The worst woodworking mistakes I’ve made have to do with shop time.
When it comes to estimating how long it will take me to perform a series of operations, I always guess too low. When I first started estimating how much time a new commission would take me, I learned to double my number. A cabinet I thought would take 40 hours would take 80.
That first mistake will kill a furniture business right quick. You have to get your estimates right, or lower your standard of living, or go back to work for the corporate bully boy. For amateurs, that mistake is not a big deal, except when it comes to cribs.
Many of my friends who made cribs for their first child never saw the projects in use until the second child arrived.
Second mistake: When I botch a single operation, I always grossly overestimate how much time it will take to start the operation again from scratch. Example: I recently messed up an entire set of sticks for a chair. I moaned and stomped around the shop, wondering how I could save the poopy sticks with some patching, wedging or witchcraft.
“Argh,” I whined. “I’m going to lose an entire day making new sticks.”
I moped a bit and grabbed a new set of rough sticks and started shaving. In 60 minutes I was done, and the new sticks looked much better than the first set.
This sort of mistake is more insidious. Trying to repair or navigate around a complex mistake – instead of starting the operation over – usually takes me far more time. And the result is less than stellar.
As soon as I start scheming to repair something with some crazy technique that involves the warp core, reversing the polarity or separating the saucer section, I stop.
I put the crappy parts aside. I get some more wood. I start again.
— Christopher Schwarz
42 thoughts on “Time to Whine”
The hours spent making kindling, Chris, are not really wasted.
I’m always jealous of woodworkers with wood stoves when things go awry.
Merci Chris. Extremely useful. I make more than my share of mistakes and o often work for a few $/hour…
Unlike doctors who bury their mistakes woodworkers can just burn them!
Ever heard of cremation?
From the chef a messed up recipe cannot be fixed with more garlic. Scrap it and get new ingredients!
Thank you Christopher. It is refreshing to hear that even you make mistakes. Thank you for the insight and guidance.
Whenever I find myself in a lengthy internal debate about saving something, the answer is almost universally to scrap it. It’s faster, better, and cheaper. Take it as a valued lesson.
But have you tried a tachyon pulse?
I think your neutrinos might be drifting.
A neutron walks into a bar and asks, “How much for a drink?” The bartender says, “For you, no charge.”
Perhaps if you slowed down and avoided the mistake to begin with you would end up faster.
“Many of my friends who made cribs for their first child never saw the projects in use until the second child arrived.”
I read this post sitting in my living room next to my six year old daughter. Below me in the basement rests a box of roughed out crib slats…
Maybe for my theoretical grandchild?
Mistakes? What mistakes? Those are redesign opportunities!
Same same same. Every single project.
There is an adage in sailboat repair. It’s known as the 2.7 rule. Break the project down into separate incremental steps, estimate how long each step will take, add them up. Then multiply by 2.7. It works great in hand woodworking.
I usually multiply by pi. No one believes an estimate of 20 hours, but an estimate of 60.3 hours sounds like you did a lot of detail work
Mr. Scott would be proud
Geordi in this instance i think.
Yes I found that the first attempt at making something new takes much much more time than the second time. You learn a lot of little things that you didn’t know on the first run.
In the pattern shops we always started the apprentices with “double your estimated time and multiply by 1.6”, as they grew more proficient and the jobs more complex, they used the same formula until they repeated the same task.
I had two bent arms for a Morris Chair (made 8 inches too short) sitting around for ten years. I beat myself up at the time, but made new ones. My mistakes gathered dust, a quartersawn reminder of how much I suck at measuring. I nearly burnt them a dozen times.
Last April under lockdown, I used them on a craftsman rocker. Both chairs are in my living room (looking fabulous – like the moma and papa with a shared past). It took a decade and a global pandemic for redemption!
Like my grandfather would always say when he made something wrong ,fire box will be eating good tonight
In the computer enginerding world, I would double the time, AND THEN change to the next larger unit of time.
It’s a good way to change a 10 minute project to 20 hours, (esp. when time is billable).
Todays mistakes, are tomorrows project parts nearly finished.
No wonder you don’t like highly figured wood! A lot harder to match when you screw up!
Just giving you a hard time. A lot of times I agree with you, but sometimes I find it’s just easier to make it work and plan on doing better next time.
Man did I have to slow things down when I started making furniture after having been a carpenter/framer for so many years. The mindset I had of straight, plumb, level is good enough since it’s all getting covered in drywall, had to change completely if I wanted to build nice furniture. Every mistake I make now is usually due to the framer in me creeping out.
