Failing Daily Since 1993
After the 2016 election, I did what every sane American did: I eliminated the annoying people from my social media feeds on both the left and the right who had become singularly obsessed with politics. And then I took another healthy step: I eliminated feeds from the “fake perfectionists.”
Who are the “fake perfectionists?” You probably know them. They are the people who post beautiful photos of their work on social media and never seem to experience a single glitch. And, in the cases of schools with “fake perfectionist” feeds, they crow about the beauty, detail and perfection of the work being taught there.
To which I say: Hogwash.
Woodworking is about failure. In fact, I consider successful projects to be ones that simply endured less failure than usual. Stuff goes awry. Wood chips out. Table legs go into the burn pile. If you aren’t making errors – of the hand or of the mind – you are a robot and need to have your firmware downgraded.
Today, for example, was one of the most difficult days I’ve had in the shop in seven years. While building the final version of a three-legged stool I’ve been working on for weeks, my drill broke – the chuck simply dropped off the shaft. Then I nearly snapped my wrist. And when I finally got the stool assembled I learned two lessons:
- Don’t finish shaping the set until after you drill your mortises. Why? Read on.
- My design for the seat was all wrong. When you make a three-legged stool, you need to remove material from the rear of the seat to prevent it from looking unstable.
So I made a new seat using a shape I was happy with. When I drilled the mortises in the new seat, one of the legs’ angles was off wildly. This was the first time this has ever happened to me.
I now have three completely botched seats and four bockety legs for this single stool design. This is typical when designing new work. At heart, I’m a cautious fellow. My favorite woodworking saying is: “Go slower; it’s faster.” And yet when I step up to the edge and take one more step forward, I know I am going to fall.
Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment, but it’s the getting back up, dusting myself off and making it work part of the craft that keeps me going.
Tomorrow I go the lumberyard for more expensive firewood for this stool. The next stool (5.0!) will be perfect. Ha! Who am I kidding? The next one will be – at best – a failed attempt at failure.
— Christopher Schwarz