Do You See It?

April 18, 2008

I used to work in a large old furniture factory that had been converted into a dozen smaller woodworking shops. We occupied the second floor of this behemoth building and it was a great old space if a bit difficult to find. Across the hall from me was a friend of mine, Michael, and he built custom made furniture like I did. Over the years we would always help each other glue up, or talk about designs, shoot the breeze, lift many heavy objects together.

The interesting thing about our relationship was how we relied upon each other. For myself, I needed Michael to bounce ideas off. He would come in and I would say what do you think about such and such a leg shape versus another leg shape. And he would tell me what he liked and I would always pick the opposite shape. I needed this conversation as much as he did, I’m sure. Just someone to push against, to test out ideas.

One of the curious things about us though was when something had gone wrong in a piece. This plague, unlike the seventeen year locusts, was more frequent. More reliably frequent, mistakes being a part of the woodworking game. So something would go awry in a new project, something that to my eye looked terrible and I needed confirmation of this fact. It could be a dent somewhere, or a screw tip poked through a door, the misplacement of a hinge, or any number of things in a list so long I hate to think of it. The mistake would occur and then I had to decide was it obvious? Was it just me or did I need to launch into the costly fix? First I needed another set of eyes to confirm what I saw.

I would call Michael over and ask, “Do you see it?”

And he’d say, “What?”

“You don’t see it?” I would ask incredulously.

“What?” he would respond.

“I can’t show you. Don’t you see it?”

“No, what?”

“It’s right there.”

“What?” Michael growing more impatient with his cuckoo neighbor.

“Well I… I can’t…I’ll show it to you, but are you sure you don’t see anything there? It’s so obvious”, growing more impatient with my cuckoo neighbor.

“No not unless you show me where.”

“It’s right there.”

“Oh that, oh yeah I saw that. So what?”

Next came my grimace, the gnashing of teeth, the inevitable question in my mind: is the man blind? Does he not see this neon sign of a mistake pulsing out HERE LOOK HERE! But no, he wasn’t blind and it was always true. He never saw the mistake like I did. Never.

Nor would I see his mistakes like he did. It was never as big a deal for the observer, the neighbor, the client even, as it was for the maker. The maker whose ten thumbed approach, whose blindness and incompetence, whose woeful lapse of concentration again, had caused this flagrant violation of all design and construction principles. That maker, that idiot. No one saw it like him. No one was as hard on his work.

It is a sad constant for us woodworkers that I, for one, work on minimizing. Our focus is so small, our constraints on our obsession so meager that we think everyone can see all the mistakes that we make. I laugh when I think about the old saying of not offending god by making a perfect piece, by including one mistake so as to not offend. God must be plenty satisfied and not offended by now with how many mistakes land on my work. But few others even notice.

Bear that in mind. Step away sir. Put down the hammer and step away from the project. Try to see it with someone else’s eyes. It’s not so bad. You do pretty good work.

Published in: on April 18, 2008 at 7:27 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Love your blog Gary. A lot of people can teach woodworking but your blog goes beyond teaching, even beyond woodworking. Much of what you share are lessons for life. Thank you for taking the time.

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