Dumb Woodworking Mistakes

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A friend was recently making a rolling cart for his kitchen using a slab of butcherblock and an industrial metal cart on wheels. But he ran into trouble. Instead of measuring from center to center for the hole locations, he was measuring from the edge of the uprights – first from the inside, then from the outside. By the time he called me, the Bondo was dry. It took me about two seconds to identify the problem, and another two seconds for him to slap himself on the forehead and say, “I’m such an idiot!”

But he’s not. He was just having one of those moments that we all have…like my recently forgetting to put the thin-kerf blade on the table saw for two 3″-wide pieces from an almost 6-1/8″-wide piece of stock. (That mistake became a design opportunity.)

In 2003, we ran an article on the “16 Dumbest Woodworking Mistakes.” You can read the whole thing for an explanation of the problem – and the solution – by downloading the PDF at the end, but in short, those mistakes are:

1. You measure carefully, but everything is a bit off
2. You forget to include the kerf in your planning (Yeah, I know)
3. You cut on the wrong side of your line
4. Your mitered moulding is too short
5. You’re off by an inch
6. Your joints are gappy
7. You insert a piece wrong in a glueup
8. Two left feet (or sides)
9. A hole that is too large/too small
10. Your doors don’t fit
11. Pencil line too light to see/too dark to remove
12. You ruin a critical piece
13. Fasteners are too long (Oh yeah…did that one recently, too!)
14. The finish color is…unexpected
15. A panel glue-up doesn’t close
16. Boards slip at panel glue-up

I’ll add 17: You measure from the wrong location. (The fix is Bondo…only the cats will see it).

Oh – and 18. You promise a project will be done by XX date. (The solution is to never promise a thing. And yet I keep doing it!)

What mistakes do you make? Or perhaps better yet, what mistakes do your friends make? It might be time for an updated article…or at least company for misery.

Download: 16Dumbest

— Megan Fitzpatrick

9 thoughts on “Dumb Woodworking Mistakes

  1. David.Sandlin@valp.net

    Its not an error or a mistake, its a RDC (Rapid Design Change – but it sound so much more professional when you use an acronym).

  2. VEARL

    My dumb mistake is about a safety issue… a costly one. I was ripping an eight ft. long pine 2 x 4 on my table saw. it had a big knot almost at the end. i was concerned that the knot might break out so was being extra careful (I thought). I was using a 3/4 x 5 x 8″ lg. scrap piece to hold the 2 x 4 against the fence. I was also using a pusher stick to push the 2 x 4 through the blade. When the knot entered the blade, I had to push harder to get the saw through. all at once there was an explosion and the 3/4 x 5 x 8 scrap piece and my left hand went into the saw.

    Well, this got me a medic helicopter ride from Maryville, TN to Vanderbilt hospital in Nashville to amputate the mauled index finger and reattach my thumb. When I got home three days later I went to my shop to try to figure out what happened, expecting the knot to be out of the 2 x 4. Well, it wasn’t. I worked in the engineering dept. at Alcoa and was on the accident reconstruction group of the safety committee so i commenced to reconstruct the accident. What I found that happened was pushing hard through the knot caused me to push the 2 x 4 out of the blade too fast at the end of the cut. My right arm going forward too fast caused my left arm/hand to move the 3/4 x 5 x 8 scrap piece into the side of the blade. Because the piece was so short, it twisted sideways, going on into the blade and causing the “explosion”. If I had used a longer piece, perhaps 24″ long, or a featherboard, this probably wouldn’t have happened. I’m sharing this in hopes it will keep someone else from making the same DUMB mistake. i STILL LOVE TO MAKE SAWDUST!

  3. rhett

    An improper mix of epoxy that never gets hard. Nothing like digging soft goo out of a tabletops worth of knots and checks, with a dental pick….

  4. Scottfab

    You miraculously make a perfect dovetail with three pins with black walnut and
    hard to find balsa plywood only to find it’s on the wrong board.
    The right board is still on the table saw 🙁

    1. Jon Russelburg

      At my first woodworking job I had to make 4 drawers on my first day. At glue-up I realized they all had pins…no tails. Thankfully they weren’t hand-cut.

  5. pmac

    #3 and #12 pop up every now and then, but the one I am most guilty of committing (repeatedly) is trying to rush the finish and end up screwing it up so bad that I spend more time fixing it than if I had just waited for it to dry completely between coats. (#19)

  6. billmurr

    #8 – Built a Secretary, Stiles, rails, flat panels for the sides. Carefully laid out the dados, and made two right sides. Did a #7 once, built a raised panel door, and glued the door in facing the wrong way. – But those were the rookie mistakes of many decades ago. The fact I still remember, keeps me from doing it again. I’m pursuing much more difficult things now, looking for the chance to goof up again.( There is an adage about if you aren’t making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough ) But thankfully I’ve never made the BIG mistake, and hurt myself. Unless sore muscles from carrying lumber and furniture count as hurts.

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