Making Book Part 19: Dye My Underwear & Learn to Live Within my Limitations

Writing a book isn’t hard. Anyone can write a book. The real trick is this: Once you start, can you stop writing a book?

That’s exactly where I am. I’ve already built four additional chairs than I had originally planned to make for my next book, and today I eyed the walnut chair coming together on my workbench and wondered about making one more chair. In cherry.

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I’m old enough and have built enough things to know the source of my problem. John Economaki, the founder of Bridge City Tools, put my misgivings into words years ago when we were driving somewhere together.

“When I teach a class on design I ask the students this question: Would you rather build a project that is beautifully proportioned with a few gappy joints, or a technically flawless piece with a design that is just OK?

“The students unanimously answer: technically flawless.”

This walnut chair is a good design. It sits beautifully. It looks good from all angles. But there are a number of technical flaws that make me want to grab the Sawzall and dismember it. Three of the through-tenons have cosmetic flaws. I have small bits of tearing around the mortises for the back sticks. The saddling is good overall, but my straight lines have some tiny variations I cannot improve. When I assembled the arms, I was so happy that I didn’t crack the delicate hands when I wedged them that I forgot to check if the arms were in the same plane. They are 1/4” off at the back of the chair.

Oh, and some small (cosmetic) honeycombing opened up in one area of the seat.

I should just look past these problems and move on. I should stop building and dive into the writing full-time. But I can’t.

Several years ago I changed the way I sign my pieces. I have a big stamp and a little stamp. I mark the underside of the seat with my big stamp. Then, with the little stamp I make an additional impression for every defect that the piece has. Most pieces get one or two “little stamps.” A few get three. I don’t know if I’ve ever made a perfect piece with zero little stamps.

But as you can see from the image at the top of this blog entry, this walnut chair isn’t going out into the world. Time to fetch the cherry.

— Christopher Schwarz


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