Kiss the Devil on the Tongue


In 1990, I was fresh out of college, working my first job at The Greenville News and terrified of being fired.

During my first year on the job as reporter I hit a patch where I made a string of minor errors in my stories that required the newspaper to print corrections or clarifications the next day. And it seemed the harder I worked to get things right, the worse things got.

After a couple weeks of this it got to the point where I couldn’t open the second-floor door to the newsroom. I just froze at the top of the beige-painted stairwell and stared at the fire door.

I had no idea what to do next. So I opened the door and resolved to ride it into the dirt.

At this point in the tale, I’m supposed to tell you that things took a turn for better. That I became a stronger person and a better journalist. But that would be bull#$&@. It got worse.

I made an error in a story about a huge oil spill at a golf course. I misspelled the name of the oil pipeline company at least a dozen times in my story. I should have been fired that day. But I suppose my editor took pity on me.

But even that wasn’t the bottom of the well. Hitting bottom was so painful I can’t really talk about the event except with close friends and my wife. And that wretched weekend is where things started to turn around for me as a writer and a journalist.

What does this have to do with woodworking? For me, everything. When I hit a rough patch in a project or a design, I have found that the only way out for me is to drive the car off the cliff and into the sea. I have to find bottom so I can push off that and find air.

I’ve tried other strategies – walking away from a project and then coming back to it with a fresh attitude and new ideas. For me that’s like pressing “pause” on the Betamax. It only prolongs the inevitable.

Today I am looking for the bottom with this design for a backstool. It has to be around here somewhere.

— Christopher Schwarz

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48 Responses to Kiss the Devil on the Tongue

  1. Al Navas says:

    Lamination, perhaps? I wonder if you were trying to bend the oak (?) and it failed due to being too thick. Just a wild ash guess, Chris.


  2. Nice wood! Is that Oak? 😉

  3. kendewitt608 says:

    Know what you are talking about. Spent my working life in Wall St. Oct 1987 my trading group lost
    a bunch of money. Next day we came back and said since we are going to be fired lets try to get some back.
    Made 80% of it back in one day only to have the firm go out of biz by December of that year.
    Spent another 22 years in the biz.

  4. Owain Jones says:

    Funny, I felt the same way the other day, I’m newish to woodworking and I was making dovetails in oak and they were to tight and the oak split ,
    I wanted to drive off a cliff , I told the wife I was going to sell all my woodworking tools and find something else to do that I could do that I wouldn’t be a complete and utter failure at.
    I was in a sulk for a whole day. But I got back on the horse and tried again, still not perfect dovetails but no major disaster.
    It is good you shared this with us as we mere woodworking mortals believe that experts never have issues and everything is perfect and pristine straight off the saw as that’s all we see/hear.
    So drive off that cliff and dust yourself off and try again.
    Keep up the good and bad work !!!

  5. fitz says:

    I saw your bottom up-close and personal on Sunday; I thought it was a nice little shape.

  6. toolnut says:

    Not sure about the bottom, but it sure looks like you hit a “bend” in the road.

  7. spokeshave27 says:

    lamentation or lamination – bet the crest rail was not riven from a billet. A wise woodworker once said (and I’m paraphrasing) “exploit the weaknesses in the wood to harness the strength in the grain”

    Nice looking design!

  8. woodworkerme says:

    I know the feeling . what I do is put it away and work on something else.sometimes it’s only a hour, one took a year to get back to(Tiger maple glue up table top) but I did finish it.

  9. zowtiak says:

    I thought I was the only one that stuff happened to.

  10. wadeholloway says:

    I know what you mean. My wife always tells me to walk away and come back later. But that never helps me either. I have to keep going but I am not sure if it is to hit bottom and push off or if I am just that stubborn and hard headed. Good luck.

  11. Brian Clites says:

    Are these parts for 3 chairs? Are you working on a bending process for those of us that don’t have a steam box? That would be awesome!

  12. raney says:

    I’m about to lay destruction on you…

  13. Pat Mcnulty says:

    try heat and water.

  14. Thomas Scott says:

    Looks like a tension side failure to me. Have you tried a compression strap, to protect the tension side and move the neutral point closer to the compression side.?

