When you make furniture in order to eat or meet a deadline (such as birthdays), it’s difficult to stop yourself from crossing the finish line as soon as possible. Years ago I discovered that taking a day to simply “make pretty” did wonders for my work.
What’s “make pretty?” It’s an expression I first heard from chairmaker Peter Galbert to describe how he fusses all the little details of his chairs before finishing. I use the term to describe how I complete an important project.
After assembly and clean-up, I resist applying the finish until I walk away from the project and get a good night’s rest. Then, before applying finish I put the project on a moving blanket and take an afternoon to go over every surface of it with a set of tools designed to fix small errors or improve the surface quality of the piece.
First I examine every curve and facet of the piece to see if I can make them crisper with just a little work. For this job I use a card scraper or pieces of fine sandpaper stuck to bits of wood. I use my bench light to look at the piece from all angles and watch the shadows created by the lamp. The shadows will show lines that are vague or wobbly.
Then I use the bench light to examine every show surface with extreme raking light. Any small bits of tear-out will appear as dark shadows. I scrape those out and blend the surfaces with fine sandpaper.
Then I touch every surface and corner that can be touched by the end user. If there is any roughness I use a sanding block and #220-grit Abranet to smooth things out.
Finally, if there any moving parts – doors, drawers etc. – I double-check their reveals and their movement.
“Make pretty” takes only a few hours at most on a project, but it makes a remarkable difference that will show for years to come.
— Christopher Schwarz