One of the more important books in the Covington Mechanical Library is an inexpensive paperback from the 1990s. Long out of print, derided and forgotten.
It’s “Building Classic Antique Furniture with Pine” by Blair Howard. And the reason I keep it on our shelves is because it makes me a better editor. Whenever I’m bleary eyed from too much editing. Or rechecking dimensions. Or comparing drawings to a cutting list, I pull down this book and simply open the front cover.
And there is the biggest errata sheet ever known in the history of woodworking publishing.
The errors were not the author’s fault. Howard is a really nice guy. Well-meaning. And he has a good eye for furniture design.
Instead, the errors in the book were the result of a breakdown in the publishing process. I wasn’t involved in this book, but I watched it happen. The editors and technical illustrators who worked on this book assumed that other people were doing their jobs. And they were all wrong.
The result is an errata sheet of 92 mistakes.
During my time at F+W Publications (then F+W Media, then F+W Community), the book became known as “The Blair Howard Project” (after “The Blair Witch Project” movie), and we would invoke it in meetings to frighten other editors and supervisors. (“If you fire another editor, we’re going to have a real Blair Howard Project on our hands…..”)
Personally, the book transformed me into a holy terror with a red pen. For many years I edited under the flag of the Russian proverb “Doveryai, no proveryai” (Доверяй, но проверяй). Trust, but verify. After watching this book unfold and disintegrate, I just assume everything in a book, construction drawing or cutting list is wrong. And then I have to prove to myself it’s not.
Errors still get through our process because humans are fallible.
But Blair Howard helps keep me honest.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. Maybe someday we’ll visit the Unintentional Fiction section of the Covington Mechanical Library. Here’s one book in that collection. There are others.
30 thoughts on “There But For the Grace of God, Go I”
Maybe Blair could be given the shot at writing a LAP book? (no sarcasm… )
Blair went underground.
This is wonderful. It must have taken concerted effort to achieve this goal. Was the ratio of factual mistakes to correct items > 1 ?
I think it was parity.
Your book link for “How to make $40,000 a year with your woodworking”, I know, I know, start with 100,000 a year lol
When I was a student at Defense Information School (DINFOS, where DOD trains its public affairs, journo/broadcast people) in the late 1980s, one of our journalism instructors showed us the cover of Sports Illustrated. The cover photo was of two baseball players, smiling for the photographer, one of them standing behind one sitting.
She told us to try to find “it”.
A handful of sports fans in our class already knew about it, but the rest of us missed it: the man in the chair had his hand on his thigh, middle finger extended.
A LOT of people at SI missed it. We “got the point”.
Baseball players have a long tradition of sneaking the bird last editors. My favorite example is a picture of Kenny Boyer in David Halberstam’s “Summer of 1964”. That photo must have been looked at by dozens of editors over the years.
I always tell my students to check all plans for mistakes before they start a project. I have run into a few myself.
I presume a LAP rework and reprinting of this book would hit the corporate brick wall of cooperation.
As far as I can tell this is an orphan work. The rights are either in total limbo or with Penguin Random House now.
And there it is finally, second down on the left, the venerable pie safe. We so anxiously await the LAP book on that. Please help us protect the endangered pies!
If this is a manuscript query you get an A+ for creativity. (And persistence.)
Seems like a reasonable time to point out that on page 36 of “Good Work” there are a couple of errors – the author referenced is WH Davies and the title is “The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp”.
I’m sure all the dimensions for chair parts are bang on, though.
Every woodworking book ever published that I have read, from Moxon to today, has inadvertent errors. I had an errata sheet in the first revised edition of “The Anarchist’s Design Book” with two errors:
And I have made mistakes in other books.
As stated, we are human, and I am absolutely not castigating individuals. This was a failure of a process.
We had a couple people lose their minds and run screaming from the theatre during our showing. I showed the movie to my kids later and they were not impressed.
The BWP? Worst spent 4EUR ever. The camera “work” made me seasick, the premise, story and execution were, mildly put, complete and utter… (deleted). I was impressed on how they got that thing past any Editor or movie exec and managed to get this completely overhyped… thing… into the theatres.
On the book and errata, we all have made blunders, mostly others catch them. Sometimes we do right after the thing is out of the door. To have 92 items on the sheet is an achievement, though!
