Patience, Efficiency, Perfection

January 4, 2010

Patience, Efficiency, Perfection:

I’m a fairly good instructor, but there are some things I just cannot teach.

When I work with a student who keeps saying: ‘That’s good enough’ as they put a project
together, I despair. When they say: ‘This is just a classroom experience,’ I freak
out (inside).

The way I look at woodworking is that we get only one chance to get things right.
Not close enough. Right. With most things in life I’m an ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’ kind
of person, but not with woodworking. Either it’s sharp or it’s dull. Either the joint
is tight or it’s trash. Either the toolmarks are gone or they aren’t.

How can you teach that? I point out problems, gaps, toolmarks, but either they can
see it or they cannot at that point in their lives. (Be assured that I think that
sometimes people have to be ready to receive the message. And people change.)

So today, my daughter Katy and I started building a version of the Packing Box from ‘The
Joiner and Cabinet Maker.’
This was Katy’s idea. She volunteered to build a box
for her third-grade class that would hold the class’s craft supplies. And she picked
out the Packing Box as the ideal form (with hinges, a hasp and chains).

So today we trekked to my office to pick over the pine in the racks and get a good

I decided to introduce her to the machines today, including the jointer and planer.
She wasn’t going to operate them, but she was going to understand how they worked.
So we picked our wood, cut it to rough length and started milling it on the machines.
I pushed. She caught.

Immediately chips started flying in my face. The dust collector was clogged.

So we stopped what we were doing and flushed the sucker out. I took the 55-gallon
bin out to the dumpster. When I returned, Katy had swept up the entire area and deposited
things in the garbage. It was at that moment I knew this was going to be a good day.

We milled all her stock, and she would settle for nothing less than correct. She adjusted
the rip fence on the table saw to exactly 5′ (I did the ripping). When we milled the
joints for the top and bottom panel, she could spy every gap and send me back to the
jointer to fix the error.

When the panels went together, she adjusted all four boards in the glue-up. They were
as flush as a veteran cabinetmaker’s. I didn’t even have to tell her what to do. She
pushed the boards around until they were dead flush.

She pre-drilled, glued and nailed the entire carcase together by herself. I was only
there to hold the boards. She became frustrated when one of the 16 cut nails split
the end grain a bit.

‘We have to start over,’ she said.

‘No, I’ll show you how to fix it,’ I replied.

She wanted it done right. She didn’t want to cut corners. She wanted to do it herself.
I can’t teach that. After four hours of hard work (she was drifting off to sleep over
dinner), she asked: ‘Can we attach the bottom tonight?’ I told her it would be better
to wait 24 hours for the glue to cure. She replied: ‘I can clean the shop.’

I’m sorry to gloat here about my daughter, but this day was the best Christmas present
I got.
— Christopher Schwarz

(Via Lost Art Press Blog.)


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