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Get a Perfect Finish Every Time

It’ a shame this phrase is used – ever. Perfection is so rare, it’s really never.

There’s probably no phrase in finishing that irritates me more than this one: Get a perfect finish every time. It’s commonly used by editors and publishers to title articles, sub-title books, and in general to promote information they want you to look at.

You rarely see this type of phrase in reference to woodworking: Get perfect saw cuts every time. Learn how to cut perfect dovetails every time. Produce perfect shavings every time with a handplane. Everyone knows you can’t do perfect woodwork, especially “every time.” You just strive for perfection, as James Krenov explained so eloquently in his books from the 1970s.

But when it comes to finishing, it’s common to be told that perfection is right around the corner; just read this.

I don’t know if there are any publishers who haven’t resorted to this sort of “come on.” When I wrote Understanding Wood Finishing in 1993, my publisher wanted to subtitle it, of course, “Get a Perfect Finish Every Time.” I objected as vociferously as I could. Finally, we came to a compromise: “How to Select and Apply the Right Finish.”

OK, that’s kind of weak. But at least we avoided the perfect stuff.

I needed a visual for this posting. I had lots of possibilities to choose from, but I didn’t want to step on anyone. I found a copy of a 48-page booklet that my publisher excerpted from “Understanding Wood Finishing” in 1994 to use as a freebee “Premium” to help sell other stuff. It has my name on it, not someone else’s who could be offended. But though I helped with the content, I had nothing to do with the title. The booklet was produced by another part of the publishing house, people who hadn’t heard how I felt.

— Bob Flexner


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Showing 2 comments
  • Rob Porcaro


    I heartily agree! Though I do note the “perfect every time” tag does also seem to get attached to a lot of woodworking tools and methods.

    The problem with the “perfect” come-on is that a woodworker who uses the didactic material and then inevitably achieves something less than perfection is apt to incorrectly suppose he did something wrong, or doubt his capability.

    Then on the next try, the perfect becomes the enemy of the good due to hesitancy or obsessiveness. Worse still, this can lead to creative paralysis.
    Better that instructors teach how to work toward excellence and how to distinguish it from mediocre.

    Anyway, thank you for all of your tremendous teaching on wood finishing. I think it is the best teaching out there on any aspect of woodworking.

    Rob Porcaro

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