Material is always cheaper than time, but the 2nd time is always less time.
Reminds me building a large circus wagon detailed toy chest for my son for a christmas gift starting right after Thanksgiving and not finishing it until 4 AM on Christmas morning due to under estimating the time it took to build from scratch and the art work I was incessant about doing myself, the irony was that he didn’t appreciate it in favor of the store bought Fisher Price toys under the tree then a few years later when I got divorced I found it in the garbage, that was 45 years ago but I still do woodworking for therapy and a few bucks here and there.
I just stopped making mistake #2 on one of my artsy woodworking projects. 15 hours to fix or four hours to make and assemble new parts. Why is it such a tough decision, destination-itis?
I find those type of mistakes normally only happen to me when I’ve worked out I’ve got just enough wood to finish a project…
Hey, thought your insight into this issue was extremely valuable. I have also tried to get out of a corner I have painted myself into. If during the reevaluation of a project part you find your not having an Ah-Ha! (or light bulb comes on) moment to correct the problem, it is best to look at your lost time as a teaching moment. One thing I would add, for your readers, don’t burn that wood. Save it! A chair back spindle can make a beautiful dowel that will hold a project together for 300 years. Even god, brahma and the great green arkleseizure, who sneezed the universe into existence (Douglas Adams: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) knows what our planets forestation will look like in 100 years. Even if YOU don’t get to use that wonky piece of scrap, your descents might find it to be “a pearl of great price” (version: Star Trek by Scotty at the end of episode, original series entitled “The Empath”.).
I can relate to everything you just said.
You need a “Moaning Chair “ like Boatbuilders have
Your projects, Dr. Schwarz, always look to be perfectly executed to my eye, and of course, the designs are exquisite. You are a true, talented, accomplished, professional, and it shows in your work. And when doing that for a living, time is, as you say, of the essence, if you want to actually make a decent living. Many paying customers also demand perfection, as I suppose is their right. However for many life-long amateurs like me, none of those things is true. Almost every project I’ve ever made was done for myself, or as gifts. They always show they were made by hand, mostly as one-offs, and include the wabi-sabi elements of design and execution imperfections, corrected mistakes, make-do materials, and amateur finishing. They will never go into a museum anywhere, nor will they be sold for enormous sums at antique auction. But they have almost all been serviceable for my purposes for the rest of my life, including even projects I made in the 1950’s. I consider those imperfections the thing that makes them unique, and possibly even a bit charming, so I love them anyway, as though they were homely children of my own, including even my ugly, three-legged chopping block for spoon-making that I completed last week from a stump that had aged in my shed for two decades.
Sometimes my mistakes come with an extra dose of humility that always seems to drive the lesson home with emphasis.
Last year I was working on a gun rack for my nephew and I’d just finished some stupid IG post about always marking your waste so you never have to worry about cutting the wrong thing. Then the VERY NEXT CUT I made on my project was right smack dab into the middle of the 3′ long backboard for a relief cut for when I was shaping it on the bandsaw. And I absolutely relieved my backboard into two pieces in the process.
I actually spent 30 minutes trying to see if there was any way to fix it. That was stupid. I ended up just getting a new board and remaking it in 10 minutes and the shortened boards got used for drawer faces.
There is always a period of double- and triple-checking measurements and cuts in an effort to avoid those mistakes in the future, but ultimately that period passes and I start priming for another lesson in humility.
But it’s cool. I’m doing woodworking, not surgery. I always give myself that space to err and be human. That is maybe the most important lesson of all.
The more you know…
The two worst days in a cabinetmaker’s life: 1- When he’s bidding a job. 2- When he’s awarded the contract.
Sometimes, you have take a lesson from the fictional Montgomery Scott. He was famous in Star Trek cannon as a Miracle Worker. Why? For whatever task put on him he would double the time it would normally take and by perception of those around him be done in half that time. So my thought is, whatever time you have figured for the particular task, double it.
I’ve done that thing with a crib. I started one for my second grandchild, 5 grandkids later it’s still not done.
Sometimes it’s better to accept the losses and start anew. Sometimes you just gotta stomp, spit, complain and curse the Gods. Then start anew. Either way there’ll be liquor afterwards.
Hmmm. I better get crackin on that casket. I’d hate for everyone to see my bare feet and split suit laid out in an unfinished casket.
for manufacturing furniture and interior design, business needs to follow the right machine and equipment which help to minimize time make things with the quality.
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