Chris Schwarz's Blog

Up Your Game with the ‘Make Pretty’

When you make furniture in order to eat or meet a deadline (such as birthdays), it’s difficult to stop yourself from crossing the finish line as soon as possible. Years ago I discovered that taking a day to simply “make pretty” did wonders for my work.

What’s “make pretty?” It’s an expression I first heard from chairmaker Peter Galbert to describe how he fusses all the little details of his chairs before finishing. I use the term to describe how I complete an important project.

After assembly and clean-up, I resist applying the finish until I walk away from the project and get a good night’s rest. Then, before applying finish I put the project on a moving blanket and take an afternoon to go over every surface of it with a set of tools designed to fix small errors or improve the surface quality of the piece.

First I examine every curve and facet of the piece to see if I can make them crisper with just a little work. For this job I use a card scraper or pieces of fine sandpaper stuck to bits of wood. I use my bench light to look at the piece from all angles and watch the shadows created by the lamp. The shadows will show lines that are vague or wobbly.

Then I use the bench light to examine every show surface with extreme raking light. Any small bits of tear-out will appear as dark shadows. I scrape those out and blend the surfaces with fine sandpaper.

Then I touch every surface and corner that can be touched by the end user. If there is any roughness I use a sanding block and #220-grit Abranet to smooth things out.

Finally, if there any moving parts – doors, drawers etc. – I double-check their reveals and their movement.

“Make pretty” takes only a few hours at most on a project, but it makes a remarkable difference that will show for years to come.

— Christopher Schwarz

7 thoughts on “Up Your Game with the ‘Make Pretty’

  1. grbmds

    I really never thought to do that. I don’t do woodworking for a living and my reward is the final product, but I just never thought to do a final thorough once over before final finishing. You always have a great perspective and your suggestions and the class I took from you, have helped me. Sometimes it’s just the little things that really make woodworking more enjoyable.

  2. Paul Johnson

    I do this too, even though I am almost always late in finishing a project. Never a better opportunity to make a big improvement on a project by attending to little details before the finish goes on.

  3. pathman98

    waiting a day to finish is never a bad idea. I have started to think much more about finishing during the build and the effort at the end then actually becomes pleasurable. BTW chris – what is the name of the chair?

  4. BLZeebub

    Because my shop is a garage, I like to put a piece out in the late day sun [raking light] and do a walk around to check it from every angle and view. Outdoors all is revealed.

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