Chris Schwarz's Blog

The Stupidest Glue-up Ever


If you love to read about people screwing up, this post is for you.

This week I’m shooting a DVD in the Popular Woodworking studio on building a traditional 18th-century tool chest (it should be out by mid-March). Building one of these chests alone in my shop is a 40-hour sprint-a-thon. Building it along with a class is an exercise in concentrating through interruptions.

Building it in front of a camera crew in less than a week is enough to make me wear adult diapers (seriously, today I couldn’t find time to go to the bathroom until 5:30 p.m.).

Today I cut all the joints for the chest’s lid and tried to assemble it. After a dry fit, I put the glue on the joints and can’t close the joints with clamp pressure. I remove the offending stile and try to figure out the problem (cameras are rolling). I adjust the panel and try again. No dice (cameras rolling).

I grab the crew members to pull apart the lid again (cameras stopped). I adjust the panel with a quick and dirty cut on the table saw. We try again. The joints won’t close. My brain throbs like I just tried to eat a gallon of ice cream in two bites.

Somehow we pull the lid apart again (thank you, hide glue). And then I realize the problem.

I’d built the lid’s central panel last night to get ready for the shoot. At 5 a.m. I woke up and decided I didn’t like the grain. So I went to the shop in my pajamas and remade the panel and re-cut the groove in the edges of the panel. In my pre-coffee state I didn’t make the groove deep enough.

Ten seconds with my plow plane fixed the problem. The panel went together (cameras rolling) and every sphincter in my body began to relax (thank you, adult diapers).

The lesson? Somehow when I did my dry fit I skipped a step. Solution: Never film another DVD.

— Christopher Schwarz


24 thoughts on “The Stupidest Glue-up Ever

  1. DaveVanEss

    Chris, that is “the stupidest glue up ever”, so far. Oh well, keeps you humble. I figure that a wood pencil is 7.5″ long with a 0.25″ eraser. Maybe an inch will be a stub too short to use. Allocating 3% percent for error and 13% percent waste seems about right. As for not making DVDs, celebrate your errors and make a blooper DVD available to those who subscribe today to Popular Woodworking for the ridiculously low low price of……..

  2. ddevore

    I am inspired and happy to know that I am not the only one that make mistakes and catch them while glue is drying. Unfortunately I usually catch my mistakes after it is too late. I have the occasional mistake party which is where the wife, kids, and friends gather around a fire pit and enjoy the fruits of my mistakes.

    1. jwalter227

      This just to let you know I made the mother of all mistakes. I wanted to install a vise on the end of my outfeed table, so I turned it upside down. I mortised and countersunk the holes and installed it. On the wrong side of the table! All you can do is laugh and start again. I could screw up and mayonnaise sandwich.

  3. Niels

    I’m sure you have heard about the brown paper bag trick for finishing, but do you know about the brown pants trick for glue-ups?

  4. Mark G

    Chris, I was just wondering what angle you use for your dovetails. They look pretty nice. Do your angles change between the casing and the bottom and top skirting?

  5. SATovey

    You can’t blame this on the cameras, this is clearly a fault of trying to get to much done in to short a time. When that happens, things always go awry, and steps are always missed.

    After watching many PBS documentaries where weather interferes with the possibility of completing the research, I have come to the conclusion that the problem is underestimating the amount of time it takes to do the job and that underestimation always comes back to bite you.

    Here’s a hint. When you’re struggling to get something done and it’s not working, while at the same time you need to either get something to drink or use the restroom, that’s the time to stop and take the break.

    I have found when I walk away from a programming problem, by stopping what I am trying to make work and walking away, I am free to start thinking through the problem, during which I not only realize that what I am doing will never work, I also come up with an actual solution.

    I have termed these periods of trying to make something work that never will, an infinite loop, because in programming, when a loop is not given an out in the code, it continues non stop, which is the exact scenario of trying to make something work that cannot.

    1. nickatnight

      Hi, This has nothing to do with woodworking…just with mistakes. I’m a retired Operating Room nurse. I’ve worked with bad surgeons, good surgeon and great surgeons. The great ones make sure that they are well rested before a big case and they always have a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, etc. To paraphrase von Moltke the Elder, “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.” The same goes for things that happen in the shop. Don’t make your plans too detailed nor too inflexible.

  6. sbrantley

    You mentioned this phenomenon in a class I had with you. I forget the exact phrase you used (multiple times) but basically *@%& happens when people are watching. I guess same goes for cameras.

  7. Jim Maher

    I’m really looking forward to this DVD, so I really appreciate the effort.

    I got the book (long, long ago). I got the plans. I done studied and thought and pretended through every single step. I bought the wood (years ago, now). I’ve read most everything you and others have written about the chest. I have the tools (though I might just me get a new Bad Axe saw).

    You get that DVD out and I’ll run out procrastination excuses!


  8. Steve

    Chris, keep those DVDs coming!!!! 🙂 Some of us have them all! Nice to see the experts mess up too! We learn from that as well!

  9. hmerkle

    Chris –
    BAD solution! Please come up with an alternative.
    Also, continue doing what you do (I am sure you will)
    Learning techniques in a workshop (class) with someone who knows what they are doing is fantastic, but you cannot ask questions when you are trying to accomplish what you ‘learned” in a class in your home workshop… (ref. “You can’t teach a kid to ride a bike at a seminar – Sandler”)
    Reading and rereading the techniques is great (again thank you for LAP!!!) – but when you have a DVD you can watch, re-watch and back up for that “thing” you just don’t get… that is a key that unlocks learning.

    I am guessing you were joking anyway, but too often we don’t tell people – “Yes, I know that is tough,, hard work, stretching your comfort zone, etc. but I appreciate what you are doing!”

    1. crombenevolant

      Why is it that when things start going horribly wrong our first reaction is to jump to a solution vs sitting down and thinking through the problem? I find myself running down the same rabbit hole, I know better, but in the heat of “battle” it seems that I almost never take the time to slow down and think through the problem. I think I need a poster in my shop that says “Slow Down and Think!”

      1. Bookmark

        Wooden boat builders are urged to include a “moaning chair” as a basic tool in the shop. It is a very apt term for a very useful item. A bottle of one’s preferred adult beverage is an optional accessory.

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