Perfection is not beautiful. It is the small discrepancies that makes something beautiful. Look closely, and you’ll find flaws everywhere. And so it should be!
You spend hours and hours on a project, but when it is assembled and finished – there they are. All the small flaws and errors stands out to you. During the process, you are VERY careful to be precise. You spend time perfecting each joint, even those nobody will ever see. Despite all your efforts, Stuff HappensTM.
The fact that you are among the select few that would notice is easily overlooked. We tend to be overly critical to our own efforts. Nothing is ever good enough. This is part of the human nature, I think. Possibly a cultural thing – one should not think highly of oneself. What a plebeian thought, really! Could that come from a time where there were classes in our society? Common people and noble, and don’t you dare trying to elevate yourself above your rank!
Now, there’s a difference between thinking I am way better than I am and to acknowledge that I am as good as I actually am.
And it is by acknowledging your skill level that you will be set free. Nobody can cut a dovetail for the very first time and get it perfect, unless by pure dumb luck. Certain things takes time, and the projects you make while honing your skills won’t be as good as they will be in 5 years time. Or 5 weeks for that matter. Let’s visualize this for you. Red is the learning curve, black is your skill level. X could be time, or the number of screwups you do. I have no idea what Y should be.
Now, let me be perfectly clear with you: your skill level graph does NOT look like that. It’ll look more like a flight of stairs. But the image above sure does look inspiring, so I ran with it.
By accepting the fact that you cannot possibly master anything without practice, you should come to the conclusion that your results will mirror your skill level. Your project won’t be perfect in every detail. This is important, especially when you try something new.
If possible, I’d suggest that when we make something using methods and / or techniques for the first time – perhaps consider the thing you are making a prototype or a test piece. If it turns out “perfect”, all is good. If not we can remake the piece if we want, or accept the flaws we find. Of course, it is not always feasible to scrap and start over. Expensive wood or big projects / time constraints would prohibit doing this.
I recently made a small side table. The oak I used had some internal cracks that did not show until the plane revealed them. I also made a few errors here and there. Most of you would notice if you scrutinize the piece, but non-woodworkers won’t. And to be honest, it is rather well made! A few cracks developed shortly after I took the piece into our living room, but so far they have not developed further. Over the coming seven or eight months, the moisture content of the table top should be at its lowest. I’ll add another coat of lacquer, and the table should be good for decades of service without any more problems.
In the image above, two cracks are clearly visible. But can you spot where I forgot to take the last shaving to get to the line? It is just a fraction of a millimeter in one small area, and nobody will notice unless I point it out. It is just one shaving in thickness, and it would not be detectable with a straight-edge by now, as the top has moved since it left the shop.
I am okay with the piece being as it is. Maybe I will remake the table with better wood, and perhaps give the first piece away or sell it at a very modest price. In the meantime, it stands in our living room. Maybe it still does in ten years time. I am fine with it either way.
Even if I make ten more tables for sale.
This way of thinking makes me feel good. I strive to do the best I can, but I accept that the pieces I make are placed at a certain set of coordinates on my learning curve. If I remake a piece after 5 years, I suspect the new piece would be better. But that side table will be here long after I’m gone. So will the errors I made. But they stand as witnesses that the piece was made by human hands, not a machine.
Perfection is perhaps a goal, but we should really enjoy the journey. Take a look at an earlier project. You’ll spot all the flaws immediately. But do you also think “I made that!”? How many people among the 7.6 billion people (7600 million) currently living on this piece of rock can say the same thing? Let us assume that half a million people in the entire world can cut dovetails by hand. If you are among those 500.000 people, you are among the 0.0066% that can do it! Those who can’t, cannot really criticize your work.
Apply the same way of thinking when you come across a Facebook post where someone post an image of a project they did – and you wonder whether it is actually A Thing ® or a slightly organized pile of bonfire starters. That other person is at some level of his or her learning curve, so be kind when you give tips and critique. If you do not know what the person should do to make the project better, perhaps you should insert a foot in your mouth quickly, before you reveal your own ignorance in the matter! Nobody should be put off from enjoying the woodworking journey by a stick-up-the-arse snobby know-it-all that tries self-elevation by stomping others to the ground. That endeavor is harder than nailing Jell-O to a tree. You know who you are. You should be ashamed! M-m-mmm!
In stead, if you do know what and how, gently nudge the person towards the correct direction. That way we are helping each other. I’d rather say “good, but on the next one you should try to…” than “that is a piece of utter crows barf!” without offering any advice. Even though it does resemble something a crow’s stomach did not approve of.
So go boldly where others has gone before (may the force be ever in your favor). Do your best, and accept that you cannot create a masterpiece on day one. Maybe not even day eight hundred. Accept your limitations. It will set you free. Just remember to pay it forward to others, too.
Now, where did I put that micrometer….
Did you google the word in the top image…? Atelophobia?