Or, Getting out of the “Not Really Good Enough” Rut

I have been at it about 6 years now. As a hobby it can be rewarding. It is always satisfying to see a quality piece finished for home, family, or friends. You know the sensation. It is more than just a feeling. It contributes to stronger relationships, the bonding that makes life richer.

Yet at times there are frustrations. I watch Woodsmith Shop and Classic Woodworking regularly. The skills and capacities are impressive. It is easy to fall into the trap of “not good enough” or “not quite perfect” when things don’t look quite as nice as the results you see on television or in the magazines.

There is a simple way around this frustration. Actually, there are two. The first is something that I had to apply to my darkroom work, and that’s the simple principle of “five feet, five years.” If you can’t see it from five feet away in five years you’ll either forget about it or won’t care in the least. It’s easy to make too big a deal out of a little nuance or imperfection.

The second principle is more difficult, but it is also the easiest to identify. It is “take your time, whatever time it takes.” Each of us has a different level of skill and how we compensate for that usually involves time. Sometimes it involves building more jigs. But jigs are used at every skill level. Some of us just need more of them. Time seems to be the biggest concern.

The first thing about time is the time to learn. When it comes to wood there are hundreds of ways to do things right and a thousand ways to do things wrong. Take time to read and learn from others. There are many forums and magazines to read and participate in. Make use of them.

Time to learn the skills and nuances is more challenging. On a recent project I was applying edge banding with an iron. I use a little travel iron from the 1960s. (They are pretty cheap and frequently available in thrift shops.) It was easy to simply iron it on. But then I looked at the edge and noticed that the veneer wasn’t tight against the plywood. The correction was simple: Go back over it and add more pressure. Then I had an edge that looked like it ought. But it took time and attention to detail to see the issue.

Of course, edge banding is generally wider than the material you attach it to. That leaves trimming the edges to flush. I have one of those blue gizmos that you press in from both sides and swipe down the piece to leave a smooth edge. That works perfectly … if the edge banding has straight grain. Recently I added some red oak edge banding and the grain was at an angle. That meant one side was going to cut against the grain. It did. Had to replace the piece because the tear-out looked really bad.

I found two solutions to this. 1. Only press the gizmo against one side at a time and go with the grain.  That worked well for the red oak. 2. Cut the edge off with a knife or other tool. With maple banding I found it worked well to take my low angle block plane and, with a very shallow setting and, bending the excess to about 45 degrees, cut through the excess in several passes. Once through I could take the plane and smooth the edge.

Those are my techniques. It took me time to (a) figure out the problems with each type of edge banding and (b) find a good working solution. You will develop your own over time. What I also found in the end is that the edge banding trim gizmo has its place but it’s not for every situation. Over time I learned that the tool has its limits. Remember: The tool serves you. You do not serve the tool.

It took me four weeks of evenings to build this closet insert. Our house, vintage 1967, had those sliding doors for the entry coat closet. Wife wanted something more up-to-date. So we perused magazines and I came up with this idea. The upright on the left holds an extra table leaf, her ironing board, vacuum, flag, and misc supplies. We keep board games and such in boxes on the shelf. And there’s a two-drawer unit for boots, hats, and gloves. Oak-veneer plywood with an antique maple stain.

At first it looked like two weeks of work. Cut the sheets. Stain. Add edge banding. Assemble. Repeat for upright and lower. Then add a day for doing the shelf. It took me 2x longer than expected. But in the end the wife is happy so I am happy. The hidden hinges in the door took a day to figure out how to do correctly. (A “day” being two hours after work.) Few things are as easy as their instructions indicate.

So, go ahead. Make nice stuff. And if the “afternoon” project that they talk about on TV takes you the whole weekend to do right, don’t worry about the clock. Those professionals that do woodworking all the time, and those who may have a greater amount of natural talent, are good people to learn from. But you are not them and they are not you. Just enjoy the process and the fruit of your labors.

A side note: I find this principle of “taking time” beneficial is almost all areas of life. It takes time to build relationships even in normal family life. It takes time to know the Lord as well as I ought. It takes time to grow as a person. The clock is one of those tools we serve instead of letting it serve us.