It’s difficult to argue against perfection in woodworking. That’s because the counter argument is something like: “You’re a hack and can’t get it right, and so you say that your imperfections are intentional.”
Or put another way, you can’t be too rich, too thin or have joinery that is too perfect.
Here’s how I think about perfection: We now have the technology to abolish time zones. Each person’s phone could be set to a perfect local time where noon is always perfect noon when the sun is right overhead. And midnight is perfect midnight.
This sort of accuracy is, however, incredibly stupid. The people in the neighborhood west of you could be five minutes earlier than you. And the neighborhood east of you would be a few minutes later. How would anyone meet for lunch? Or arrive on time at work? So while we can have perfect accuracy in this instance, it’s not a good idea.
The same goes for furniture. When people see Peter Follansbee’s carved chests, they usually fall in love with the form, even if they don’t like early American carved oak furniture. While there are lots of things to love about Follansbee’s work, I think its main allure is all the little imperfections in the work that show it was made by hand. These imperfections aren’t introduced intentionally, they are simply a by-product of the layout, joinery and carving methods that Follansbee uses.
If you think I’m wrong, check out a machine-made version of one of these chests. Lots of people have made them, but probably the most notable example is the one featured on this 2010 magazine cover. It’s flawless work. Great wood selection. The carvings are crisp. But it simply doesn’t have the same life as one of Peter’s chests because it’s just too perfect.
On the other hand, try to picture one of James Krenov’s cabinets made in the Adirondack style with bits of bark all over it. Or in wild fiddleback maple. Or sanded to #320-grit with a DA sander.
For me, perfection has nothing to do with shimmering surfaces and piston-fit drawers. It’s a trickier thing where you bring all aspects of a piece into harmony – the form, the wood, the joinery, the surface decoration and the finish. Fail at one of those and your work looks odd, lifeless or just ugly. Succeed at all of them (which is really difficult to do), and you’ll create a piece you can’t take your eyes off of for years to come.
— Christopher Schwarz
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