The book that became “Chairmaker’s Notebook” began as a chat with chairmakers Peter Galbert and Curtis Buchanan. We made a plan to produce a video of Curtis building a chair that would be accompanied by a pamphlet from Peter illustrating the construction details.
In the end, Curtis’s detailed videos ended up here. And Peter’s “pamphlet” became the best book on chairmaking I’ve ever read.
But that’s not why I remember that meeting with Peter and Curtis. Instead, I am continuously struck by something Curtis said to me in that cabin in Berea, Ky. Curtis began talking about teaching woodworking.
“We’re all not as good as people think we are,” he said. “We’re all frauds.”
This was Curtis Expletive Deleted Buchanan. A guy who has more skill than 10 magazine-grade woodworkers. And he was sitting before me explaining that – like all human beings – he has insecurities about his work.
If I ever get a tattoo, it’s going to be that quote from Curtis.
So this blog entry is a public service announcement. No matter how facile you think another woodworker operates, know that he or she spends a significant amount of time in personal freak-out mode.
This week was my week for this. I have a magazine article due on Monday about a simple chair with tricky geometry. I spent the entire week ruining $200 worth of perfectly good pieces of maple. And on Friday afternoon, I built the chair for the fifth time, and it actually worked.
I am a fraud. The craft of woodworking kicks me down the stairs and steals my lunch money on an almost daily basis. The only thing I have going for me – my only superpower, I suppose – is that I get right back up. I take a short walk to calm my mind. And I build the damn chair for the fifth time.
— Christopher Schwarz
40 thoughts on “‘We’re All Frauds’”
You may feel like a fraud in your mind, but what you are is human.
So, that’s the venerable Bede.
Imperfection… Noone escapes.
You’re not a fraud. A fraud holds himself out to be something that he is not. I’ve never read or seen you do that.
You’re not responsible for others putting you on a pedestal. In fact, that I’ve frequently read your pushing back against that.
This is why I get discouraged. You watch videos and people make it look effortless while I get on the struggle bus every time I set foot in the shop. It’s reaffirming to hear that folks at the top of the food chain have the same issues. Thanks for this.
I really appreciate this. Every time I build, or attempt to build something, I am continually confronted with my shortcomings in skills. Nothing I build ever comes close to the pictures I see others post of their projects. What I have come to realize is that my goal is not to make a flawless bed or boat but rather the best that I am capable of making. Yes, I continue to strive to become better, but flaws, and mistakes are part of that journey. When I look at others’ works, I admire their craft, their skill and the beauty of what they have create. I also intentionally look for the imperfections: the joints with slight gaps or planing marks left behind. I do this not to find fault with their work but to see part of their journey and truly appreciate beauty of objects created by hand.
I recall seeing an episode of the old “Hometime” show with Dean Johnson several years ago that showed their mistakes and foibles that had been edited out. Made me feel better about the times I read my tape measure upside down and cut my board too short.
Thanks Chris, I feel like this post is speaking directly to me.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to my shop and make my (oddly enough) fifth attempt at a door frame for a Shaker wall cabinet.
Oh man Chris the last paragraph I was laughing so hard. I believe stepping away from the work and take a short walk to clear my head and 9 times out 10 the problem what ever it may be is solved in your next step. And Thank You for the reminder even the best woodworkers have the same issues I have.
Only the paranoid survive. And often excel.
I can’t believe it, you really are human. Good on you.
Feels like home to me.
Good timing. I just saw this after cursing up and down the house after my third (failed) attempt to bend some hickory for a coat tree. Ready for ANOTHER hour of steaming to try again…
I admire your skills; not not as much as your integrity.
Chris, look at the wood Wright shop at the end of Roy’s show. The one where he is sitting outside wrestling with a chair and he finally throws it away in frustration. Yup, roger that
In the business world we call it “Impostor Syndrome” where you think your actually a fraud and other people will figure it out at any moment. When I was promoted to director I spent the first few months expecting people to realize I had no idea what I was doing and fire me.
That’s encouraging, I’ve often felt like the stupidest woodworker around ( and maybe I am ) but I don’t care ! I like woodworking ! You are a good man Mr.Schwarz !
The good and bad thing about working alone in the garage is that I am both the best, and dumbest woodworker around. 🙂
Your tattoo should just say,
“keeping it real”
It would be my luck it would come out “keeping it reel” …..inkers are human too!
How can 70,000 followers on instagram be wrong?
I’ve taught and lectured hundreds of times, and there is a moment just before the event commences that I think silently, “Oh no, they’re going to recognize that I don’t know what I am talking about and see that I have no skill.” Happens every single time.
Thanks, Christopher, I needed that. This passion really does challenge me daily. I believe what I’ve learned more than any other part of this woodworking obsession is ‘fixing’ mistakes!
Woodworking has been a character builder, no doubt about it. When I screw up I now have a mantra: do it again, and this time do it right. It’s like being the parent of myself and on these occasions I’m particularly happy with either of the roles.
Yes, to all of this. Tho woodworking is my profession, I’ve never felt I’m good at it. Tho I love it I and I may find some pide, some other may do it better faster or whatever. I am me, and I’ll try my damnedest to do the best, but at the end of the day it never seems enough.
I’m thinking this would make a great sticker.
Every. Artists. Struggle.
if you’re capable of thinking this of yourself, you can take solace in the probability that you are not suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s only when you don’t feel like a fraud that you should worry that you might be…
Probably my favorite post by you to date.
Magnificent. Just the kick in the butt that I needed. Thanks.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”… Samuel Beckett
Woodworking is all about fixing your mistakes.
Dig it. So true. Thank you for sharing!
I wish you’d posted this on Thursday… Thursday was a hard one for me.
The Imposter Syndrome strikes again. I guess the universal recognition of fraud is a form of validation. Keep making sawdust for the right reasons.
Reblogged this on Preindustrial Craftsmanship and commented:
If it takes five times, build it five times. I feel this sentiment almost everyday. I think that means we really care about what we do.
I didn’t know that “magazine-grade woodworkers” was (were?) a thing. How does that compare to “Grade D but edible?”
IMHO every profession or job that requires all-around skills, as opposed to a very narrow and deep expertise on a single matter, is riddled with frauds and pretending you know what you’re doing. You are actually navigating between educated and intuitive guesses. As long as you have that self-awareness, that’s fine.
This is a great post. As a hobbyist woodworker, the majority of the time I feel like a failure; gappy joints, questionable design choices, structural failures. I’ve debatably spent more money creating firewood than actual projects. In the 10 years that I’ve done woodworking, my skill has improved, but there are still many times when I look at the online pictures of projects with their perfect dovetails and elegant designs and wonder why I’m doing this hobby that at times I’m so bad at. It’s good for my soul to hear that even professionals feel like that sometimes and occasionally ruin $200 of maple (it was $200 of ash for me last month).
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