does matter greatly yet most people don’t know which of their eyes is the more dominant. This last weekend I had one student, a friend, who was right handed yet left-eye dominant. He actually knew it, but we often test at the beginning of class because it will almost always affect how students approach key factors surrounding accurate presentation of the tools to the work. Accuracy starts with aligning everything surrounding the hand-eye coordination but between the eye and the hand is that upper mass of body linkage that allows the eye to sight exact alignment of a tool’s cutting edge to the line and then along that line. Normally people are predominantly right-hand AND right-eye dominant at the same time. If a person is right-hand dominant but left-eye dominant he or she must align their body differently to the work to achieve the best results. How about that! It’s of less concern for machine woodworking because the machines do the cutting and alignment is rarely using the freehand of the body but alignment by fences and jigs that actually guide the wood into the cutting edges. That’s not the case with hand work where the person guides and aligns the tool to the cut using only hand-eye coordination and all self-propelling energy.
I have not always been aware of the struggle people have with this problem, but those I have discovered have been at the bench when they seemed to have a problem aligning the saw to the cut line. Amazingly, after a few seconds reconciling a preexisting condition, new levels of accuracy become evident.
I have a clock 40 feet away from my bench hanging on a blank wall. I ask the students to find out which eye is dominant at the beginning of class. This can save time later. With both eyes open they extend their arm, form a circle with their thumb and first finger and place the clock in the circle. They then close one eye but keep the hand extended so. Which ever eye retains the clock in the circle determines which eye is dominant. Closing the dominant eye will show the clock missing as the circle seems to jump to the right.
“If a person is right-hand dominant but left-eye dominant he or she must align their body differently to the work to achieve the best results.”
SInce I am aparently left-eye dominant, though it is actually more complicated than that in my case, I would love it if you could elaborate.
After determining which eye is dominate (left in my case), I now wonder which hand I should use…..I am a bit ambidextrous. Typically I favor the left hand for writing, precise work, etc; but the right for sports, strength, etc. It is not unusual for me to switch hands for or during a task, either for fatigue or for better position. When I reach for a saw, it is with the right hand; and results are decent, but not always consistent. I wonder if I should start using the left hand and see if it is any “natural” improvement in consistence and quality.
I can do my best here for everyone but remember I am not an expert on this, I just happened to find out it does make a difference to woodworkers using hand tools.
Left eye dominant people have been taught by life and those raising them and teaching them to align things they do using their right eye in general and especially so if right-hand dominant. Because they are left eye dominant they should get better results by aligning things with their left eye and making their body move accordingly. Most people are not doing fine and close work and so it makes almost no difference, in general, but when fine work with hand tools comes into play all of that changes. Woodworking is especially different to other crafts because we move knives and chisels and saws into play at multiple levels. Hand-eye coordination becomes more problematic until adjustments are made.
Hi Paul, at the age of 70 I had never heard of eye dominance until I read your blog article on it. I did your test and found that I am cross dominant i.e. right handed but left eye dominant. I tried one solution I read about and hey presto my sawing accuracy has leapt up several levels.
I used to have to saw away from a line and trim accordingly – no longer. My dovetails have just become much simpler.
So very glad you found this now, Terry. It is indeed never too late.
Michael, when I was a Drill Sergeant in the US Army, this was a test that we would perform before the very first rifle marksmanship exercise. It was extremely important for solar know whether or not he was right/left eye dominant. If a trainee was “cross-dominant” (eg. Left eye and right hand dominant or vice versa) we would have him/her shoot with the hand corresponding to the dominant eye even if it was not his/her usually dominant hand. Having trained thousands of soldiers, scores of which were cross-dominant, I can tell you that the importance of establishing co-dominance cannot be overstated at least in the area basic rifle marksmanship. I can’t stay conclusively that this is the case for Woodworking as well, but if I was working with you I would encourage you to use your left hand-Especially considering that you are ambidextrous the transition should be minimal. I think sawing would be the perfect example for you to test the theory. My recommendation would be to lay out some straight lines on the edge of a board and spend some time sawing if you doesn’t ferfs with your left hand to see if the results are better. I would wager that you will notice a significant difference and will build skill quite rapidly. Good luck.
When you say “shoot with” a particular hand, you mean, they should pull the trigger with that hand, right? I’m right handed, left eye dominant. I don’t shoot, but I’m sure I’d pull the trigger with my right hand if nobody told me otherwise. I also saw with my right hand. Maybe I will try it with the left hand and see how it goes.
