On Forcing Yourself

If it weren’t for my wife, Lucy, I’d probably live and work alone – without a phone and with as little direct human contact as possible.

Yup, Lucy had to ask me out on our first date. And yes, she had to ask for my hand in marriage.

During the last 20 years, I’ve tried to pretend to be more social. Why? Because it has helped my woodworking immensely.

As I’ve mentioned before, all of my ideas for books were the result of talking to other woodworkers about their tools, their workbenches and they way they work. And all the best things I have learned about the craft have come from watching other woodworkers build things – not a DVD, not on a computer screen but in their shop and in real time.

I was reminded of this last night while installing hardware on this Campaign Secretary. I’d dusted off my plunge router to waste away a bunch of wood for a piece of brass in a prominent place on the secretary. Everything was going great until my hand slipped and the bit flew into a place it wasn’t supposed to. In about a second, I had made a dime-sized major error on one of the most visible surfaces of this piece.

I unplugged the router, carefully wrapped the cord around it and returned it to the bottom of a drawer for another two-year shunning. Dang I hate those spinny tools.

Now, how to fix the error? The answer was easy, thanks to my friendship with Carl Bilderback. Carl is a semi-retired carpenter, tool collector, woodworker and all-around generous fellow. We first met when he called to give me some grief about an error in one of my tool reviews. Despite the fact that he was ripping me a new one, he was gentle about it. And he became an excellent resource for me on hand work and an occasional author for Popular Woodworking Magazine.

Carl had written a piece on how to make a “dutchman” – a patch used to disguise an error such as this. Patching other people’s mistakes was one of his specialties as a carpenter. The article, “Perfect Patching,” is in the February 2008 issue on page 76 if you’d like to read it. I took the photos for the article and was his editor.

It’s a brilliant article, and Carl’s knowledge and willingness to share it really saved my butt. In about 15 minutes I had glued in a patch. Then I went to dinner with a fellow woodworker where I confessed my crimes (“Forgive me Norm, for I have sinned”). When I came home I leveled the patch and went back to work – this time removing waste with a firmer gouge instead of a router. Thanks Carl.

So where exactly is the repair? I’m not telling. It’s my job to hide it. It’s your job to find it.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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20 Responses to On Forcing Yourself

  1. Amos Bullington says:

    Shucks, anybody can hide a small patch behind a sunbeam like that, Chris! ha ha ha ha

  2. I also hate those screaming demons! I’ve been selling mine off on ebay. I have one left to sell. I better get it posted, before it calls to me and does what it did to you.


  3. Nick Gibbs says:

    Sounds like you’re living up to what the Guardian described today as the Extrovert Ideal, by forcing yourself to be more outgoing than you’d be by nature. Join the club. Most woodworkers are, I expect, naturally introverted, which doesn’t necessarily mean they are shy, they just prefer to spend time alone or in small groups. They are more sensitive and sensible than extroverts. There is a great 20-question quiz in the Guardian to find out if you are introverted or extroverted, or indeed an ambivert. According to the article Einstein, George Orwell, Eleanor Roosevelt, JK Rowling and Steven Spielberg were all introverts, and the author, Susan Cain (who has written Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking) says that a better word to describe such people might be ‘thinkers’. Introverts are not necessarily shy, with Cain describing Barbara Streisand as a shy-extrovert and Bill Gates as a non-shy introvert.

    • quietkayak says:

      I picked this book up last week after hearing about it via a TED Talk.

      The book sheds new light on what has been too often considered a shortcoming.

  4. Matt Vanderlist says:

    I once had a bad habit of pointing out my mistakes on each project to my wife. Given she’s already familiar with all my other flaws I’ve learned to hate that error in judgement.

    Now I quietly revel in my repairs and hope she sticks the personality ones instead.

  5. yaakov says:

    Hey, it is just part of being Human. We all make mistakes, and perfect furniture isn’t hand crafted.
    I am a firm believer in “Show because I failed.” We all learn from our mistakes. Way to go Chirs!

  6. Tom says:

    I, for one, am glad that Chris didn’t have to go to the local Doc-In-A-Box to get a patch on his hand.

  7. Rob Gorrell says:

    Ah, just another reason to continue the Anarchist’s process in my shop. A little off-topic I guess, but I have to say that the Anarchist’s Tool Chest ripped me out of the state of procrastination I was in and finally got me to start packing up the “spinny things” and start learning to use the hand tools in my woodwork-o-tinsmith-a-cooper shop. Thanks!

  8. Tim Raleigh says:

    My sympathies to your wife.
    Just kidding.
    Good advice for those of us (me) who like to spend time in front of a computer or a tool rather than actually talking to anyone.


  9. stanberryk says:

    The most mistakes I have made on projects has been with a #%@*&$!? router. I hate the things. By the way the secretary is really looking good.

    p.s. Finally received my copy of ‘Make a Joint Stool from a Tree. What a great format and the info is outstanding. Everyone involved with putting it together, many kudos. It should be in everyones library. Hope to one day to utilize the how-to and build a stool for my shop.

  10. Rob says:

    That campaign secretary is looking superb but personally I’d prefer it with some battle scars, to look more authentic. I suggest attacking it further with the router to simulate effects of sword practice in the officers’ mess and giving it a good kicking around the base with some army boots/ spurs. The hardware ought to be scratched up a bit too.

    Dutchmen are used a lot in planking repairs on wooden boats but many boatbuilders call them graving pieces. (Not sure if the term ‘Dutchman’ might be disparaging towards natives of the Netherlands since it’s considered a cheap alternative to replacing the plank).

  11. Jason says:

    What’s the difference between an introverted woodworker and an extroverted woodworker?

    An introverted woodworker looks at his shoes when he talks. An extroverted woodworker looks at your shoes when he talks. 🙂

  12. Larry Feasel says:

    Where did you get the brass hardware, the corner supports/straps?

    • lostartpress says:

      Horton Brasses. They made these special for the project but are going to stock them. They are excellent.

      Give them a call and they can give you details. Good people.

  13. Rascal says:

    Thanks for sharing, Chris! Now I don’t feel so bad about the mistakes I make (or the epithets that go with them!).

    Stands to reason that woodworkers, or any other kind of craftsman would be introverts. We spend most of our crafting time in solitude which would be intolerable for an extrovert. I had the opportunity to take the Meyers-Briggs personality assessment which turns out to be pretty interesting. Introvert and Extrovert in that context means where you get your energy from, not whether the trait is good or bad per se. Introverts can appear not to be shy at a party for example, but afterwards they need to get some cave time (or shop time) to recharge the batteries.

    Lastly, why is it we all feel compelled to point out the mistakes in our projects? I’m glad you didn’t tell us where it was. I’m making it a policy now not to mention my mistakes. No such thing as a project without a mistake. Craftsmanship is in fixing the #$%^&& things so you can’t tell they happened.

  14. lostartpress says:

    Here’s more hope for us on the mistake thing: A Zen Buddhist professor told me you should always include one obvious, even deliberate, error in every piece of handwork.

    When I asked why, he just looked at me.

    So it’s a Zen thing.

    • This isn’t the first time I heard this thought. Louis L’Amour (the old western writer) claimed in one book that Arabian craftsman (rug makers) would deliberately mess up a piece of work with a flaw because only Allah was perfect. I guess, for them, the imperfections made the man and perfection marked a god.

      I’m perfectly happy being and making imperfections. I just try to make less imperfections each go around.

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