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I was about to make a desk for my son John’s bedroom and in my mind it was a beautiful thing: simple, slender and with elegant proportions. The drawings and a cut list have been completed. The walnut boards were purchased and transported to Cerritos College in Norwalk, California, where I am a community student on Sundays. There should have been a plan of action, but since I had made a vaguely similar desk two years earlier, I thought I could secure it. This was my first unconscious mistake.
Like you, I start my projects with hope. Obviously we expect problems along the way because that’s the nature of woodworking, but at this point we’re not sure what those problems will be. Yet not long after I started working on this desk, I had a nasty feud with it that lasted until its sticking. Forget hope. I started to hate this desk.
As annoying as it is to admit it, I’ve made a surprising number of stupid mistakes during this project. While wood fastening is a valuable skill to learn, sometimes what is really needed is the courage to start over. But no, it didn’t seem like progress. I think my increasingly bad attitude has made me make even more mistakes.
My exasperation was exacerbated by the fact that the walnut seemed almost intent on hindering me. Sometimes he acted like a precocious exotic with woven wheat and other times he was as jaunty as the cheap pine in a department store. Who knew my dear old walnut friend could be such a brat?
Another setback was that I was influenced by a colleague’s insistence that his way of attaching the frames to the legs (using the hand drill and dowels) was much faster and structurally solid like mine. way to embed them in the legs using a router.
I am now an infinitely better carpenter thanks to what others have taught me, but this time I was seduced by the word “faster”. Of all the tools and machines in the shop, the hand drill will always be the one that crushes me. I am often laughed at fondly for this.
So, in pursuit of speed, I threw self-knowledge to the wind, created jigs for the drill and dowel method, tried it and made a mess. Given my desire to simply finish with the desk, I wasn’t in the best mood to hone my drill skills. This led to more wood repair before returning to my original strategy of using a router.
After the remaining (and inordinate) time required to finish all the other endless details of a project, the desk has finally been moved to its place in John’s room. “I hated working on this thing,” I admitted to my son Nick.
“So this is a project for you, huh?” He said.
Ahhh, yes. Speaking to my friends, it seems like in every carpenter’s life there is always that project that starts out so optimistic but then turns into a beast, wearing down your spirit. Instead of being invigorated by the challenges that are thrown at you, you feel like the whole process is a long job.
When civilians come to my house now and admire the desk, I’m smart enough not to complain about the pain I’ve been through doing it because it looks like I’m looking for compliments. Honestly though, even I can’t figure out what drove me so mad. It looks great. –Marci Crestani is co-author with Brian Miller of The Art of Coloring Wood.
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