Yes, he means pull the trigger with your left hand. The same applies to archery; ie, you should draw the bow with your left hand, your right extended in front of you.
Another tatic some people use for handguns is to keep their right finger on the trigger but, after raising the gun to sight a target, shift it to the right until they’ve lined up with the target again. This doesn’t work with bows or longguns.
If you get a shotgun handmade and fitted for you or altered to suit you in England (or the USA), they put a significant “kick”/bend in the stock to compensate for “cross-dominant” master-eye: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/0d/34/93/0d34930e83fe889c495f4252e66ee409.jpg , so that you don’t need to change handedness.
My wife took up archery last year. She was found to have a left master-eye so they made her shoot left handed. Personally, I think she would have had a better time shooting right-handed – as she had already proven herself accurate that way – but I guess it’s good to challenge your mind and body with unusual tasks.
If you have the patience – train both hands! You will never regret being able to be accurate with both hands – there are so many awkward positions you can avoid trying to reach a difficult spot.
As all lefties you will also get annoyed when files, benches, folding rulers, tape measures, moulding planes, braces, drills etc are more or less impossible to use with left hand.
I hope Paul at least offers a bench for lefties at his lessons.
I don’t. No real need to as our vises are not positioned tight to the end as with many workbenches so it works fine for both sets of people as the only need is for tools to be positioned to the left of the vise position rather than the right so it works for either hand. Most woodworkers no longer use moulding planes nor folding rulers, and all of the left handed people I know seem to have no issue using tapes designed for right handers. Files I can see as an issue but I am often forced to use files in awkward places that need left hand dominance. Generally, we do learn to work with what we have at hand and we are always ever more adaptable if indeed, as you say, we learn to work with both hands.
Left eye right hand dominant… should we close our right eye to orient ourselves to the work? I knew it was important in hunting and shooting but it never occurred to me it is important in wood working although it makes perfect sense that it would have a difference.
Having done a quick check on a wall light about 12ft away, I beleive I may be right handed, but left eye dominant. I had both eyes open and put the circle to the light. I closed either eye in turn. The eye that was still in line with the light was the left eye.
Is there any hope for me.
Is it a case of adjusting my stance when I am sawing, if so how?
Seems I’m right eye left hand dominant but i did know that to some degree I just never thought about it before. My main problem tends to be being taught most things right handed unless i taught myself.
Interesting. I assumed I’d be right eye dominant since I’m right handed, but very definitely left eye dominant. Not sure what I should change, but I’ll keep this in mind next time I’m in the shop, see if I can do something that makes a difference.
I wonder if the instructions to check the dominance would be clearer as expressed in this way: Close your left eye. If the object remains in view, you are right eye dominant. If closing your right eye keeps the object in view, you are left eye dominant.
Simon, For some I think that definition would definitely be clearer. For those that have trouble with Paul’s version, another variation on the same test maybe helpful. It goes like this: Extend your arms fully forming a triangle using the thumb and forefingers of both hands to create a “window”. Center an object like a sign, o’clock, or a light in the triangle. WHILE KEEPING BOTH EYES OPEN THIS TIME, slowly bend your elbows to draw your hands close to your face, WHILE KEEPING THE TARGET IN VIEW. As your hands approach your face, the triangle will be directed to one or the other eye. Which ever eye the triangle lands over, is your dominant eye.
Here is another way to tell the eye dominance:
If the object seemed to move when you closed your left eye, then you have left eye dominance. If the object moved more when your right eye was closed, then your right eye is the dominant one.
Um…I think there is something missing here, When I use my right hand to check, as Paul describes above, my left eye seems to be dominant. When I use my left hand to check, my right eye seems to be dominant. I wonder if this happens for other people.
On the other hand, when I sight down a board to check for defects, I find I always use my right eye. This may be due mainly to the fact that, as I have aged, the muscles in my right eye have remained stronger (probably because I use that eye more). Anyway, I think this method (sighting down a board) may be a more accurate way to determine dominance.
Just a thought.
In other words, I think there is more going on here than meets the eye.
I like this one, Joel.
I figured that, as someone who finds a bit and brace boring, you would.
Joel, try the test I described to Simon and see if that works better for you. Using both hands may alleviate your problem.
