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