  15. Well Done Chris !
    Knowing we all screw up is good for all of us. Are you using KD oak? if so look out for air dry very straight grained component and still expect 2 in 5 to fail in some way. Steaming is a number game
    very best

  16. Matt Merges says:

    “Everyone says experience is the best teacher, but no one wants to go to his class” – unknown

  17. Great post. Ye Gods!…Betamax!?!?!

  18. As Thomas said above, a compression strap would help, as would steaming them (I assume you are [1hr per 1inch thick]). You need to support the wood as you been it so a clamping jig is the way to go. I’ve bent thicker pieces round more difficult double curves putting timbers into boats, you always get a few failures though. Support the piece at the back and ease into the curve from one end to the other, don’t try to force it around an apex. How are you carrying out the procedure at the moment?

    • Hey all.

      Thank you for the assistance, but I’m not looking for advice on steam-bending (or cold-lam or compwood) – I’ve been doing all of these successfully for 11 years now. You are looking at part of a long experiment on pushing some boundaries for “Furniture of Necessity.”


      • Fair does, be very interested in what method you’re experimenting with. Remember an article about cold forming frames for ships in the 19th Century, it utilised slow pressure forming over a period of weeks on massive timbers with rams.

        Keep going I’m very intrigued now.

  19. clmb512 says:

    My suggestion is to drink some beer. Ok, drink quite a few beers. If my situation is really dire I’ll go talk to my neighbor who works for the city zoning department. After about 30 mins of mind numbing platting ordinance banter I usually retreat to my shop with a renewed resolve to never leave there again. Plus that’s where the fridge with the beer is. Anyway, not sure that’s of any help.

  20. theindigowoodworker says:

    I’m a walk away and come back the next day guy. Beer is good.

  21. pahern1947 says:


    I studied Steam Bending many moons ago with a group for a Dept of Ag Grant. Learned an awful lot. I see many different approaches to this process. I find some of the steps we learned are not always used. Here is the condensed list.



  22. shopsweeper says:

    The bottom and I are well acquainted. Give him my best.

  23. Thanks for this post. It’s rare in our Humblebrag social media world for folks to talk about their failures, setbacks, and difficulties. This kind of honesty is what makes you the exceptional writer that folks enjoy so much.

  24. The Wheel Wrights would look for these bends that nature created in the tree. Instead of forcing a curve in a straight piece of wood, might you just look for a curved piece of wood?

  25. Mike Baggett says:

    Gary Rogowski said.
    “Design is a process of failure.”

  26. blefty says:

    Dang three-legged chairs look funny, anyway. 😉

  27. justin says:

    Whoa, deja vu.

  28. I think we all go through this. If we don’t we aren’t trying hard enough. I think this quote from Randy Pausch is fitting:
    “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

  29. Mike Siemsen says:

    Self flagelation with a compression strap along with a soaking in beer should help. Your stuff looks a bit brash to me, I would look there first.

  30. eldredma says:

    What are the six short pieces next to the seat? In light of the nine pieces of the original design and the thickness of the seat, they can’t be a necessity.

  31. abtuser says:

    Say ‘No’ to crack.

  32. What I gleaned from this post:

    Do not invite Chuck Norris over for dinner if you build this chair.

    If you do, and he sits in this chair, he’ll first assume it is unbalanced because of the three legs and try to compensate for it when he sits. Immediately upon placing his derriere on the seat, however, he will realize the innate stability of the design and become actively aggressive with the chair for making such a fool of him. His roundhouse kick, strengthened by years of working out on the Total Gym Platinum (TM) will knock the back of the chair completely off, whirling it in your direction at subsonic speeds. The flying wood will hit you in the throat, crushing your larynx, making you unable to breathe.

    Fortunately, you had decided to bake a favourite wedding casserole for dinner that night. Chuck improvised a tracheotomy tube with a piece of cooked penne, which was sufficient enough to allow you to breathe until he could run you to the hospital using a fireman carry, which was only slightly embarrassing because your lack of a protruding behind meant your pants kept slipping down and Chuck saw your crack.

    If only you’d asked me, first, Chris. I had that exact same thing happen to me once… even got the scar to prove it.

  33. Russ Morin says:

    The Greenville News building is about to be torn down. Not sure what is going to be built there. I like the fact that you used to live here. It also helps to reinforce my man-crush.
    Russ in Greenville

    • Russ,

      I miss Henry’s Barbecue something fierce. Glad that brutalist structure is being taken down. It was never a beautiful building – even the day it was completed.

      I do hope they save the Line-o-type machine in the lobby. That was my favorite thing in the whole place.

  34. Clint Hoxie says:

    I once read something along these lines….

    Don’t agonize over design. Be committed to your idea, and be okay with burning the mistakes. But build it.

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