Hmmm… I’m right handed. Per the clock test, I’m left eye dominant, no matter which hand I use to do the test. And I just tried sighting down a board. I definitely use my left eye. If you’d asked me yesterday, I probably would have told you I’d use my right eye. But when I try it, no way, that’s all wrong. Definitely a left eye sighter.
yes Joel its happening to me in the same way i got a bit freaked out at first so asked my wife to do the test as Paul described and hers worked as Paul said it would , i had a left handed mother and a right handed father i wonder if this has anything to do with it, i have 3 brothers 2 of us are write handed 2 are left handed i am going to the opticians one day this week to collect my new specs i will surely ask her some questions
yes Joel i have the same problem i was a bit freaked out at first so asked my wife to take the test as Paul described and it turned out as Paul said it would , i had two parents with different hand dominance i wonder if this has anything to do with it , i have 3 brothers 2 of us are right handed 2 are left handed ,i’m going to the opticians one day this week to pic up new specs i will as her opinion .
I had the same problem, I used this test instead:
Same for me…. Changes depending on which hand I use….
I am left eye/right hand dominant and struggled with it unknowing for years. I used to mark out left-handed then switch to saw. Couldn’t get the accuracy others around me seemed to achive. Even with the ‘knife wall trick’, though we just called it ‘striking a shoulder’. That led me down the machine route. As Paul said, eye dominance isn’t a problem with machines.
When circumstances forced the machines out I found the problem to be even worse. I now wear glasses which distorts things even more. I only realised the cause 12/18 months ago. I seen a video on sawing by Ron Herman. Ron describes the problem perfectly. Now, for the first time ever, my cuts are plumb as well as square. All due to a slight shift in body position. I still have to think about it but it is starting to feel more comfortable as I practice.
Thanks Paul, really enjoying the Master Classes.
You can change eye dominance. I grew up left eye dominant but now I’m now wearing an eye patch bandage over my left eye (well it’s coming in the mail soon) and improving my right eye. It won’t take long.
I gave up trying to do hand cut dovetails and tenons years ago because I can’t cut to a line. After reading this article, I went out to the shed and tried hand cutting some dovetails. I’m right handed with a dominate left eye. After adjusting my stance (to something that initially felt really awkward), I was able to cut a much more acceptable dovetail. Even marking out went much better using my dominate eye.
I also realised why I couldn’t shoot a rifle straight when I was in the Air Force. I had a reputation for only being able to hit the side of a barn if I was close enough to the barn to throw the rifle at it. Maybe if I’d tried using the rifle left handed I might have actually been able to hit the target occasionally. Unfortunately, this info came forty years too late to benefit my Air Force career.
But this info will certainly have a big benefit in my woodworking. If I can accurately saw, chisel, and mark out accurately, then I might actually enjoy hard tool woodworking from now on.
Can you point us to that video in question?
As I’m also left eye, right handed.
Could you describe what changes in body stance you made?
It is a Finewoodworking video. I am at work now but will lookup the details when I get home later this afternoon.
Oops, I meant to add the position change. It’s just a small shift to the right with your upper body.
I’ll fill in more details later, if my boss catches me one more time this morning he’ll blow a gasket.
Hi again Diego,
Now I know why I shouldn’t post at work! It’s a Popular Woodworking video not Finewoodworking as I said earlier. here is the link
It is a trailer for the full video, I bought the download version and it is excellent, both for technique and restoring saws.
Another good video on sawing technique was done by Bob Rozaieski at the Logan Cabinet Shoppe. Unfortunately Bob no longer seems to be posting but it has been archived here
I for one will miss Bob’s superb blog and videos.
Hope that helps.
don’t loose your job, unless you’re a really good furniture maker already 😉
If I understand correctly, you have to shift your body even more to the right so your left eye is over the back of the saw (in case like me you’re right handed, left eye dominant) instead of your right eye.
I’ve managed so far to follow a line by deliberately sawing to the right side of the line by orienting the piece so my waste side is to my right. That made me cut pretty straight along the horizontal (call it Y axis) line, the problem for me is to cut straight along on the Z axis. My saw kerf always shifts to the right….
My problem is more compounded since my right eye has about -6, while my left is at -0.5….
Guess I have to practice and ‘train’ my muscle memory.
