progress not perfection

The process of hand cutting dovetails for my small wall cabinet build has been interesting. It has been several years since I took my box making class, which was the last time I cut this joint. At first I considered not using dovetails at all, but decided that it was clearly the proper joint to use on the carcass. Also, the only way I am going to get comfortable cutting dovetails is to actually make some.  There is, however, a problem with that strategy. My first dovetails are probably going to suck. Now, I could practice on scrap wood or something, I guess, but that’s not how I roll. If I’m gonna cut dovetails they might as well be on something real. So, I walked right up to the boards and cut my first joint in several years. Not surprisingly, it was just plain shitty. Most of the shittiness was based on me out thinking myself. I tried the trick where you cut a shallow rabbet into the tail board to help line it up to the pin board for marking and it was a disaster. The rabbet ended up being a little off square which caused a humongous gap. After taking a break and getting my nerve back up I tried again. On the second joint I simplified things by dropping the rabbet deal and it was a lot better. Not good, still super gappy, but the best dovetail I had ever cut nonetheless.

The second, less shitty one
I was pretty damn happy with myself. So much so that I posted a picture of said joint on my Instagram account. I was typing in the hashtag #progress when the suggestion #progressnotperfection popped up. By the looks of it, on Insta at least, this hashtag is used mostly by sweaty people who have just completed a workout. Although I have been described as “sweaty” before, the rest of it didn’t really fit. However, I still went ahead and used that hashtag because it really resonated with me. Hand cutting dovetails without any saw guides is essentially using hand tools freehand. I will not be perfect on the first or third attempt, if ever. But I should not be striving for perfection, I should strive to be better, to improve each time I perform some action or process. I am going to try to apply this is all parts of my woodworking, and to remember it’s a journey.
tl;dr: My woodworking is kinda shitty right now. My goal is to make it less shitty.

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origin

Every superhero has an origin story. I am no different, other than I do not exactly qualify as a superhero (unless the ability to eat my weight in Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies counts as a super power). I started my woodworking journey in 2013 when I built some simple cedar planter boxes for our apartment balcony with my dad in his shop. Until that point I mostly watched videos on building stuff. I know it seems silly, but those planters really flipped a switch for me. I designed them (took a chance and went rectangular), made the decision on pocket hole joinery (don’t judge), and did most of the cutting and assembly. They went together, they looked pretty good, they did not fall apart… I was hooked. The problem was, except on weekends when went home to visit my parents, I didn’t really have any tools and certainly didn’t have a shop in which to put them in. So, I was back to watching videos. Even worse, my planter boxes stood sentry outside my sliding glass door, mocking me.

The following stir-crazy filled winter, my wife bought me a birthday present in the form of a woodworking class taught through the local adult education program. There were two to pick from: one on building a step-stool with power tools and one building a dovetailed box using only hand tools. I went with the hand tool class because I thought that was a more apartment-friendly direction. I was hesitant to do anything too noisy or dusty on my second floor balcony despite the fact that my neighbor insisted on playing his mandolin and singing horribly on his balcony quite often.

During the second session of the class, I was paring away waste between my poorly cut dovetails when the instructor said that the class was almost over. I looked up from my work, eyes adjusting to the dimly lit middle school shop. How could class be almost over? To add a bit of context here, I am not one to get really absorbed in things, especially when it is after a long day at my day job. No, in normal circumstances I would have been counting the minutes before I got to go home and would wait to try the things I learned on a day off. But not this night. Something about the action of the sharp blade on the wood, the ability to create a well defined shape using nothing but a chisel, the quiet progress… I didn’t want to stop.

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My dovetailed box. I call him Gappy. 

I took the plunge and started buying some hand tools of my own. My workbench was a rickety folding table and “shop” time was sometimes cut short because of snow, rain, or the singing neighbor (seriously, a damn mandolin?!?), but I managed to get some stuff built. I finished my box and built a milkman’s workbench to help my work holding situation a bit. In 2015 we were lucky enough to move into a house of our own, where I now have pretty much taken over our one-car garage as a cluttered, dark, but otherwise wonderful and mandolinless shop. Making improvements to our house takes up a lot of my spare time but I have built a few cutting/cheese boards and a small bathroom cabinet as I try to improve my fledgling woodworking skills (maybe one day they will be skillz?) while making things for my family.

I am writing this blog for a few reasons. One is I miss blogging. I used to have one focused on librarianship and archives and miss the act of writing how I want to write (referencing 80’s movies, cursing, bad parenthetical humor, etc.). The other is, I want to make sure I can look back. It is awesome if you stumble across this blog and find it interesting, but to be honest it is more for me and my desire to document my progress, my projects, and my woodworking thoughts. Maybe someday I will look back on these initial posts and laugh at what little I knew as I contemplate building my next kick­ass highboy (whatever the hell that is). But, for right now at least, I am content to try to make stuff good enough to put in our home.