There But For the Grace of God, Go I

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.

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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.


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