An Incomplete Failure


For me, failure is like the first-person accounts I’ve heard from people who were saved from drowning or freezing to death.

You struggle mightily. At some point, however, you stop and are gripped by calm or warmth.

For the last two days, I have been fighting after being handcuffed, stuffed into a garbage bag and thrown into an icy reservoir. At 8:30 a.m., however, I put my hammer down. I wiped down my edges with a rag and put my tools back into my chest.

When I finish this blog entry, I will dismantle the parts and return them to my wood rack. The nails will go back to the cabinet.

Like many failed projects, I could have completed this box, and it would have been perfectly usable. I know woodworkers who keep their failures as a reminder of a hard lesson, but that’s not me. If I cannot sign my name to a piece and deliver it to a customer, it won’t leave my shop.

(That’s not entirely true. These parts will get used for something else. Perhaps they’ll become drawer sides or a picture frame.)

More important than the fate of the wood is that I know exactly why I failed (so there’s no need to explain it to me in the comments). And I know how to begin again.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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29 Responses to An Incomplete Failure

  1. It would be interesting to know why you feel you failed.


  2. momist says:

    Personally, I would have attempted a rescue before I took that route, and no doubt wasted my time and energy to get to the same place.


  3. woodworkerme says:

    I do a fair amount of repair work and I find mistakes on most every piece that comes through the door. I make the repairs and send them out the door. I make mistakes on the stuff I make also but most of the time no one will see them. till they need to be repaired 100 years from now or to replace the hide glue. one of my favorite sayings ” its not that a good carpenter never makes mistakes cause she will but a good carpenter will fix them and the mistakes of every carpenter before her”.


  4. Chris, I’m with you – “If I cannot sign my name to a piece and deliver it to a customer, it won’t leave my shop.” As for your ‘failure’ maybe not enough clamps 😉


  5. toolnut says:

    Have you given up on the box completely and are moving on to a completely different project or have you only given up on this attempt and will do as Underdog advised us,”try, try again” with a different design or wood choice?


  6. You could always use the parts to make a birdhouse. You know, to relax.


  7. Niels Cosman says:

    Next time try dampening the end grain with some denatured baby-unicorn spirits. It solves just about every problem in the shop and has gotten me out of plenty a pickle in the past. An added benefit is that your shop will smell like unicorn-farts (strawberries and lavender) for several days after application.


  8. Is there some obvious failure in that picture that I’m just not seeing? Or is this an aesthetic/design failure rather than a physical failure?

    Or in other words, I’m interested in learning through other’s failures, not just not my own.


    • Hey Timothy,

      The failure was using nails that were too big for the thickness of the stock. As soon as I achieved a pilot hole that didn’t split either board, the nail’s hold became too weak. The project became impossible with this wood, these nails and no splits.

      So I have new nails on the way.


      • wwwessinger says:

        What sort of wood is that? Kinda looks like close grained fir? I’ve been thinking about building some boxes with that sort of corner after seeing a friends tool box that she built at the woodworking school in Port Townsend. I think hers is cherry.


  9. Eric R says:

    Thank you for being human…..


  10. UGH…. sorry to hear… err read of your um… ah yes “buggered up experiment” It is times as such that I go to my favorite greasy spoon diner, have a Club sandwich, Root beer float, and apple pie… with a roll of roll of lifesavers coming a close second.


  11. steveschafer says:

    You just didn’t want it enough.


  12. Tim Raleigh says:

    “You struggle mightily. At some point, however, you stop and are gripped by calm or warmth.” Were you testing your kidneys…?


  13. gblogswild says:

    Beer. At 8:30am.


  14. Failure is really good for us. Reminds us that we are mere mortals, that screw up regularly. I too am with you Chris on that standard : “if it is not good enough for a client it won’t leave the shop. ”

    But that point of giving up, fighting for survival, then in the end surrendering to the inevitable warm closing in of…….. No, I will bin the damn thing, but I won’t do “that” today


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