In End Grain

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I was about to make a desk for my son John’s bedroom and in my mind it was a beautiful thing: simple, sleek and with elegant proportions. Drawings and a cut list were completed. Walnut boards were purchased and transported to Cerritos College in Norwalk, California where I am a community-ed student on Sundays. There should have been a plan of procedure, but since I had made a vaguely similar desk two years earlier, I thought I could safely wing it. That was my first unwitting mistake.

Like you, I begin my projects with hope. Of course we expect problems along the way because that is the nature of woodworking, but at this point we’re not certain what those problems will be. Yet not long after I started working on this desk, I got into a nasty feud with it that lasted all the way through its glue-up. Forget about hope. I began to loathe this desk.
As irritating as it is to admit, I made an astonishing number of stupid mistakes throughout this project. While wood-fixing is a valuable skill to learn, sometimes what is really needed is the courage to start all over again. But nope, that did not look like progress to me. I do believe my increasingly bad attitude caused me to make even more mistakes.

My aggravation was compounded by the fact that the walnut almost seemed hell-bent on thwarting me. Sometimes it behaved like a precocious exotic with inter-locking grain and other times it was as randy as cheap pine from a big-box store. Who knew that my dear old friend walnut could be so bratty?

Another setback was that I was swayed by a colleague’s insistence that his way of attaching the web frames to the legs (using the hand-held drill and dowels) was much faster and as structurally sound as my way of embedding them within the legs using a router.

Now I am an infinitely better woodworker because of what others have taught me but this time I was seduced by the word “faster.” Of all the tools and machines in the shop, the hand-held drill will always be the one to crush me. I am often affectionately mocked for this.

So in pursuit of speed, I threw self-knowledge to the wind, made jigs for the drill-and-dowels method, tried it and made a mess of it. Given my desire to simply be done with the desk, I had not been in an optimal mood for refining my drill skills. This led to more wood-fixing again before returning to my original strategy of using a router.

After the remaining (and inordinate) amount of time it takes to wrap up all the other never-ending details of a project, the desk was finally moved into its spot in John’s room. “I hated working on this thing,” I admitted to my son Nick.

“So this is that one project for you, huh?,” he said.

Ahhhh, yes. In talking to my friends, it seems in every woodworker’s life there is always That One Project that you begin so optimistically but then it turns into a beast, wearing down your spirit. Instead of being invigorated by the challenges that are thrown your way, you just feel like the whole process is one long slog.

When civilians come over to my house now and admire the desk, I am smart enough not to complain about the misery I went through making it because it sounds like I am fishing for compliments. Honestly, though, even I can’t see what made me so crazy. It looks great. –Marci Crestani is the co-author with Brian Miller of The Art of Coloring Wood.

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