Another trick I learned recently is to look at the reflection of your wood in the saw (assuming your saw is in reflecting condition). If you’re sawing straight, the wood and its reflection should look like a straight, solid piece of wood. If you’re off, it’s going to look bent. Of course, this goes out the window when you’re doing dovetails as you’re never cutting straight both horizontally and vertically.
Using the reflection of the saw plate is also a trick that I’ve heard Paul mention and which I have adopted. He uses it went gauging hand cut miters. When lining up for a 45° miter, the reflection will look like a 90° turn in the wood. Since most of our eyes and and brains have seen many more 90° angles, it’s easier to confirm the miter by looking at the reflection of the saw plate. Just one more mind blowing thing I’ve learned from Paul.
Actually it didn’t originate with me, but an 84-year-old furniture maker taught it to me when I was fifteen years old and so it predates him too I am sure.
I’m an amateur woodworker and I’ve known since around age ten that I’m right handed with a dominant left eye. As a child I did a year of ergotherapy to help improve hand-eye coordination. It was a great success – I made a great jump to an A+ student. Two IQ tests acutally accompanied this ergotherapy, and my IQ also jumped (though my mother still does not tell me by how much). Medically this is a topic that is still being researched and as with all things brain we don’t know much about this.
However, here are two generalized (as with all things biology) statements about cross dominant people. This mostly about hand-eye cross dominance, as thats the most important case for humans.
* Cross dominant people have a very good understanding and imagination of three dimensional space.
* Cross dominant people are known to do many things better when things move or the people themselves move, while being terrible when they don’t. Examples are: Staying balanced while moving, shooting moving targets (I’m somewhat abashed that the Air Force didn’t test some previous commentator for eye dominance – I’ve done some archery and the first thing they do is test eye dominance. Left dominant people shoot with the left.)
My personal explanation for this is that cross dominant people see one side of an object, while feeling the other with their hands, meaning they have two points of reference when “measuring” and learning hand-eye coordination.
A single point of reference is great when things are standing still, but is inaccurate when things are moving. Two points of reference make things overly complicated compared to a single point of reference when things stand still, but when things are moving two points of reference make for much greater accuracy than a single point of reference.
Thanks for your input here Max. I think others are questioning what to do and I am glad we have brought this into the blog for others to consider.
Ahhhh…just great !
I’m right hand – right eye dominant as I always thought.
Now I have to find another excuse for my inaccuracies. 🙁
I’ve known about left and right eye dominance and have used it to figure out which eye to use for things like photography, but I didn’t equate it to hand-tool work.
I am somewhat ambidextrous, I write left handed, do some things with both hands, but most tasks with my right. It turns out I am left eye dominate but saw right handed. I am still learning the basics but I think this might be a benefit for me.
Having a greater angle between my left eye and the knife-wall should allow me to better see and track the saw in the knife-wall. I also should have a better view of the reflection in the saw plate to help me determine if I am sawing perpendicular.
My greatest obstacle right now is making sure the saw is moving in-line with my shoulder and that I don’t throw the cut off by holding the saw too tight.
Never would have occurred to me I might be left eye dominant, but I most certainly am. I used both hands to try sighting, to see if that made a difference, but either way, I could see the object with my left eye, and it moved when using my right. I’ll have to be more aware of this from now on and see if it makes a difference. Excellent post, thank you.
Paul,I think you have got your explanation the wrong way round
“Closing the less dominant eye will show the clock missing as the circle seems to jump to the right”
Surely it is closing the dominant eye that makes the clock appear to move. Forgive me if I’m wrong I have just had a long day at work.
Yep, I agree. Think about the geometry. The dominant eye, the opening in your fingers, and the target will be co-linear. The weaker eye is not on this line, so closing the dominant eye will leave you with the non-aligned view, i.e. the target will “jump” out of the finger/hand aperture.
Game changer! I never knew I was left eye dominant. Just went to the shop and tested. Big difference! I see the biggest difference when laying out the knife wall for a cross cut. My knife walls did not always line up even I triple checked square and parallel. Then the cut was dead on. My accuracy is going to improve no doubts. Thanks Mr. Sellers.
I am left-handed, left footed, left-brained, and left-eyed. (Interestingly, so are my wife and two kids)
I learned long, long ago to position my body and head to favor my left eye when necessary.