The Blair Witch Project is the only movie I ever saw where at the end of the presentation, paramedics rushed into the movie theatre because a couple of people had fainted following the last scene.
“Unintentional Fiction” – I like that. There may be some irony in the fact that the cover photo of “How to make $40,000 a year with your woodworking” (the book you linked) suggests the author, Sal Maccarone, also worked in pine. (The cheese jokes almost write themselves.) Too bad the red pen didn’t change “make” to “lose”.
I’ve never grokked cut lists to begin with, as even when they’re not wrong, it feels very risky to assume it’ll all come together as planned. Figuring it all out as I go along myself avoids any potential errors in such lists, with the added benefit of basking in the warm glow of knowing exactly whom to address the colorful language to when it inevitably goes wrong.
Great story. I really enjoyed it.
I’ve never seen The Blair Witch Project, or any horror or truly scary movie. Ever. Nope. I don’t care for that, even a little.
If any of you want actual fright, rather than the movie type, I’ll be happy to drive you around Boston during rush hour some time. I’m told it’s far more exhilarating than Space Mountain. And you’ll learn some new vocabulary words too.
I presume that these new vocabulary words are “sailor-like” in nature…..
Technical illustration errors??? Banish the thought!
Eventually with inflation the “Make $40k/year with Woodworking” won’t seem like fiction.
Ya, but the book was released 24 years ago. Index that with inflation and the title changes to Make $71,729.08/year….
Blair Witch Project sucked.
The college chemistry class I teach at night is basically the A students from the prior year. They are bright students and we will be in good hands when they enter the working world. For the past decade, I spend time on almost all of the problems making them put away the calculator and doing the math (logs, square roots, exponents) manually. I am not looking for a precise number. What I want them to tell me is what do they expect the answer to roughly be. about a third of the time, I do the approximation in front of them to show them I practice what I preach and that it really isn’t that difficult. That way, when they work on the calculator, if the answer they get is wildly different, it helps them to think critically and recheck.
Probes have crashed into Mars because of silly little errors (actually metric vs. US units) and medical mistakes happen. I tell them what does this have to do with their eventual day job? As a future physician, they might be providing a dosage of medicine and by doing a quick mental check, something doesn’t feel right and that might force them to double check and realize there is some sort of error. I tell them it will likely result in them preventing one or two accidents in their careers. Much in the same way, when we took drivers ed we were told to wait a few seconds to start moving after a light turns green so we don’t get t-boned by some idiot who runs a red (has saved me once or twice for sure).
What does this have to do with woodworking? I use the measurements as an approximation. The first few pieces for length and width really help define the overall shape. Much past that it’s build to fit but all the way through, I have a mental debate of is that correct. I’ve caught some mistakes here and there. Fortunately, it doesn’t result in me getting t-boned or a patient dying. Just wasted wood. Trust but verify is a great mantra. Regan repeated that phrase in Russian over and over when negotiating with Gorbechov for a nuclear arms treat.
I see what you did there… nice.
when i was in college (div I), my friends and i eagerly awaited the bi-weekly school newspaper. our favorite pastime was lampooning the poor grammar and infantile choice of topics, and looking for the future Darwin award recipients in the police blotter section. later i found out that several top journalism schools used our paper in their journalism classes as examples of bad journalism.
My tale of mistakes… About 35 years ago while working for a high quality typographer, the shop was commissioned to produce the master type for several silk screened museum display panels. The type was set, proof read, sent to the design house, then edited, changes made in galleys, re-proof read, sent to the designers. Everything was approved by the designers and the museum.
Flash to the gala opening night of the museum’s new carriage display. After the unveiling, an attendee found a most grievous error, (needless to say, a most embarrassing error.) Somewhere along the process, in one of the panels the word “slaves” was set instead of “sleighs.” No one caught the error because the error fit into the story line context perfectly. And of course, nobody knew where the error came from! That night we re-set the type, delivered the corrected version in the morning.
It was my personal joy twenty odd years afterward to visit the said museum and the very panel in question to verify the correction was made!
Having worked in publishing for many years, I always appreciate these “inside baseball” posts as well as the ensuing comments. Good stuff!
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