Reality Check Please

March 2, 2009

I do not know of a woodworker who doesn’t fool himself most times right out of the gate. Loves to fool himself or herself. Loves to look at a project and shrink it down to toy size and say to themselves, oh, I can get that done in a weekend. Or, yeah this will be fun, let’s dive in right now. Put everything else aside and dive into a new project with gusto, with fervor, with delight, and the promise of spring in the air because, because! This time will be different. This time I will finish the project quickly with no problems at all.

Why do we do this? Haven’t we learned? You know how it works. You get started and the design isn’t quite right. The plans show this thing but I want that thing. Or my design works but I don’t have enough material so now I have to go to the lumber yard. Once I get to the lumber yard and pick through the dreck they call wood and I finally find something close to what I wanted and bring it home and cut it up then it’s wet. So I have to let it sit. Or maybe I go to place the dry lumber on the rack and the rack is a mess. Who works in here anyways? So now I have to clean up the mess left by that woodworker who ravages my shop every now and then and leaves things everywhere. And so I clean up his mess and get on with it, but the wood moves a bunch when I mill it so I better let it sit for a week. I’ll just rough it out and sticker it and set it on the bench.

And then something happens. Weeks go by. Full weeks of time and you look over now at that pile of sticks on the bench, a layer of guilty dust settled on everything, and now what was that stuff for again? I remember I had this quick little project planned and then I got busy doing something else. It’s too easy to let time slip away. You start off like a ball of fire and then you hit an impediment or roadblock and you let go of that momentum. You start the project and something happens, the belt on the saw breaks or you cut one board too short. Twice! You set the project down because it’s just deflated you and you let it go and it drifts away.

Those of you who know sports know the fickle nature of momentum. Ask any Cubs fan about Steve Bartman and tell me that momentum doesn’t shift. Why that… oh letting my stripes show here. The point is that momentum is critical to completing a project. If you can keep your momentum, you have a chance. Lose it and you’re sunk.

This is what I think we need to remember better. A woodworking project is a not like a sprint. It’s like a marathon. It’s a long run that will be filled with setbacks where we will stop and hold our knees while we gasp for air and long stretches where everything you touch seems to work. It will take longer than we imagined and it will be difficult. But it will be time well spent in the shop. If we keep this in mind, if we remember that it will not be done this weekend or even next. And that tools will break or will need sharpening and that wood will do funny things and move on us and we will make mistakes. If we anticipate this, instead of imagining the quick dash to the finish line with no mishaps, if we can anticipate the long run, if we get the reality check before we begin, then I think the whole experience will be better enjoyed. It’s about the run anyway, not the finish line. Check please.

Gary Rogowski is the Director of The Northwest Woodworking Studio. Visit us at

Published in: on March 2, 2009 at 7:02 pm  Comments (3)