From The Bench: The tortured cycle of a woodworking project
Adam Godet explores the mental side of woodworking, from the initial dreams of perfection to the final, flawed (but actually very good) result.
Synopsis: We have a lot of experience in writing about the technical side of woodworking: all the steps, processes, and skills needed to create a piece of furniture. Here’s a look at the mental side, from the initial dreams of perfection to the final, flawed (but actually very good) result.
Every woodworking project is different, but there are elements of each that are the same—both technically and mentally. This magazine typically focuses on the technical side; here’s a look at the mental side.
Before you start a project, there is concentrated excitement. You haven’t even bought the wood yet; you’re designing, planning, researching. Mistakes at this point can be fixed with a delete key or pencil eraser. You can work late at night, early in the morning, or even while in a meeting at work (if you’re discreet). There’s no dust mask, earmuffs, or safety glasses. It is unmitigated excitement and joy for many of us. The project is going to come out perfectly. You think: This will be the manifestation of a Platonic form.
Next, you get your lumber. This is not that stressful; you know what you’re doing. You take your time and select the best boards for your project. You think: This project is going to be on the cover of Fine Woodworking.
Back home, you start milling the wood you just bought. Wait, WHAT!? There’s an 8-in.-long crack in that board? How did you miss that? Oh shoot, how did you get so much tearout? OK … you’ll reconfigure a few things from your original plans, use that “just-in-case” board you bought, and run everything through the planer a few more times. You think: Platonic form it may not be, but this project is going to be really good.
Next, you lay out the joinery and start making sawdust. This is the day you’ve been waiting for. You’re a craftsperson, like Sam Maloof, Tage Frid, and your other heroes. Your dovetails make actual doves jealous. This is going to be … Shoot! How did you bust through that baseline? You think: Everyone patches a few dovetails; the joint will be plenty strong.
All your joinery is cut and you’re still feeling pretty good. Yeah, Krenov might not have signed his name to this piece, but you’re still learning. It’s going to be good. You have the rest of your life to build the Platonic form of this piece. Your spouse/client is going to love it. Today, you need to focus because it’s glue-up day. The temperature and humidity are on your side. You have your cauls; you’re focused—let’s do this!
The glue-up went fine. You oriented everything perfectly, the clamps are on, you cleaned up the squeeze-out, but now you’re in a mental tailspin. The overall form is obscured by the clamps; the wood is discolored by the squeeze-out and its cleanup; true, those are temporary, but things don’t look right. You can clearly see some gaps in your joints. You’re second guessing your overall design—the relative dimensions seem off to you, are your joinery choices the right ones? You think: What would Mike Pekovich say if he saw this? Oh, the horror. Why did you ever call yourself a woodworker?
You go to bed, cold and alone.
The next day, you head to the shop, determined to either cut the piece into burnable chunks, or complete it as an act of self-flagellation. But as you remove the clamps, it doesn’t look as bad as you remember. The gaps you saw yesterday somehow seem smaller. You imagine the finished color of the wood. You think: This thing’s not half bad. It’s gonna be OK.
You finish the piece. You’ve stopped comparing yourself to Krenov, Maloof, and Frid and started appreciating the piece for what it is. It is not as perfect as you imagined, but it’s good. Everyone who sees it, loves it. You even post photos of it on social media. Then company comes by and admires your work. You point out every single flaw.
You start on your next sketch. You think: This is going to be the manifestation of a Platonic form …
Adam Godet makes furniture in Washington, D.C.
From Fine Woodworking #285