Woodworking

First Build, and the Woodworker’s Curse

It’s official. I have built a cabinet. It may only be the same pine cabinet that every other student also has to make as part of the course, but it’s mine, and it’s my first build.

Obviously I have learnt lots during this build, but something else I have discovered is the woodworker’s curse: the curse of knowing all of the mistakes that are within your piece.

When I was making the loose tenon joints in the frame, I managed to misplace one hole by 1 mm. (Yes, a whole one millimetre!) So, I slightly altered the tenon, marked the joint with pencil so I knew which one it was, and then promptly forgot to ensure it was clamped properly during the glue-up!

The top of the cabinet is made by gluing together pieces of wood and it is important that the edges are square and the clamping process keeps them square. When the clamping is not square, the result can be a visible glue line, like the second line up from the bottom…

And while we are looking at the top, can you see all of the gaps around the decorative butterfly insert?! And the gaps in the dovetails in the drawer side below?

The two handles on the cabinet were to be turned on the lathe. The first handle was a nice shape and I was happy and so it was glued into the drawer. It was a few weeks until I turned the second handle: I took the measurements from the first handle, went to the lathe, turned the second handle, and made a nice shaped curve on the front. But the curve was not quite the same – it is less bulbous and more flat. Can you see what I mean? And can you also see that the dimple in the face of the second handle is not quite in the centre?

These are trivial mistakes, trivial differences, nearly invisible mistakes, often unnoticeable to the untrained eye, and yet whenever I look at the cabinet I start to remember all of these ‘issues’.

As a woodworker, the challenge is to make peace with the mistakes and to not fixate on them. Most (non-woodworkers) looking at a piece will think it is great, and won’t know or be bothered by the imperfections that we see.

I need to embrace mistakes as part of my journey as a woodworker: learn from them and hopefully don’t repeat them. I know that my imperfect furniture has soul and is the antidote to mass-produced perfection.

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