Build Furniture, Newspaper-style

seat_IMG_2714

While my colleagues in journalism would like to think we occupy a white-collar profession – like doctors or lawyers – history would disagree. Before the Watergate era, journalism was a trade occupied by people with a high school education or less.

My wife (also a journalist) and I have always embraced the working-class aspect of our jobs and I’m sure it colors the way we write and think (ergo the anti-consumerist “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest”).

My journalism training also colors the way I build furniture.

I’m not interested in high-style furniture – the stuff designed to convey social status and wealth. And I regularly turn down commissions that veer into these well-moneyed waters (though it would be great for our bank account).

But (and thank you for reading this far) it goes beyond furniture style. My training seeps into the way I build thing as well.

While most woodworkers I admire work to a high level of craftsmanship – time be damned – I do the opposite. Everything I build is on the clock. My goal is to see how much near-perfect craftsmanship I can squeeze into that time constraint.

Maybe an example will help. When I saddle the seat of a chair, I allow myself four hours to do the job – start to finish. That four hours ensures I will not lose money or fall behind on other projects. And it forces me to become a better woodworker. I want to saddle a seat as well as Peter Galbert, but if it takes me 16 hours, that’s not helpful.

So while some people try to do something perfect and then get fast at it. I am backwards. I do it as fast as possible and try to get more perfect every time.

What happens if I fail? If the clock hits four hours and the seat sucks? Surprisingly, that rarely happens because I try to be realistic with my time estimates. But if things go sour on the saddle, I grant myself an extra 30 minutes or an hour to bring the seat up to snuff.

The best part of this process is when I finally hit my stride. Today I saddled a maple seat in three hours and now have an hour to work on improving things. I’m trying to get the pommel crisper and have a whole hour to sort that out without losing any money.

I also write my blog entries, books and magazine articles using this system. Blog entries should take 30 minutes. I now have three minutes left to make this blog entry better.

Or maybe I’ll just have another beer.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
This entry was posted in The Anarchist's Tool Chest, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Build Furniture, Newspaper-style

  1. Joe Newman says:

    Perfect is the enemy of good.

  2. Freedom Jay says:

    As a journalist who also got into woodworking a few years ago (but with a ton to learn still) I can definitely relate to this.
    People are also amazed that when you write for the paper that you don’t “hold the printer” till your story is perfect and without errors. Instead, I’m trying to write 1,000 words in a little less than an hour and with my extra few minutes, polish it up haha. My woodworking also tends to go this way as well.

  3. Brian Greene says:

    Very practical approach.

  4. Coop Janitor says:

    It seeps that seems gottha -;-) (fifth paragraph)

  5. Bert Vanderveen says:

    As a person who in his professional life was almost driven over the brink of burnout by chasing perfection, I totally can relate to your words.

  6. antinonymous says:

    You have a very sensible and understandable approach to your work, much to be admired. One of the greatest benefits of retirement is that we have the luxury of putzing around for a long as we like, for whatever reason. Work turns into play, not driven by any kind of urgency other than our impending doom itself. And a three-minute beer is chug-a-lug, best left to you youngsters!

  7. jenohdit says:

    20 beers an hour is pretty impressive. Another lesson learned in journalism?

  8. Bill says:

    Go with the beer.

  9. Lane Carter says:

    Just read your blog for Popular Wookworking where you state “Note that these prices are for experienced residents.” It is getting really irritating to read your “I’m so great!” At one time, you wrote not on an elevated pedestal but as a handtool preferring, common but gifted woodworker and directed your opinions and shared your knowledge to all fellow woodworkers. No longer. You now seem to speak only to “respected” professional woodworkers, those who lavish praise or to those to whom financially will support your endeavors.

    Comments such as regarding prices for “tourists” is insulting to many. I guess those “tourist” types who buy your books or attend your classes and workshops fall into an acceptable diffent class – those financially supportive. Yes, I am a woodworker. I also sometimes do commissions. Yes, I am published. No, I don’t make my living woodworking. But I also do not elevate myself upon that pedestal many successful people do.

    Think Jennie Alexander. Never heard her from a pedestal. Take a few hours off, drink a beer, look up egoist in the dictionary, talk to a few “non customers” and look back on your work from even just 5 years ago. You might not like what you see you have become. Maybe wealthier but … Criticism – yes. Deserved – you decide.

    No need to post this, your choice, but please take it to heart. I do enjoy your content, just not your changed published attitude.

    • Lane,

      Sorry to perturb you.

      That comment about wood prices was a simple way to ward off complaints from readers (and I will get them) that they went to Kentucky and couldn’t get the same prices I did. It wasn’t intended as a boast.

      As much as we all wish that lumberyards had one price for everyone, they don’t. You have to learn to work within their system (and their personalities) to find the stock you need at a good price. Some yards have areas where they stock short pieces that are half price. Some grade sap as a defect (yay!) others don’t grade using a recognized system. The topic could fill multiple articles and maybe a book.

      To your other points, I’m a continuous disappointment to myself (which should have been the headline of the blog entry). Writers can’t control how people read our work – their frame of mind or their built-in biases. But I assure you that I loathe myself, I feel like a fraud, my designs are crap and my writing is puerile at best.

      All best,

      Chris

  10. Kevin Adams says:

    I’m still struck with saddling a maple seat in 3 hours…impressive work and looks crisp to me!

  11. Judith Katz says:

    Perfection is (like beauty) in the eye of the beholder. A true artist is never satisfied with his work. he/she just reaches a point of torability. I don’t remember who said it but I believe he was of some repute. I believe if you asked any craftsmen who works on commision to produce an object. Be it a book or a spaceship.The majority will admit to working to a defined period in time. Those who don’t are either starving artists or geniuses in their field.

  12. Jason F says:

    Had to look up what a “Pommel Crisper” was. I was ready to buy a few…. then I read it six more times and it made sense

  13. Steven Kindem says:

    I like your approach. When learning how to make dovetails, I was finally getting the hang of it and put in the effort to try to do a good job on the project at hand. After doing one side, I looked it over and thought I’d done a pretty good job. I also realized that it took way too long, and for this by-hand operation to be practical, I had to do it much faster. So, I set out to finish the project working much more quickly, and I successfully finished the second side in less than half the time. These dovetails weren’t quite as crisp as the first half, but close. And I’ve gotten a bit better as time goes on.

    For me, the additional focus and concentration required to meet a time constraint was the key, and I agree that your approach can help one become a better woodworker.

  14. According to many, the difference between a hobbyist and pro is speed.

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