Yesterday I was at a local auto body shop, poring over an El Camino in the back room and struggling mightily to see what was 6″ from my eyes.
Let me back up a minute: I’m having a mid-life crisis. And the way it is manifesting itself is in a most foolish enterprise: Restoring a 1968 Volkwagen Karmann Ghia. These cars have beautiful Italian lines, pokey 1,500cc air-cooled engines and a tendency to rust out from the inside (as mine is).
So I took it to a guy who specializes in restoring cars and we go over the details of the job. What he will do. What I will do. And how many visits I’m going to have to make to the plasma donation center to pay for it all.
Then he asks, “What chrome do you want replaced?”
“The chrome looks fine,” I say. “Leave it.”
I can tell that he’s trying to stuff down an urge. He shakes his head and takes me to the back room with the El Camino. He shows off the beautiful two-tone paint and then points to the chrome strip that traces the top of the truck’s bed.
“See,” he says. “This dull chrome looks horrible next to this paint job. I hate it.”
I cannot for the life of me see what he’s talking about. The chrome looks fine; it’s not flaking a bit. After a few minutes of examination, I realize that this is a lot like learning the craft of woodworking and furniture design. Most beginners (and non-woodworkers) are blind to the palette of grain and color match that most of us struggle with. The things that we work so hard to achieve (tight reveals on door and drawers, for example) are lost to most.
Even when I point these details out to people on a piece, I can tell that most of them don’t see it. As soon as their eyes move to another piece of furniture, the lesson I tried to teach them on the first piece is completely gone. They simply cannot see the details until they have tried to achieve them in their own shops or have had them pointed out 10,000 times by another woodworker (sorry about that, Lucy).
That same evening I drove home with some friends from a bourbon tasting and we discussed some bookshelves I will design and build for them this fall. To begin, I ask what furniture styles they like. And I list a few.
I probe a little shallower. Do they like antiques? Contemporary furniture? What furniture catalogs do they like? Where would they like to buy furniture if they could afford anything?
“It’s hard to say” is the response.
OK, it’s time to hit the books. I assemble a stack of furniture books and catalogs and ask them to page through them and put a sticky note on anything they like. A style. A color. A detail. A shape.
While I wait for them to do their homework, I’m going to do mine. I’ve been paging through Malcolm Bobbit’s book “Karmann Ghia: Coupe & Cabriolet” to stare at acres of chrome. So far, I still don’t see it.
Reminder: We’ve just published a hardbound book of the first seven issues of Woodworking Magazine. Shipping is free through Sept. 21, 2007. Click here for details.
Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.