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In some high technology circles there is an expression they use when engineers move too quickly to launch a project. They have “go fever” and are willing to overlook horrible mistakes in order to launch a product.

When teaching woodworking – especially casework – I find that most students need to take down their protective netting, dip themselves in cow’s blood, learn some suggestive mosquito mating dances and contract a serious case of the “go fever.”

Those dovetails on the underside of the casework do not need to look like they stepped out of a Thomas Moser catalog. They need to go together. Today.

I know this sounds like I’m saying: Be sloppy. I am not. Most woodworkers are far better than they give themselves credit for. They have worked very hard to learn to cut and pare to a line, but they have no idea when the joint will actually go together. So they pare and fuss and evaluate and test and think.

And most of the time the joint is already great. (And fussing with it will probably make it worse.)

There are lots of times in woodworking where the less you fuss with a joint or an edge of a board, the better it will be.

So before you mess with a joint, see if it fits. Before you adjust a moulding, see if it looks good as-is.

Trust your gut. And your mallet.

— Christopher Schwarz

Want to cut dovetails crazy fast? Check out Charles Bender’s DVDs on the topic. I don’t cut the joints the way he does, but he is way better than almost everyone else I know. Check them out in the store here.

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Showing 19 comments
  • VBJames

    I’m finding the best way for me to do things is to use what wood I can get my hands on, what tools I have, even if they aren’t all that great, and to make things that are useful. Some things aren’t all that pretty, but they serve more than one purpose. My dovetails are coming along for boxes to store odds and ends of tools I have, and every now and then I make something others like and call a piece of furniture, even if they use rustic as a descriptive term. I became interested in woodworking almost 2 years ago. In that time, my wife became interested in keeping bees, so I made her stands, bottom boards, inner covers, telescoping tops, and lots of boxes. She now has enough woodenware to fill a dozen 6 box high Langstroth hives. The nice thing about the bees is that with dovetails glue isn’t necessary, as they will glue the joints together for me.
    But I do enjoy reading the articles I find here, and they have been an inspiration leading me to try new ways of working with wood. Thanks Chris.

  • prairienut

    Chris, my husband, Mark, now has so much “go fever” I think he’s obsessed! Thanks a lot man. 🙂

  • garyhugo

    Does anyone know where the recessed handles (shown in the video) come from? They’re exactly what I’m looking for, for my soon-to-be workbench.

  • Paulwgc

    Agreed you need to havae a go and get that “Go Fever”, after all what is the worst that could happent? a href=””>Paul

  • Robert B.

    Or, in another iteration, after much procrastination my Master’s degree project advisor told me that “Perfection is the enemy of done.”

  • Bill Houghton

    So those dances you do a public events – I’ve seen only the videos, and it’s probably as well – are mosquito mating dances? You live in the Midwest – do you really want to attract more bugs? Hard enough to breathe the summer air without gaining weight from all the extra protein you breathe in when you go outside.

  • AeroClassics

    A friend of mine was a student of Tage Frid, he said that while the class would be working, Tage would knock on a table and say “it’s cold out there boys, its cold”. His way of saying good is good enough!


  • BobStev

    Chris, whats the music for this one? I like it whatever it is.

  • cronejp

    When Chris and Hans and I and some of the others were sitting at the restaurant in Perth (for the Rosewood studio tool chest class) I never realized we were in the presence of the newest internet star… 🙂
    Trying to explain ‘Go Fever” in my context of “gotta get the tool chest dovetails bashed together” I never
    thought it would apply to something as elegant as the campaign chests.

    Chris: do you still have the video of Hans sawing ?

  • pmac

    I hope you aren’t too upset with the students themselves or the pace they are going. Given the parameters of the class which was open to all skill levels with 1 day devoted to design which could possibly generate a different design for each student ( in this case I believe you said 12 different case designs were generated) to be built in 4 days, you have to admit it was going to be a challenge for all concerned, especially the teacher.

  • griffithpark

    The five partially completed projects in my shop (down from nine!) testify that Go fever is different from Finish fever.

  • J. Pierce

    A good test fit is better than spending forever trying to fettle and fit, but I’ve also found a half-fit the best thing for my tails – seating them fully and then spreading them apart invariably (for me) ends up in a fit that’s looser the second time ’round. I seat ’em enough to sanity check, and then make a visual to make sure that fit will translate all the way down, maybe a quick check with a small square to make sure there’s no hump in my baseline. Then glue and go. Learning to trust yourself is scary, but I get carcases a lot less racking now.

  • shannonlove

    There is a programmer’s axiom attributed to Dennis Ritchie that goes, “80% functionality now is better than 100% functionality never” i.e. you need to get something done or all your planning is pointless.

    BTW, “go fever” was coined at NASA in the wake of the Challenger disaster to describe the enormous pressure from management on engineers and technicians to answer “go” to the famous “go or no-go” question. Management became concerned that launch delays were eroding political support for NASA so they began to push hard for a “go” despite safety concerns. This would eventually lead to ignoring the temperature guidelines for the o-ring seals on the external boosters which caused the Challenger disaster.

    The woodworking analogy would be someone in such a hurry to get some work done that they fire up the table saw even though the fence is warped and they don’t have a splitter, kickback protection or a blade shield…which I did yesterday on my crappy contractor’s saw.

  • iwigle

    Hans got GO Fever.

  • jerryolson19

    Some of the best advice I ever received was from Dan Fia with North Bennett St.
    “Better is the enemy of good”

  • zdillinger

    Well said. It isn’t being sloppy, its being a smart woodworker.

  • kpinvt

    But, but….

  • tsangell

    The only prescription is more cowbell.

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