Another test for which eye is dominant, is simply to raise a camera to take a picture. Most people will automatically use their dominant eye without thinking. Of course, this doesn’t apply these days with cameras and phones having a screen on the back instead of a viewfinder!
Oh my stars. What a revelation. I just found Paul’s blog on this an hour ago, and it explains sooooo much. I am definitely cross-dominant. A few years ago I took up photography as a hobby. I had some really weird confusion about which eye to use to look in the viewfinder. I am right handed but always had trouble using my right eye to look in the viewfinder. My acuity is about the same in both eyes.
As a beginning woodworker, I also experienced a kind of confusion or hesitation when sawing. I now realize this is a kind of battle – wanting to sight with my right eye, but having my left eye insist. So I kind of wobble. And the cuts are just not straight, plumb, square, what have you.
So, I am going to saw with my left hand. As a guitar player, the left hand has complex things to do, and when I try to play left-handed guitar, my right hand is the clumsy one. So I think it is a matter of practice. I am strongly motivated to have my dominant eye in a line with my arm and the saw, so I am going to avoid the slight switch in body position thing.
Since I last posted, I have tried sawing with my left hand. It works.
I am right-handed but left-eye dominant.
Sawing left-handed, I immediately noticed a significant difference in the way the saw alignment looked to my left (dominant) eye. The most amazing thing, though, was that the dozen cross-cuts I made in a 2×4 WITHOUT any lines or marks were very nearly square, as if by magic. In fact, they were better than cuts I marked and set up carefully, and sawed right-handed.
Of course, my left hand did feel a little weak and clumsy. That should go away with practice. I can’t be bothered adjusting my stance to cut right-handed. The left eye dominance will just always get in the way if I cut right handed, I suspect. So ambidexterity, here I come.
Glad I found this. I’m of the left eye dominant right hand type person. As a marksman I’ve always known this, but I never thought it applied to woodworking. This now explains a lot. I have a challenge now to be as precise in my measuring and cutting as I am as a marksman.
On a Cley pigeon shooting stag do the guy teaching us how to shoot tore a hole in a piece of paper and asked me to look at a distant church. I was left eye dominant but holding the gun as if I was right eye dominant. I’d never considered this idea previously but it mattered a great deal for sighting down the barrel.
If you hold your left hand up and make a circle your hand obscures the view for your right eye. Hold your right hand up and your hand obscures the view of your left eye. I think it’s called parallax. Relative positions of the eye.
I’m now thinking how this is affecting my woodwork as I am right handed
When I used firearms I periodically found this out the hard way after long bouts with discoordinated users.
I was searching for resources up to a woodworking tool. I found this article quite helpful as I am trying to learn woodworking. Thanks a lot 🙂
I learned about being left eye dominate and right handed when using firearms. At that point I had been shooting for 20 years and was disinclined to switch my shooting side even though I do practice shooting on my left side. I’ve found workarounds there. It’s no surprise I had to fiddle about to find a workaround for hand tools.
What I had found I did that makes things much easier for sawing is that I strongly prefer to have the waste wood side on my right side. That way when sawing, my left eye can easily see the line. Using Paul’s knife wall technique also greatly helps as well.
I am fairly fortunate in being rather fairly ambidextrous. This is useful when sawing lots of wood as I can swap hands when one gets tired. It is also useful when assembling parts. But I write left handed and eat right handed. My wife writes right handed and eats left handed (knife and fork reversed). Our children are all straight handed.
But I did the test and my right eye and right hand are dominant. Thanks for that Paul.
I’m quite new to woodworking. I feel blessed to have your website and YouTube channel. Thank you for being such a generous and well rounded teacher sir. I really appreciate it.
I’ve known from previous firearms training, that I’m left eye but right hand dominant. I was having a very hard time using a hand saw and didn’t put the two together, but after reading this I was sawing like a pro in no time. I taught myself to saw with my left hand. It was really awkward for a short while, but even my first cut came out better than using my dominant hand. The trick was going slow and steady at first. It really made a huge difference.
At the end of your article you state: “Closing the less dominant eye will show the clock missing as the circle seems to jump to the right.” It’s the complete opposite. Closing your MORE dominant eye will show your finger circle moving away from your target (clock), and closing your less dominant eye while your more dominant eye is still open will show your finger circle still accurately positioned over your target (clock)
Thank you. Fixed it. It’s a funny thing that when we make an oversight we need oversight to see what is wrong.
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