To the Pro's


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Some random thoughts and questions from a serious hobbyist geared toward Pro's; by “Pro” I mean, anyone who is not limited in selling their work to family, friends, or friends of friends. What was the first piece you sold? Has there ever been anything in your woodworking "OCD" that has made you hesitant on selling your work? For example...have you ever created a piece that had some type of flaw (nothing major like it'll fall apart or a baby will choke), but you knew the person who bought it would never see, unless they went over it with a fine toothed comb. Whatever it was, something in your attention to detail noticed a flaw and it bothered you. You obviously take pride in your work because your name and reputation are on it, but what is your tolerance or definition of perfection knowing that a client is paying top dollar for your work? If you knew they would never see a flaw in a piece, would you fix it, or call it "character"? Thanks for your time.


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Hi Dan

This may not be the answer your looking for. Prior to furniture I mainly was a cabinetmaker, kitchens, baths, entertainment centers etc. I'll leave those pieces out of this reply, for now. My first "real" piece of furniture I sold was a V shelf bookcase, it sold at a gallery and it was the greatest feeling. It was walnut with butternut and ebony banding. I'm sure there were other pieces of furniture before, commissions etc but this was the first item I made to show and sell.

As far as flaws go, back when I was doing cabinets there would be the occasional finish flaw or perhaps I sanded through the plywood veneer. When things like that happened I would try to fix them the best I could and point them out to the client because I did not want them to found by them at a later date. I preferred not to hide a problem but to just deal with it. The cabinets days are long gone and my focus is studio furniture. I'm very critical of my work and will not accept flaws in craftsmanship. A good portion of my work is natural edged designs so there will be some material flaws, crack, splits knots etc. Finish flaws are not welcome either, if it bothers me and I can see it I know someone else will. I take pride in my work so I make sure every detail is just right because like you said, my name and reputation are on it. To sum it up, back in the earlier days, yes, some items left the shop with flaws but the client was aware of them. Today if I make a mistake with my joinery and there is a gap I'll spend the time it takes to fix it or start over. If there is a scratch I missed and the finish is on I will plane or sand out the scratch and start the finish process over. This is more for me and my satisfaction, most clients may not notice but it would always be in the back of my head. Yes, I do indeed have OCD when it comes to what leaves the studio.

Forgot to mention. The surfaces on my work are hand planed. Some consider it a flaw but this I do consider the mark of the maker.

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Good questions, Dan

My teacher told me once that any good furniture maker will spend the majority of their time fixing mistake throughout their career. Why? Because people always mess up and a good woodworker is skilled at fixing them. That's the point. Get good at it because it will happen.

I agree with Dale as far as mistake tolerance. If it's going to compromise the overall integrity of the piece or impede the obvious functions, then it gets replaced and done right. If it's cosmetic, I can fix most of those easily, but if it's going to detract from the quality, then I do over whatever has the cosmetic flaws. I've been known to work on a final finish for over a week, only to strip it off and start again.

End results are the manifestations of your core values.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I agree absolutely with what you say. There is no excuse for any shoddy workmanship. He who never makes a mistake never makes anything, By definition The more you make, the more mistakes you will make. When I was an apprentice more than forty years ago now, My master maker always instil in me one Golden Rule 'It is not that craftsmen never make mistakes it's how they overcome them that counts' I've tried desperately to stick to that maxim ever since. On another note it just goes to show the slight differences in definitions between the US and Europe. A Cabinet maker here makes furniture, whether it be cabinets, tables, chairs or what ever, and another thing I disagree with the statement that Knots are flaws. I often say to some of my clients 'if you don't want knots go get some printed paper version of the wood you think you like, I'll stick to the real thing.

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