The Nightmare from Which I Didn’t Awake


One of my recurring dreams is that I’m demonstrating during a woodworking class and everything goes wrong. I have the wrong parts on the bench. Nothing fits. Things split. I am missing parts.

I had that same dream today. Problem was, I didn’t wake up.

I’m at David Savage’s woodworking school this week teaching how to make a traveling tool chest to 18 students. Today about lunchtime I showed how to assemble the carcase with hot hide glue.

I knocked it together. The joints were tight enough that I didn’t need clamps. Nice. One of the joints split slightly at the bottom of the skirt. Grrr. That was unexpected (and unwelcome). But I was happy that it would be covered by the chest’s lower skirt.

I stepped away from the chest and one of the students said, “Chris, I think you assembled your chest wrong.”

She was right. My pin boards were rotated 180°. I thought I had checked my cabinetmaker’s triangle, but obviously I hadn’t done a good job.

On one hand, I was relieved that the carcase had gone together despite this major disaster. But that error was what made the corner split. And it caused a couple odd gaps that I had to fix with “the Bishop” (a ball-peen hammer).

So tonight I am drowning my misery in a Sharp’s Doom Bar and thinking it’s a good thing that I’m not teaching next year.

— Christopher Schwarz


About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
This entry was posted in Woodworking Classes. Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to The Nightmare from Which I Didn’t Awake

  1. rdwilkins says:

    You are way, way too hard on yourself.

  2. hgordon4 says:

    Man, don’t be so hard on yourself. We all make mistakes. I can’t say I’m thrilled when I make one in front of a client, but when I do I seek to gain credibility by immediately acknowledging it and thanking them for pointing it out. It’s an opportunity to be seen as human / imperfect. That’s probably a good thing for your students – to know that you’re human and actually make mistakes.
    As for not teaching next year, it undoubtedly will be good for you to get some recluse time and attend to other matters. But those of us who learn from you despite – nay, especially because of – your mistakes will be the poorer for it.

  3. That is one of the key advantages of using hide glue – one can reinvent history

  4. Ah … the beauty and danger of a consistent layout.

  5. Jeff Landau says:

    Ha. Just came in and read this after fixing an air compressor and forgetting to torque the head bolts and blowing out the gasket I just received in the mail after waiting a week. I don’t feel better, but I feel less alone.

  6. Can you explain how to apply “the Bishop”?

  7. Eric R says:

    Glad I didn’t spend all that money taking a class with you….
    (only kidding man.)
    Another myth debunked. Schwarz is human.

  8. morse2496 says:

    It’s a disaster in one way but how many peoples marking out and cutting is good enough that pins and tails even go together when they’re for the other end!

    And you’re going to paint it right?

  9. Mark White says:

    I agree with morse2496, testament to how good your work is. Mr Savage is no stranger to mistakes, watch his veneering and french polishing DVDS in that order, you’ll see what I mean.

  10. ctregan says:

    Nice cramps!

  11. Josh says:

    Hmmm… Your dovetails on the wrong end look better than my dovetails on the correct end.

  12. admiralbumblebee says:

    Are those dovetails marked with pencil for cutting, or for demonstration (with marks knifed in under)?

    • admiralbumblebee says:

      Jeez, I phrased that question badly. I’m sure you can translate it to non-idiot english.

    • I cut tails first here. So tails are marked in mechanical pencil. Pins with a knife. But all the knife marks are “highlighted” with a tiny thin line of lead at the bottom so I can actually see them.

  13. momist says:

    Hmm – Sharps Doom Bar. Good call. As a northerner, I shouldn’t say this. Sharps Doom Bar is one of my favourites. P.S. Nice fix with the bishop.

  14. Len Aspell says:

    Look on the bright side Chris – you get to have perhaps a couple of extra Doom Bars than you might otherwise have had. That will make you sleep well and awaken refreshed. Join the rest of us humans. It still looks a good tool chest.

  15. nrhiller says:

    That is a nightmare. But as my first employer always said, “It’s all problems.” That was a polite British artisan’s way of saying “shit happens.” If there’s any lesson for your students here, this is it. I call it real-life woodworking.

  16. In the year 2110 some person dressed like its 2015 will be showing this chest to their students. Proudly displaying the beautiful tools and marquetry, they will point out the jacked up pins wondering WTF?

  17. At least you didn’t do what I did in the ATC class… Marking and cutting the pins facing the wrong way on one corner, and having to cut off both sides to make them equal. And then marking and cutting both sides a second time! All because I didn’t check the marriage mark. I kept those cut off pins as a reminder…

  18. tpier says:

    You could have told them you meant to do it, to show them how precise marking makes the parts interchangeable. Yeah that’t the ticket.

  19. Deniseg says:

    You used hide glue – wet it, heat it and pull it apart.

    • Have you ever done that with a dovetailed case that’s assembled backward? I have. It doesn’t go well.

      The resulting correctly assembled case will look worse for a variety of reasons, including all the abuse the joints took during the initial (and wrong) assembly. Best to leave it.

  20. Doom Bar: love that beer! Especially with a steaming Cornish pasty in hand!

    Another reason to look forward to your off-the-grid “reboot” time this Fall.

  21. rwyoung says:

    When in doubt, give it a clout.

  22. Paul Sidener says:

    You will never be able to sell it, with that defect. Send it to me for proper disposal. That sounds like something I would have done. Good thing you gang cut the tails, it still fit.

  23. bearkatwood says:

    Miscalculation of orientation in explination of aggregation is instigation of irritation. Attestation of medication for consternation and trepidation of frustration is libation.

  24. Rachael Boyd says:

    it’s sad when a hero falls. but it’s good to know you made it work and your a hero once again.
    good job Chris. I made a screw up on my chest also but it was the tray in the center I laid it out different than the top or the bottom. keep up the good work

  25. turnerjf says:

    At least you didn’t drop a pair of pipe clamps on a classmates head during glue up like I did at ATC! Sorry again Eric!

  26. djmueller says:

    So the issue with the 180-degree rotation is the pins and tails were not matched set as they were laid-out and cut? Sorry, I’m still rather new to handwork.

  27. toolnut says:


  28. I know I’ve learned more from my mistakes than my successes, I’m sure that same logic can be applied to teaching. Your students will learn more from how you manage your mistakes.

  29. They were only expecting knowledge. You also gave them the wisdom to greet failure like a craftsman, and the priceless but rarely taught experience of how to fix it when ‘plan A’ slips through your fingers. Way to go Chris!

  30. Suggested responses:
    “Ahhh… mixed up my American and British dovetails again and put them on the wrong side.”

    “False. It is YOU who is rotated 180 degrees!”

    “What is this? Tea?? Leftenant, where is my coffee??”

Comments are closed.